3 Tips to Stop Being So Hard on Yourself

Perhaps you've been here... trying to be everything to everyone, and then getting frustrated with the people you care about the most for needing too much from you.

This happened to me yesterday morning. At the end of a busy week, I was looking forward to an opportunity to ease into Saturday.  But my plans were disrupted by others' early morning needs -- my cat's need for food, my daughter's need for reassurance from a nightmare, my husband's head cold (can I cover for him at the Community Garden today?), and then a business partner had a last minute request. I found myself overwhelmed, and angry about what felt like a plot to keep me from relaxing. I lashed out at my husband.  "You don't have a fever, you're fine!" I yelled.


And then I caught myself.... I wasn't angry at the people (and cat) I love for needing so much, I was angry at myself for my inability to meet those needs. I also felt helpless in a larger way. So much conflict, action and change is happening right now. How can I contribute to a better world?  None of my actions (calling, marching) feel adequate. It was a perfect storm for those old self-judgements to come up...

"I should be able to handle this."
"I should do more." 
"I should be patient and kind at all times. If I'm not, that means I'm a bad mom."

As one of my mentors would say, I was "shoulding" all over myself!

In the past, I might have continued "shoulding" all day (or week!). But now I recognize mornings like this as a gift. It was a clear reminder to honor my capacity, and to communicate it proactively. I was reminded to prioritize self-care while allowing myself to implement it imperfectly (ie. sometimes morning yoga becomes afternoon yoga when my daughter requests a snuggle). And it reminded me that I have a choice about whether to allow those old self-judgements to control me.

I apologized, took responsibility for my actions, and requested help. My amazing husband made breakfast, while we created a strategy together that would meet everyone's needs. This included him curling up with the kids and the iPad so I could take care of myself.

I wasn't always able to experience a frantic morning as a gift. It's taken a lot of reflection and guidance to come to this place (plus a lot of studying about how the mind and body work!) In case you catch yourself in a similar pattern, I'd love to save you some time by offering you a few key tips...

 

  1. Name and feel your feelings. 

    Ever try to stop laughing when you have the giggles? Does it make you laugh more or less? It's the same with all emotions - suppressing them makes them stronger. And, as we all know, being in the midst of a tantrum throws reason and quality decision making ability out the window. 

    There is science behind this. For example, UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb shares in his book The Upward Spiral that simply naming the emotion activates the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (the "rational brain"), which reduces the emotional amygdala reactivity. (1)

    What are you feeling? Name it. Write it. Speak it.
     
  2. Dance, even if you don't feel like it. 

    Once you've called out those emotions, let them move through you! There is a direct link between your brain and body. The brain feels an emotion, which causes the body to react, which contributes to emotion. It's a cycle that can self-perpetuate. Luckily, you can stick a spoke in the wheel... Changing your "motion" literally alters your "emotion." 

    Swedish researchers recently found that adolescent girls who took the dance classes improved their mental health and reported a boost in mood—positive effects that lasted up to eight months after the classes ended. How amazing is that?

    This, by the way, is one thing I did to take care of myself yesterday. I turned up some tunes and danced around my house - my daughter joined in! (I've also done it a few times while writing this!)
     
  3. Reach out for support.

    Ever felt better about your life after connecting with a close friend who showed you compassion? It's easy to get tripped up expecting to be able to do and handle it all alone. The truth is, we need each other. According to Melanie Greenberg, in her book The Stress-Proof Brain, "research shows that social support is one of the strongest buffers against the negative effects of stress on mental and physical health." (3)

    The key to reaching out is to find those people who believe in you, help you gain perspective, and nudge you to be a better person (vs. put you down, or feed into negativity or gossip).

Interested in more personalized guidance?  Book a chat with me. I'd be honored to help you navigate your best path to more joy, and less overwhelm.
 

Photo by Grace Marcelino Photography

Sources:
(1)A neuroscience researcher reveals 4 rituals that will make you happier. Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/a-neuroscience-researcher-reveals-4-rituals-that-will-make-you-a-happier-person-2015-9
(2)The happiness trick you haven't tried. Prevention. http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/dancing-shown-help-boost-happiness-and-mental-health
(3) The Stress-Proof Brain by Melanie Greenberg, PhD. New Harbinger Publications. 2016