In our last post, we discussed the concept of being strong for too long, which many individuals will be familiar with given the ongoing global challenges over the past year. For some individuals, consistently striving to maintain healthy routines and practice effective coping strategies whilst looking after others, takes a significant toll on their wellbeing. This can leave many individuals feeling guilty, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Following from our last post, today we discuss what it means to lighten your load by letting go of the struggle in order to free up time and exercise compassion towards ourselves.
Letting Go of the Struggle
According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), excessive efforts to control, suppress or eliminate uncomfortable experiences can exacerbate our inner suffering. This process is described by a metaphor known as the Struggle Switch. With our metaphorical struggle switch on, we respond to uncomfortable experiences with attempts to control them in some way. While many of these activities are helpful, in excess, our distressing experiences are amplified as we perceive these experiences as unacceptable, catastrophic, and feel guilty about our unsuccessful attempts to control them. The reality is that emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness, frustration, and confusion are perfectly normal reactions to the current challenging times. In some cases, we may set ourselves up for failure by struggling to control these reactions, just as struggling when caught in quicksand leads one to sink further. If this sounds like you, consider reflecting on the expectations you hold for yourself about self-care during this period, and the efforts you make to control your emotions. For instance, are there certain strategies that have been unhelpful and could be reduced, eliminated, or replaced? Do you hold expectations for yourself that are unrealistic given your current circumstances?
Freeing Up Time
One of the consequences of struggling with our emotions is that our time can become largely consumed by strategies and activities that are unhelpful, minimizing the time we must engage in activities we find fulfilling. A useful way to reflect upon this is to consider the activities you have engaged in throughout a single day, and consider the extent to which these activities are things you think you should do versus things you want to do. Two helpful tips to free up more time from Barlow, Rapee and Perini’s (2014) book “10 Steps to Mastering Stress” include the following:
- Delegating: Reflect upon the tasks you do in your average day and consider which could be delegated to others. If you find yourself feeling hesitant to do so, ask yourself ,“What is the worst case consequence of delegating this task to another person, and how problematic would that be?” and “What are the benefits of delegating this task to someone else?”.
- Saying No: As discussed in our last article, self-sacrificing behaviors can be problematic when we constantly prioritize the needs of others over ourselves. However, your needs are just as important as the individuals you support and taking care of yourself will only increase your capacity to look after others. Consider the requests you often find yourself agreeing to and consider which you could begin to practice saying no to in order to free up more time for yourself.
For many individuals, it is far easier for us to tap into the critical voice in our heads that tells us we aren’t doing enough, that we’ve failed at things, and that we don’t line up with certain standards and expectations. Self-compassion is about tapping into a supportive voice; one which validates how we feel, understands the reasons for our actions, and is free from judgment. Self-compassion involves being gentle and kind to yourself, just as you would to your loved ones. You can start exercising self-compassion by approaching your own emotions and circumstances the same way you would those of a good friend. For example, practice noticing your emotions with kindness, curiosity and concern as opposed to judgment, remind yourself that you are far from alone in how you feel, and imagine what you would say or do for a loved one in a similar situation, then do the same for yourself.
Stay tuned for our next post on identifying values, when we discuss how to work out what truly matters to you and incorporate activities that tap into these ideals in your life.