I’m just going to come right out and say it…
I think February needs to be the new January.
As you may have guessed, January 2017 was less than stellar in my books. I started off with some fantastic intentions (I do not make New Year’s resolutions), but the universe clearly had other plans of taking me down another path.
And I’m just going to be really honest here: I felt profound sadness. It was hard, and I did not do most of the things I said I was going to do. And then I got frustrated and angry with myself, and my sadness responded by doubling itself. And then some other stuff happened within my personal circle, and in reply my sadness tripled. And then more craziness ensued in the world, and my sadness multiplied exponentially. I felt as though I had the weight of the world sitting on my chest, crushing my tender heart and making it difficult to breathe.
I was left with no other choice than to acknowledge the feeling. I had to speak the words aloud, “I am sad. I am sad and I don’t even know why.” And then I had to feel it. But a miraculous thing happened. I felt the sadness, and then I also felt it dissipate.
There is no question in my mind that we’re living in a precarious, chaotic, and seemingly irrational time. The craziness of our world is a lot to process, never mind trying to achieve anything beyond the act of getting yourself out of bed in the morning. Needless to say, I think we should be awarding medals to everyone who made it through January. Like, seriously. If you’re reading this and you survived, I salute you. (Bonus points if your sanity is still intact.) Virtual high fives and big squishy hugs, all around!
The way I see it, a new month is the perfect antidote for the confusion, hurt, and disappointment that seemed to dominate my introduction to 2017. That’s why I’m taking a personal Mulligan. A do-over. I’m pressing the reset button, wiping the slate clean and starting anew, with a fresh perspective, renewed enthusiasm, pure energy, and a positive attitude.
But I’m also able to look back at the past month with a sense of appreciation—for teaching me, although painfully at times, some valuable and much-needed lessons. In retrospect, I can see how all the crappy stuff that happened was the universe’s way of getting all up in my face and creating the prime conditions for me to recognize my own self-destructive patterns. And, if I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure I heard the universe call me out.
A small, yet incredibly powerful voice from somewhere deep inside me began to ask: “How serious are you, really? How bad do you really want this stuff? When life gets hard, are you going to curl up into a ball, or do you want it bad enough to actually fight for it? What are you going to do now? How will you respond?”
January, in all its cruelty and harsh insensitivity, was a severe blow to my tender heart. In the past I may have been inclined to just crawl back into my bed, pull the covers up, snuggle in tight, and hide for a while. But after reflecting on both my experiences and reactions, and taking into consideration what has been working for me and what absolutely hasn’t, I’m pleased to say I’ve learned a thing or two—or maybe even eight.
And because sharing is caring, I’ve decided to post these lessons here, particularly for those of us who lean toward the more sensitive end of the spectrum, as my essential tips for surviving in this crazy world when nothing seems to make sense and the world seems to be slipping off its axis:
Begin with awareness
As with just about everything else in the known universe, surviving (and thriving) as a sensitive person in this world begins with awareness. What I’m really talking about here is self-awareness and having a clear understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. When you work on developing your own self-awareness, it allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude, and your response to them in the moment. Self-awareness really is the first and most important step toward creating what you want and living as the master of your own life. When you take a step back and witness yourself as an objective observer, what do you notice? Whether you are interested in stopping a specific kind of emotional reaction, changing beliefs or behavior, quieting the critical voice in your head, or creating more love and happiness in your life, you must begin with awareness.
Make self-love and self-care the top priority
I’m sure I’ve talked about this at least a thousand times, but this message is so important it bears repeating. And I will continue to shout it, loud and proud, from the rooftops, over and over again, until everyone who needs this message gets to hear it. Self-love and self-care are not selfish; they are absolutely essential. Who is going to take care of you, if not for you? Do not expect anyone else to do it for you, because if you do you are giving away your power and making yourself a victim. Sorry, I know I am starting to get a bit preachy here, but it’s only because I believe so wholeheartedly in the necessity of taking good care of yourself and loving yourself above all else. You can only take care of others if you take care of yourself first. You can only love and have successful relationships with others if you love yourself first. You and your needs are important, and you need to ensure your thoughts and actions line up with that reality. Do something nice for yourself everyday, just because you are you and you deserve it.
Feel all feelings
This is a doozy for anyone who identifies as a highly sensitive person, because we have so many feelings and experience them with great intensity, but it applies to everyone, all the same. By their nature, emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. It is so essential that we allow the energy of our emotions to move through us, rather than stuffing them down inside, numbing out, or denying the experience. Stifling emotion can actually be very detrimental to your well being—both physically and emotionally. Granted, it takes work and practice to feel your feelings, and can be a little uncomfortable, particularly in the beginning, but learning to identify feelings and exploring into the messages they bring us is an invaluable survival skill. Simply start with the awareness of noticing and then allowing the feelings to naturally come up and out, without controlling them. Depending on the intensity of the emotion, sometimes physical expression is called for. This might mean finding a safe place to scream into a pillow, letting the tears flow, or even kicking and punching into the air (make sure you have a large enough space around you to do this so you won’t hurt yourself or break anything). Turn on your favourite music and dance as if no one is watching to allow the energy of your emotion to move through you. Journaling and talking with a trusted friend, family member or professional are also great options. Although the context was entirely different for Shrek, no truer words have been spoken and the sentiment is the same when it comes to emotion: they’re “better out than in”.
