Hello friends and Main Street peeps,
How are we doing today? I can tell you plain and simple how I have been doing these last few weeks – I am f*&$^# exhausted! There is just no other way to say it. I am tired of cooking and eating the same foods, tired of cleaning my kitchen and organizing my many thoughts, tired of redundancy, of rain, of the heartache and pain so many are enduring and tired of my own rapid mood shifts. Sometimes I feel ready to take on the day and other times I feel overwhelmed, anxious and vulnerable – these constant thoughts and unsettling emotions leave me feeling chronically fatigued.
As my kids would say, “Do you feel me dog?” If you do and if you are feeling exhausted, I hope this letter and these strategies will help you through.
So why are we experiencing anxiety and extreme emotions? I believe there are many reasons. We are dealing with a lot of shit! Many of us are experiencing grief of some kind, financial instability, food insecurity or concern for parents, children and our own health. We are a bit stuck with the sadness over losing – losing people, losing time, losing precious rituals – and we are tired from the “ground hog day feeling”, the monotony and boredom from the last year. The title of this USA Today article explains it quite well: “That feeling you can’t name? It’s called emotional exhaustion.”
It isn’t just the feeling of grief and depletion we all feel, it is now compounded with the anxiety of the world beginning to open up. The anxiety about what is to come fills a big space in our minds. Are we afraid of life after Covid? This article says we are. We are now preparing for yet another transition to a new uncertain normal, yet we are still reeling in our fearful, grieving Covid mindsets.
Or are we exactly where we are supposed to be? In the article “We’re in the Third Quarter of the Pandemic”, author Tara Law says this “third quarter phenomenon” is characterized by mood shifts among people nearly finished with a long period of isolation. Those affected often feel anxious, withdrawn and increasingly vulnerable.
For me, both articles resonate. I am no therapist, but I should be with all the money I have spent on therapy in my adult life! However, it doesn’t take a degree in social work to know that it is quite difficult to solve a problem or change your mindset or behavior until you have identified the root of that problem. And often seeking the root of the problem tends to be the first and easiest step. As business strategists say, find your pain points because you can’t build capacity in any way until you have identified where the pain is.
The next steps can be more complex so breaking them into a smaller, more manageable process allows you to tackle them one by one, step by step with less emotion and fear. If you are stuck and don’t know where to begin, seek help. Ask a trusted friend or a therapist to guide you through. I reached out to trusted friends and a therapist and now I am using the below strategies and finding my groove. Below are some suggestions and/or strategies that I have read or were shared with me. I hope that, if you feel as I do, some of these will resonate with you. And of course a HUGE thank you to friends, colleagues and family who listen, who guide me, who consistently help me when I am feeling stuck. Off we go…
Sit and breathe. That is my first recommendation. Sit in the hard space and breathe it in. Breathe big, deep breaths and breathe purposefully. A friend recently shared an important breathing strategy with me. Breathe through your nose and, when possible, breathe through your left nostril. This strategy is not only cleansing but it actually stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is calming and soothing. If interested, my therapist also recommends the book Breath.
Journal. For those of you who have read my previous founder letters, you will find a theme here. Write it down … the good, the bad and the ugly. This process might trigger happy thoughts, it might leave you feeling sad, it might take you down a path of gratitude. Have no agenda here except to sit and write how you feel. For many of us, the writing releases the deep thoughts swirling around in our head. It gives our brain permission to release these intense and perseverative thoughts.
Take shit off your plate. That is quite honestly the easiest way to say it. If you can’t just cut shit out, then break the shit up into steps. What goes in the now pile, what can be sorted out later and what can be tasked to someone else?
Use Appreciative Inquiry and make a list of the positive. Barbara Talley, presenter in our Conversations Matter series, guided us through an exercise of Appreciative Inquiry and it has been a staple in my thought process ever since. Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organizational change which focuses on strengths rather than on weaknesses. Instead of focusing on what doesn’t work and our problems and deficits, Appreciative Inquiry reminds us to find what is working and what we are doing that is good and right and thereby shifts the mindset.
Do today. If possible, just focus on today. For some of us it is incredibly hard to be mindful, to be present, to not look ahead at life with excitement and hope. For now, perhaps it would be helpful to just do today. If looking ahead brings you fear and worries, just look at today. Sit, breathe and think about the day ahead.
Envision the way you want to feel, the way things will go in the future. As we reenter the world and think of leaving our pandemic cocoons, we might think of our commutes, traffic, meetings and large social gatherings and, for many of us, social anxiety will creep in. Think of these future situations differently. What did work for you during the pandemic? Possibly add the “good stuff” into your vision. Visualize each situation that holds worry separately and envision how you want each situation to go. This step was recommended to me by my therapist just last week and I have to admit, it is a bit more of a challenge for me.
Set your boundaries. Boundaries are another weakness for me so it might be a bit hypocritical that I have listed this as a suggestion for all of us. The pandemic has allowed many facets of our life to bleed into others. Set your work boundaries and set your personal boundaries as well. Perhaps you don’t need to be accessible to everyone all the time? Perhaps you need to be “off the grid” for a few hours during the day or in the evening? If so, be conscious of the boundaries you are setting and be sure to share them with others too because good communication and clear expectations are important steps in boundary setting.
Connect. Connect with those you love. Connect with what stimulates your mind. Connect with things or people who “fill your cup”, who make you think, who hold you accountable and who bring you joy. In Maria Shriver’s recent Sunday paper, she has some great advice including finding the five people in your life whom you trust and who hold you accountable. Those are the people who show up for you and the people for whom you show up. Perhaps it is time as we reenter this world to be reminded of those who show up for us. (Perhaps this is part of your Appreciative Inquiry!) Perhaps it is now time to show up for others as well. For me, I think this is the most important step. Although I have been with family and seen a small group of friends over the last many months, I began to connect by phone and FaceTime and in person over coffee, drinks and even a few lunches. I didn’t realize that I needed this but I did. I do. And it feels great!
Explore something new. Next week I am visiting a family member in South Carolina. I can’t wait! New restaurants, new sidewalks to walk, new people to see … all things new. You don’t have to travel far to explore something new. Visit a local park you haven’t visited before, walk in a new neighborhood, try a different coffee shop, hike a different mountain … and, if home is where you still need to be, try something new at home like a new recipe or a new cocktail (and, if you find a good one, please do share as I always love a good cocktail!) Whatever it is, do something that actually will feel exciting and fresh and give your brain something different to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. The power of using your senses to experience something new can give you a feeling of renewal.
Perhaps you feel more overwhelmed now than you did before! I hope not. I have tried these strategies over the last few weeks and, although I have much work to do, I am breathing a little easier and feeling a little lighter. I am even a bit excited for the world to open up again, to hug friends and family without worry and to move into a post-Covid life.
If you find these ideas helpful, if you are making a commitment to feel good and to do the “new you”, please join me for Main Street’s Season of Serenity and learn to nourish your soul just by being you!
Big hugs, heartfelt love and good wishes to all as we enter a new stage of life. LET’S CRUSH IT!