How many people feel as if life is busier now than it was before this year? It doesn’t seem like that would be the case with so many of us still staying mostly at home, but it’s true! There are some interesting scientific reasons as to why the pandemic may distort our sense of time, including ways that memory creation and time perception are linked. Basically, since our days are more mundane at the moment, our brains may perceive time as passing more quickly in retrospect because of decreased sensory input throughout the weeks (or months). Pretty neat, huh?
Besides that though, there are several competing and often unrealistic demands on folks recently. Productivity expectations remain high at places of employment despite significant changes in workplace settings and employee stress levels. Parents now act as part-time homeschoolers while helping children through distance learning, often creating competing demands during work hours. Basic tasks such as grocery shopping now require several extra steps to ensure safety and regular activities, if occurring at all, are now tinged with anxiety. Biologically, our nervous systems are all on high alert, all the time. And that can leave people feeling overwhelmed, burned out, exhausted, and without adequate rest or free time.
And what do we tell people to do? Self-care, self-care, self-care. Be sure to exercise and eat well, remember to find a hobby you enjoy, go outside in nature, pray or meditate, journal, take a bubble bath, all those good things. And they are good things, but you can’t work your way into relaxation. Sometimes self-care can be just another item on a to-do list, and if it’s a task then it’s automatically not truly self-care. So today we’re going to talk about a slightly radical concept in today’s busy, outcome driven world: letting go.
When we talk about letting go, this isn’t about staying quiet with problematic issues or picking fewer battles. This is an intentional, conscious disentanglement from patterns and connections which no longer serve you in a healthy manner. And it can be really challenging to do, so be gentle with yourself while you start this process.
First, spend some time evaluating your relationships, interactions, workload, expectations, etc., and determine places of conflict or stress. Consider ways that you might be overextending yourself or having difficulty maintaining healthy boundaries for any reason. Reasons may be internal, such as feeling compelled to give in to requests or a desire to be liked at all costs, or they may be external, such as a demanding boss or guilt-trippy friend. Then, identify ways that this is affecting you. Are you losing sleep? Frequently late for work? Lacking time for preferred activities? Feeling frustrated or irritable?
After you’ve spent some time thinking over this, make a list. I love list making, because it provides a tangible representation of the issues at hand and sometimes it’s just easier to think about things when they’re written out in front of you. Write a list with headings – I recommend “stressors”, “reasons”, “impact”, and “reward”. The reward part is really key, because people naturally behave in ways that tend to achieve something, even if it isn’t the healthiest something.
For example, you identify a stressor as your tendency to stay late at work to pick up extra tasks for the team. You realize the reason you do this is because you want to be seen as a team player. The impact is that you have less time at home and this is negatively affecting your connection with family. But the reward is that you feel that your coworkers like you and this improves your self-esteem. So….what might there be to let go of here? Perhaps it might be beneficial to let go of the need for approval from others.
To get you started, here’s a list of some potential ideas of things to let go of:
Approval from others
Need for perfection
Unrealistic ideals about weight or health
Discomfort with difficult emotions or conversations
Fear of failure
Feeling guilty for saying no
Self-depreciating inner voice
Equating busy-ness with self-worth
Not expressing love or gratitude
Being “right” or getting in the last word
Placing the needs of others over your own
Confusing rest with laziness
Societal expectations of (insert uncompromising/biased viewpoint here)
There are so many more potential items to list, but hopefully this will get you started on a few ideas. When you focus on letting go of unhealthy patterns and expectations instead of just self-care, you’re no longer placing a band-aide on a problem, but you’re addressing the underlying structure of the problem itself. It is a complete shift in mindset which can be transformative in nature….but you have to be willing to trust the process. It takes time to change patterns and habits, and growth doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it can be motivating to think about what you might replace these patterns with or what you might have more time for after making these adjustments. Change can begin now though, if you decide to start.
As we move into the Fall season, there’s a good reminder in the old adage about how the trees are about to lose their leaves and in doing so, remind us of the importance of letting go. That image of a multi-coloured tree with falling leaves as the weather starts to change is truly a powerful one, and very applicable to the concept we’ve talked about today. Over the next few months, imagine yourself as the tree – letting go of those aspects which are no longer needed, getting ready to bloom again into a wonderous new version of yourself soon.
What is it you’re ready to let go of?