This month, I have two major life changes looming. The first comes every year as my husband begins football season. It is bittersweet because we love football but, it is also hard because we know we won’t see him much. And the other? It’s my baby. My youngest child that I didn’t know was going to be my youngest child is going to kindergarten and that is bittersweet too — like, with a great big capital B.
However, the other thing we are facing is that this year’s transitions are happening in the swirling vortex of coronavirus weirdness. Rather than the normal hustle of getting ready for the school year, we are planning for multiple school years. The one that happens, the part-time version, the one that doesn’t happen. And frankly, football might be the same. We just simply don’t know. So, in order to “be prepared” I’ve been hustling around mentally and physically, trying to responsibly anticipate all the eventualities.
Oops. Nope. Reality check. I’ve been hustling around because it lets me avoid difficult feelings and appear like I’m in control. Ah, yes. There’s the truth. (Sigh.)
You see, worry is a funny little motivator. Nobody likes to feel anxious, so we tend to approach worry in a couple different ways. One is to simply avoid whatever it is we are worried about. Project you don’t want at work? Take a sick day. Challenging relationship? Avoid the family gathering. Laundry piling up? Close the door. I-don’t-see-you-laundry.
But the other option? It’s sneakier. It’s what I call “the worried hustle”. The worried hustle is when we transfer all of our difficult feelings about upcoming challenges and transitions and push them into preparing so we feel better. If I’m busy preparing then I must be very responsible and very on top of things. Good job self. You are prepared for all that might come. You are not sad or worried, you are in control. You are fine. Everything is fine. It’s all fine.
Let me be clear here. Preparation is not a bad thing. It is appropriate and responsible to do the best we can with the information we have. What is a problem is when we put all of our energy into that preparation and bypass how we are feeling. It is a disservice to ourselves if we don’t stop and use some of our time to prepare our hearts as well. Remember, our feelings don’t like to be ignored and will just pop up some other way if we don’t pay attention to them.
So, to that end, here are some very practical suggestions for remaining present with your feelings in the middle of seasons of preparation and busyness:
- When you are running errands (either out and about or between websites), stop for 5-10 seconds and be still. Acknowledge how you are feeling. Breathe. Stay put until the adrenaline slows and remind yourself that you are as important as the task.
- When busyness and preparation start to feel overwhelming, ground yourself through your senses. It might sound cheesy but I stop and smell candles at stores, feel fun fabrics, or look at something pretty. I invest in my enjoyment and then move on.
- Know your “buried emotion” cues. I have three big ones. Eye twitches, forgetting words and (cue embarrassment) cursing in my head. If I can’t think of a word I need while my eye is twitching at the *$%&^ cart in my way, I know I need to check on something other than my to-do list.
- Put words like “grieve” “journal” “cry” “feel” and “pray” on your list. Some of us are so deeply programmed as responsible preparation people that we have to remind ourselves in this way. Of course we should engage with our feelings if they come organically, but sometimes they don’t, especially if we are busy. Scheduled grieving/feeling/internal processing can be just as valuable.
- Tell someone. I have several people in my life who I tell when I’m avoiding feelings. It will be something like, “I know I need to grieve my daughter going to kindergarten” or “I really need to be present with you this last weekend before football”. Just acknowledging what’s needed helps me get there. It’s a form of accountability and it helps you love yourself well and helps others love you too.
Okay, here’s to you fellow responsible preparers and avoiders of emotion. I am proud of you. If you’ve read this far you’ve invested in your heart today and that is so very valuable. As you prepare for whatever may lie ahead, remember that attending to your heart and emotions is just as important as your tasks and physical preparation. We want to go forward whole and self-aware, responsible not only in our work but also for the vessel we’ve been given. May you be blessed by attending to it all.