I have not written a blog piece for a long while. Like many of us in these times, I have been struggling with overwhelm. I have been spinning many plates: a house move, putting in long term care arrangements for my ailing father, conferences and workshops on wellbeing and on my book’s main messages, chasing work opportunities, uncertainty over my financial situation….
And beneath it all, a gentle but increasingly persistent voice within me saying ‘this has got to stop.’
It is a pattern that I’m sure many of you will recognise. It is not uncommon because this is often what society expects of us. We are complimented, rewarded even, for showing how much we can do and achieve regardless of our mental or physical health.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my work, and I love being able to support others in their journey of burnout and recovery, of healing and of radical culture change in the aid sector.
But I also know that embodying that change is a regular practice for me – and I still slip up.
I still find it hard to say ‘no’, because like many women I have played the role of the emotional carrier and carer most of my life – showing up for others regardless of how exhausted or desperate I feel inside. And it can feel incredibly hard to break that pattern.
To stand up – or actually sit down – and say no, I can’t do this anymore, is hard. It is easy to think that our entire lives, careers, friendships, family relationships, rest on us being constantly capable and available.
The crazy thing is, that in spite of a pandemic and in spite of the severe illness that so many of us have been victim to or have witnessed among those close to us, we still think this. I have been easily sucked back into the frantic pace of life that existed pre-pandemic and in many ways seems to have accelerated even more in the last few months, as things supposedly get ‘back to normal’.
But my body is telling me this is far from normal.
In the last few months I have felt exhaustion I have never felt before. I have felt it in all my limbs, and down to my bones. It is the kind of exhaustion that isn’t relieved by just having a good long sleep, or doing some yoga stretches – I tried, and it didn’t go away.
The irony of this happening after having written a whole book about burnout and self-care is obviously not lost on me.
I write this because it is important to show that whatever face we may present in public, and whoever we are – even wellbeing ‘experts’ – we will still have moments of suffering. And part of our efforts to challenge a system and society that pushes us too hard starts from within – through our own radical self-care, not as a one-off act but as a consistent practice.
So in the last few weeks I have been paying more attention to how I relieve my suffering. Letting go of what isn’t urgent. Reframing the things I believe are urgent – because actually, many of those too can wait. Coming back to what gives me joy, connection, serenity. This includes:
Putting my bare feet on the grass to ground me.
Swimming in the sea to purify and energise me.
Singing and sharing with sisters – sometimes strangers – who remind me of my precious rhythms and cycles as a woman.
Sound healing – letting my body immerse itself in the powerful vibrations of Tibetan and crystal singing bowls. I am discovering just how potent this is for releasing emotional blockages, and balancing and harmonising the body.
Pausing in whatever I am doing and taking deep, conscious breaths throughout the day.
Having moments of playfulness, of stillness, of tears and of laughter with my partner.
Ensuring there are days, or a few hours at least, in the week where I have no specific plans other than to do nothing.
These things are so important to me, because it is only through giving myself this time that I can remember and reconnect with what makes me feel alive and gives me purpose, so that I can show up authentically and with full presence for others.
So my question to you is, what can you do to slow down….so that you may listen not only to your mind’s meanderings and judgements, but also to the longings within your heart and soul?
We all need this time, more than ever – please gift this to yourself, for the benefit of a world that desperately needs greater care and compassion.
Need help with navigating overwhelm? I would love to support you with one-to-one mentoring, or workshops and listening spaces for you and your colleagues. Please write to me to find out more.