This made me realize that while this experience is universal, and so profound a lesson, very few of us actually have the emotional intelligence to allow such vulnerability into our lives. Most of us try to power through our stress, pain, emotion, whatever, in hopes of coming out stronger, better. The only thing this does is wear us down so much, to the point where the life that was once there is sucked out of us like the last sip of a thick, chocolatey mylkshake.
How many of you have been there before??
Now, I am no expert in achieving-mental-health because I am first, and foremost, human. However, I do have experience with pain, sorrow, stress, heartache, profound happiness, and general boredom. And my life experiences and education have taught me a great deal on how to keep my emotions and stresses in check.
How To: prevent a meltdown
Our bodies are our greatest thermometers, reading our inner selves and reporting back in the form of aches, pains and illnesses. Everyday I check in with my body, see what it is trying to tell me. For instance, today I have really tight shoulders. This happens when I stop exercising regularly and when I don't get enough sleep. I've been pushing myself to the max and I can feel it as my body tightens. Whenever I feel low energy I check in with my emotions. I tend to become lethargic when I'm sad or depressive. Whenever I feel like I am getting an "itch" in my throat I look at all the demands on my plate and see if I need a break. My body is an excellent communicator and tells me exactly where I need to slow down or speed up. Your body is probably trying to communicate with you, too. Instead of grabbing the nearest bottle of medicine, next time, pause and think about what it's trying to tell you. Then honor it.
Do an emotion scan.
Once I've done a full body scan I then do an emotion scan. The example I gave above, about my shoulders being tight, makes me want to check in on my emotions. I know I have a tendency to get depressive when I'm stressed (emotionally, physically, or whatever) and so I have to take the proactive stance on emotions and make sure I am fully aware of my next depressive onset. So, feeling and noticing my shoulders, I then look at my emotions. How am I feeling today? How is my energy (again, related to depressive symptoms)? Have I been testy, pushy, wallowing, or anything out of the norm? I don't judge myself harshly and I don't try to change the emotion. I just check in and see what is going on.
Today, for instance, my energy is a bit low. I'm not fatigued (though I could use a good night's rest after a week of low sleep) but my energy is low. I'm not bubbly and I'm not up for conversation. I'm a very quiet person, in general, but even for me this is a bit out of the norm. So this would make me wonder, what's going on? This is where I would then check for any moments of anger or sadness within the past few days. And ah-ha! Last night, I was being a bit weird about something, finding myself more hurt and upset than the actual experience called for. Hmm ...
Do a life scan.
Finally, do a life scan. I've talked about self-care and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs before, but it's worth noting, again: are you taking care of yourself? Are your basic needs being met? I mean, basic needs. Very few people are sleeping enough, drinking enough water, eating in a healthful way all throughout the day. Very few people are also taking time to just have fun, pressing pause on the work life. These are very important needs! And we overlook them, daily.
For instance, I have been consistently getting about 6 hours of sleep this week and working 12 hour work days. I have had no appetite this week and so I've actually been eating sporadically and not very much. I sit at a desk all day in a space with no windows and an unreasonable amount of air conditioning. I haven't seen my husband much due to our demanding and conflicting work schedules and so I actually haven't even talked to him about anything other than super minor things, like "omg-look-at-what-I-just-saw" in the form of a text message ... What does this mean? This does not mean that I'm complaining (though these things aren't necessarily exciting).. Instead, I'm realizing that this is actually not a thriving lifestyle and is not very sustainable.
I've neglected my basic Physiological needs:
- my sleep is low
- my food is sporadic
- my breathing (exercise and using my lungs) is lacking
I've neglected my basic Love/Belonging needs:
- my relationship isn't being honored, I hardly see my husband
- my friendships aren't being honored, I hardly get to talk to them
- my family isn't being honored, the time difference makes it hard to call home when I'm working all.the.time
I've neglected my basic Esteem needs:
- all of my identity is in health and wellness and so when I'm not taking care of myself I sort of fall into this hole of hypocrisy, feeling pretty ashamed that I haven't run more than 2 miles this week and that I ate that brioche roll last night ...
I've neglected my basic Self-Actualization needs:
- It's nearly impossible to even honor these needs when everything below it is not being met
Take all the information you've gathered from your scans and then be honest with yourself: what's really going on? And then honor it! This is not a woe-is-me activity where you can officially declare that You Are Stressed. Instead, this is a time where you can pause and make minor adjustments to help stay clear of a meltdown.
It might be as easy as:
- Go to bed an hour earlier.
- Prep for a green smoothie the night before (chop your fruits and veggies and place in the fridge for the morning)
- Sit outside during lunch to get fresh air
- Park further away to walk the extra steps
- Have lunch with someone and socialize
- Call home
- Take a nice, long bath
- Listen to Raphael Saadiq
I don't know, that last one was just my own way of upping my creative flow. These self-care tips are so easy to incorporate on the daily.
What about you? How do you prevent meltdowns? Try these daily scans on for size and let me know what you think!