Sadness, worry, embarrassment, guilt. These are all ordinary emotions that all of us experience almost every day. We experience them to varying degrees and cope with them in various ways.
The emotions themselves are not good or bad. They just are. It’s not bad to be sad when something terrible happens. It’s not wrong to be embarrassed when you make a mistake in front of a crowd. It’s not irrational to feel guilty when you do something you know you probably shouldn’t have. It’s normal to worry when you have a problem you can’t solve.
But for some people, the emotions seem stickier. More durable. Less susceptible to coping strategies and to change. Worry becomes anxiety, sadness becomes depression, embarrassment and guilt become shame. Those emotions are less comfortable to talk about and less easy to overcome.
Depression erodes our motivation and our ability to take care of ourselves.
Shame wears away at our sense that we deserve to feel better.
Anxiety eats the belief that we even could feel better if we wanted to.
So how do we make the day better? How do we deal with these stickier emotions in a way that allows us to start believing again that life can be worth living and happiness is possible and inevitable. How do we find hope when we find ourselves suffering under the weight of these feelings.
The simplest, and first thing I work with clients on, is to start taking care of ourselves. To start prioritizing our own self care and the things that make us feel good. These mental health concerns can make it difficult for us to do that. We feel that everyone else deserves something or everyone else needs something before we care for ourselves. We’re suffocating under the weight of all of the things that we put in front of our own care. When we get onto an airplane, part of the safety discussion is in the event that oxygen masks are required, they will descend from the panels above you. If you are traveling with small children or passengers in need of assistance, secure your own oxygen mask before offering assistance. Why do we need to put on our own masks before helping others? Because if we’ve passed out from lack of oxygen, we can’t help anyone.
Clients often feel overwhelmed with the idea of self care – “I can’t get to the gym every day,” they tell me. But self care is actually much smaller and simpler. It’s doing things that bring joy and satisfaction in your daily life – EVERY DAY.
For example, there is one particular street – about three blocks long – that I love driving down in Houston. The live oaks arch over the boulevard in a really beautiful way. It makes me feel glad that I get to drive on such a lovely street. It also helps me to remember when my children were babies as it runs between my house and their pre-school. This street is slightly out of my way when I’m coming home from the places I go most days. But I still often find myself driving down that street.
HOWEVER, the street doesn’t work its magic if I don’t focus on it. If, when I drive down the street, I’m worried about what I’m going to make for dinner, I don’t get the benefit. If, when I drive down the street, I’m lecturing my kids about the homework they forgot to do or the chores they ditched out on, I don’t get the benefit. If, when I drive down the street, I’m worried about being late to piano lessons, I don’t get the benefit.
We have to do these pleasant things for ourselves and we have to do them one-mindfully. Meaning we can’t multi-task while we’re doing them. We have to add these small moments into our day to lighten the suffocating weight of responsibilities and obligations that so many of us carry around constantly. We have to allow ourselves to catch our breath in order to get unstuck.