Be realistic about goals and intentions
Another honesty alert: this is a really big one for me. As a highly-driven and self-critical perfectionist, I have a pattern of biting off more than I can chew, which usually results in overwhelm and frustration because I just can’t do it all. In follow up to this, my next tendency is to get mean and chastise myself for all of the places I’ve fallen short. I am seriously living and learning this in real time, right now, and so I speak from the heart when I say it’s best to be honest, practical, and realistic with yourself when it comes to setting goals and intentions. Even better, remember to keep it simple: start with one small thing at a time and allow yourself to fully master it so you can use your accomplishment as a building block to further success. Remember to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals, and break down the big stuff into smaller chunks with detailed action plan steps. In this way, you will be better able to see your progress in terms of the baby steps you make along the way. Please trust me when I say this can be very encouraging, as every bit of progress made in the direction of your goals counts as a win. I’ve recently started making lists again, and it’s truly incredible for keeping me focused and on track. One last note on this topic: please be very kind and extra gentle with yourself, and remember you are aiming for progress, not perfection.
Limit exposure to negativity
The bottom line on this one is that you basically should not, under any circumstances, listen to the haters. I know this is hard, considering the prevalence of negativity, doom, and gloom that seems to be all around us at the moment. But again, when we begin with the awareness of where negativity is coming from in our lives—be it a specific person or people, or mainstream and social media, we are better equipped to take action to protect ourselves from it. Please do not underestimate the fact that all of the sensory impressions we take in have an impact on us, and there is definitely a danger in being overexposed. We can become anxious and angry as we gradually and unknowingly take on the negativity as our own. for this very reason, coupled with my sensitivity, I’ve personally made the conscious decision to steer clear of the mainstream media for some time, and have also found it helpful to limit the amount of time I spend on social media platforms recently as well. I encourage you to take note of how you feel after spending time around certain people. Ask yourself what your triggers are. Listen to what your heart says and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your wellbeing.
Acknowledge the darkness and counter with the light
Yes, there is darkness in the world. Acknowledge and accept the reality. Know the truth of it. Even understand the necessity of it. Then find a piece of positivity to counter balance the darkness with a little bit of light. There are two ways I like to do this. This first is practicing gratitude, and before you go grumbling about how terrible everything in your life is, know you can always, always, always find something to be grateful for. Once you start looking for the good stuff by cultivating a gratitude practice, seeing it gets easier, and you’ll be re-wiring your brain in the process. Make practicing gratitude a daily habit, and watch what happens in your life as a result.
The second tool for focusing on positivity is using mantras and affirmations. Repeating a personal mantra or affirmation is a way of feeding the subconscious with encouraging thoughts and messages. Come up with a set of personal mantras or affirmations that you can repeat to yourself many times a day, whether you’re encountering challenges or just want to set the tone for a positive experience throughout your day. You can also write your mantras/affirmations on sticky notes and place them in various places where you will see them throughout the day, such as a bathroom mirror, computer monitor, or on the dash of your car.
Always choose love over fear
Consider this scientifically proven fact: Fear is accompanied by a contraction of energy and vibrates at a relative resonance of 100, while love is an expansion of energy that vibrates at a relative resonance or speed of 500. Even if none of this makes any sense to you whatsoever, all you really need to know is that it’s always better for your actions to be underpinned and motivated by the energy of love, as opposed to that of fear. This is the simple science behind the reason why it’s always preferable to align yourself in support of something, instead of being against the opposite. This point, perhaps above all the others, is worth keeping at the top of our minds during these tumultuous times.
Allow time for rest
As humans, many of us have a crazy compulsion to stay in perpetual motion. We literally push ourselves to the point of exhaustion—and beyond, functioning on caffeine and fumes. We get antsy when someone asks us to sit still for a moment. There’s always just one (or maybe two or five) more items on our to-do list that have to be addressed, like, immediately. We view rest as something for the weak and meager, rather than an essential component of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. So, in case you haven’t picked up on what I’m putting down, I’m just going to spell it out for you: the importance of investing in rest cannot be overstated. Taking a five-minute break away from a hectic day to meditate and reset your nervous system can be extremely beneficial, translating in stress reduction and increased feelings of peace. All you need to do is set a timer for five minutes, close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Allow your thoughts to come and go, and just keep coming back to the breath, over and over. Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose—except for maybe anger, depression, anxiety, insecurity, and fear. In fact, I bet you’ll start to notice a difference with a consistent practice of as little as five minutes per day.
Once again, I speak from personal experience when I say the dangers of not getting enough sleep are very real. When I am operating on a sleep-deficit, which is pretty much anything under eight hours a night, I am more emotional, cognitively impaired, and less able to deal with life in general. I’ve noticed the same to be true for my children and other adults with whom I interact on a regular basis. Although my children (and many others who suffer from lack of sleep) are reluctant to admit, they are more acutely sensitive and less able to deal with routine challenges and setbacks when they are over tired. The good news is that when you take control of the reigns by strictly enforcing a set bedtime for yourself, you will slowly and gradually begin to feel better and be more productive. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my mood and motivation levels as a result of sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule for the past five days, and I intend to continue to be fiercely protective of my bedtime because I don’t enjoy the consequences.
My apologies for the excessively long post, but I feel it was important to address all of the tools and strategies that are helping me along—and that I hope will help you, too. Do any of them resonate with you? Which ones? And is there anything you would add to the list? I’d love to hear from you.
One final note: As some of you may have read in my last blog post, the word I chose for myself in 2017 is metamorphosis. To be quite frank, one of the reasons I struggled as much as I did in January was because I chose this enormous theme for myself, and then I started to feel overwhelmed, and ultimately like I was writing cheques my ass couldn’t cash. I seriously began to question myself and feared the possibility that I would never fully become the metaphorical butterfly. But when I go back and reread the words I’ve just written—when I apply these concepts to my own life and couple it with the knowing that good things take time and anything worth achieving usually doesn’t come easily—I am more confident than ever that I definitely made the right choice.
So, I may not be ready to emerge as a butterfly…yet.
It’s just that I am still becoming.
All my love, always.