We talk a lot in the Mindfulness space about the benefits of self-care, but often it is talked about once the horse has bolted and we find ourselves ratty, worn out and fed up. When we have been flung from the horse into the mire of muck and bullets, all the good things that kept us in top shape have fallen by the wayside scattered behind us, and we are bruised, sore and wondering how the heck to get back to our feet.
What can we do to avoid being flung from the horse, and instead find the energy and zeal to stay on track?
We have to learn to break the cycle, bring balance and avoid tipping us into the funnel of exhaustion – diagram below. One way we can do this is through pacing.
So imagine, life is okay, you just about keep your head above water juggling life, work, family, hobbies, study, etc…its fine until one day we get just that additional bit of overload/stress that tips us over the edge. Our natural reaction is to think… How will I cope, something will have to give! But what? Usually we drop something that isn't a necessity – like our daily walk, a hobby, catching up with loved ones. Something in other words that nourishes us; that helps us to feel good. So by the end of the week we are antsy, our mood low, we neglected to make time for the activities that re-energized us. This following week is also looking as tough – great! What else must give? Typically something that we enjoy that won't let others down so much…by the end of the next week we are even more depleted…you can see where I'm going. We end up with smaller circles (a smaller life), the mistake we make under stress is to stop doing the things that sustain us and the more we do that the smaller our lives become and eventually leading to exhaustion.
Research shows that the people who drop to the bottom of that funnel typically are those who are the most conscientious too and whose level of self-confidence is very much linked to their performance at work or at home as we feel we let family and loved ones down etc…
How to pace:
Schedule in breaks – put a timer on your phone to stretch and move
Schedule in food/drink breaks –plan these into your diary! We know that lack of food can reduce our ability to concentrate and we may become ill-tempered or struggle to focus. Do not have food nearby that you shovel mindlessly into your mouth, seek out something healthy and nourishing and take a few moments to fully engage with what you are eating
Use the three-minute breathing space meditation – again a timer on your phone can be useful for this. Perhaps at 90-minute intervals as we know from research that we operate at our best in short bursts
Keep a pacing diary (see att) – note how long you perform activities for – eg. Sitting at your desk working – if you notice you haven't moved for two hours, and when you do you are stiff, uncomfortable, grumpy and struggling to focus then 2hrs at your desk is too long! Experiment and see how long you can sit realistically for before pain and discomfort creeps in – see the attached pacing diary for ideas. Keep this diary for seven days so that you can get a feel for how you spend your day, and when discomfort kicks in then analyse how long you can do these activities for without causing you stress, pain or discomfort. This info then becomes your baseline – and you can use a timer on your phone to stick to them.
Make a commitment to your wellbeing: Plan your day according to your baseline, if 90 mins is your optimum do not commit to three hour-long back to back Zooms and a deadline to meet straight after, plan in breaks.
You may find that you never take breaks and run out of space in your diary – that may also tell you something! This alone may explain why sleep is a struggle, or if you have difficulty concentrating.
Seeing our lives in black and white can make it easier to change our behaviour.