Over the past few months I have been having this dream: I have something precious in my mouth – beads, gems, jewels, pearls. I wake up in a terrible fright, because I have accidentally swallowed them, and I can feel them sitting at the back of my throat. Convinced that I am going to lose the precious things, I leap out of bead, coughing and hawking, trying to get them back in my mouth, but they are gone. And then I realise that it was just a dream, and sheepishly get back into bed. I have probably had this dream 10 times, and it wasn’t until a few days ago when I was explaining to the Bear why I was stumbling around the room choking and coughing, that I realised the significance of the dream. There are pearls of wisdom in my mouth and I am swallowing them unsaid. So, here I am again, with something to say – and now that I have received and understood the message that the universe was trying to send me, I won’t swallow it unsaid!
As I do at the beginning of a new month, I look back over the month just passed. What worked?
- I successfully worked two jobs – one full time and one part time;
- I completed the last 4 weeks of semester with two major essays due;
- 3 out of the 4 people in my house had birthdays within 9 days of each other, including my 40th birthday.
- I managed to keep up my daily tasks as mother, wife and house witch, although the last two were dialled back somewhat…
What didn’t work?
My stress levels were through the roof, I was exhausted and my health was compromised – I was sick for most of the most month, and developed bronchitis in the last week. So, the questions I am asking myself are: how can I learn to manage my time, energy and expectations better? Is there anything I could have done done differently or is sickness and exhaustion an inevitable consequence of the kind of month it was, which was probably a one off anyway? If someone came to me for advice about this kind of situation, I would probably tell them to not take so much on – superwoman and the martyred saint are SO last century – but is there a way that we can manage the inevitable times in our lives where more is asked of us in a calmer, more nourishing way?
I think, yes.
The basics are all about balance – nourishing body, mind and spirit – and include sleep, nutrition, exercise and some kind of meditation practice. So, if you know you have a busy time ahead:
- Sleep: make sure you get 7-8 hours per night. Arrange your day around getting enough sleep, and if you have trouble sleeping, give yourself an afternoon/evening ritual that is conducive to sleep – no caffeine after midday, a screen curfew, meditation/yoga nidra/guided relaxation before bed, journal to get all your thoughts out of your head, eat dinner early, so your digestion does not keep you awake and avoid disturbing or stimulating media before bed – these are all the things that people who sleep well do as a matter of course.
- Nutrition: make the effort to eat well. Have a supercharged smoothie or juice for breakfast, take a good quality supplement, plan your meals and definitely no wasted calories (aka junk food). You don’t have time for that crap, not this week. Also, water. Keep hydrated, and not with coffee, tea or soft drinks.
- Exercise: Don’t forget to move your body. Movement is restorative, cleansing and increases your energy. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, whether it is yoga, walking, swimming, jogging, the gym – do not stop doing it when you have a busy week. You need to move your body more when you are busy, not less!
- Meditation: Starting and finishing the day with some kind of meditation or mindfulness practice, be it yoga nidra, a guided relaxation, walking meditation, yin yoga or pranayama is just about the most nourishing thing you can do for your spirit.
- Ask for help: Make sure that your support crew know that they will be needed to step up during this time. Again, the superwoman/martyr complex is so dated – women need to find a better way. Whoever it is that supports you – partner, parents, colleagues, friends, mentors – tell them what’s going on and what you need them to do. If you have children, include them in the conversation, be honest and vulnerable. It teaches them about empathy and thoughtfulness.
- Enjoyment: Whatever you do for your own enjoyment, whether it is reading a good book, music, watching your favourite TV show, walking on the beach, writing, doodling, art – please keep space for a bit of that. This is real spirit nourishment.
I had most of these covered except for meditation and journaling – the two things that would have been most helpful for me, I didn’t make time for – and then there were the more complex issues:
- Worry and Anxiety: A lot of my stress was caused by worry – worry about not having enough time, worry about deadlines, worry about failure, worry about dropping the ball. Starting new things is very stressful for me – I can work with that, but the incessant worry was not at all helpful. I have discovered that if I am worrying about something, then it means that I have slipped out of the present moment and into the future. It means that I have lost or at least misplaced my faith. In the past, I have found the best way of working with worry is a regular mindfulness practice throughout the day, where I stop for a moment and dip down into my body, check in, remind myself that in this moment I am okay, and that all there ever is this moment. I obviously did not do this nearly enough.
- Expectations: Much of my stress was was due to high expectations of myself and a reluctance/inability to lower my standards, even fractionally. The Bear tried to explain to me the concept of how a person’s best varies according to the situation – I understood the concept but not how to apply it in practice. I don’t like the idea of compromising my effort, because I can’t stand a compromised result. I’m okay with things not working out, for sure – but not because of a lack of effort on my part. This is a tricky one, and one that I’m not sure that I can or want to change about myself because producing quality work is something that I’m proud of. Normally, I manage my high expectations by being selective about what I take on, and I tinker around the edges by dropping or dialling back non-essential activities in busy times. I did this as much as possible at this time, but most things presented as essential, unfortunately!
- Pressure: There was something else that I noticed rising to the surface during this time, and that was a desire to prove myself. I wanted to show that I could work full time, study and still be a good mum and wife. I wanted to show that I could be successful, strong and hard working out in the world, and getting sick felt like failure. It was really interesting to feel these emotions and how strong they were. It reminds me of that truism, where we discover that we can have everything but not at the same time. Again this is tricky, because I am trying to prove myself, both at my new job and in my academic studies. It felt like there was a lot at stake. However, proving myself to me is one thing, but proving myself to other people, well, that’s just ego and unnecessary suffering.
- Testing: Sometimes the Universe says, well, here’s that thing you’ve been asking for. How much do you want it, and how hard are you willing to work for it? A friend of mine told me that she was offered her dream job – when she was six months pregnant, and had just received news that she had to have an operation. At these times, we intuitively know that if we say yes to this thing that we have been asking for, it’s going to be hard, and it will take its toll. At the same time, we also know that if we say no, then the offer won’t come around again. How much do you want it? I felt like my mettle was being tested, and I didn’t want to come up short. I said yes, I want this work and yes, I want to study, and yes, I want to be amazing. Bring it on. Pride? Yes, for sure, but like high expectations, pride is not necessarily a bad thing. My pride is the inner fire to achieve that burns inside of me. Pride can be ridiculous, but it can also be amazing. Sometimes both at the same time!
So, here are the pearls that are rolling around in my mouth. May was ridiculous and amazing, hard and rewarding. I have learned some things I did not know about myself, and expanded my capacity. Next time I will include more meditation, mindfulness and journaling, and with an increased knowledge of how I tick, hopefully become a little better at walking that fine line between achievement and burn out.
Tell me – how do you manage those busy times?