Shake-offs and yawns and a rough couple years

Some things really stress Junko out. When she’s having more fun than she knows how to express and suddenly hears the words “Gentle–no bite!” When we won’t let her hunt the backyard bunnies. Or when, despite her curious, sweet puppy-dog-eyes, we finish the last of our human-food without sharing. When these things happen, Junko does a BIG yawn or a floppy shake-off, and then she feels better.

At a funeral in America, everyone wears black, and you may hear some quiet sniffles, and a few reliefy chuckles when someone “lightens” the mood with a joke the deceased would have appreciated.

When I walked out of the Addis Ababa airport, I witnessed grief given a voice: A loving crowd following a coffin, many joining their voices in ululation, some openly wailing for their lost loved one.

Back when I was aggressively hit on the bottom most days by my parents, to make me a better person, a few commands always followed: Some weird ones like being told to say “thank you.” And one particularly problematic one: “Cry quietly.”

It’s such a cultural thing you and I have grown up with: Emotions are to be not seen, and not heard. Especially the yucky ones, like anger or grief. We don’t wail.

When an antelope suddenly sees a lion spring out of the tall grass, it gets a sudden rush of hormones and it flies across the savannah. After a minute or two the lion tires out, and the antelope can calm down and return to grazing, the panicky energy having dissipated through its pumping legs.

Stressful experiences give us certain energies: Hormones like adrenaline, or emotions like sadness, fear, or anger. These energies serve purposes and have natural outlets so they don’t get stuck.

Animals are great at giving the energy an outlet to serve its purpose, run its course, and dissipate. Junko violently shakes her body to release the pent up frustration.

Some humans are great at expressing and releasing. Like people who wail, who dance, who punch, who scream into a pillow.

And some of us, instead, just manage the energy.

And slowly implode with unresolved, ever-growing stress.

~

Nobody is “doing well” these days, right? At least not many. The world is struggling. Our country is struggling. My co-workers and friends are struggling. I’m struggling.

COVID and masks and staying at home and no more hugs and over a million dead just in America. The election with all its still leftover yard signs and whatever the hell happened on January 6. Social media and hate. Family members that are seeing each other’s real values and not sure if they’re meshable. Inflation. Racism, arguments over whether racism even exists, hate crimes, police brutality, protests, national guard convoys, tear gas, and threats to use the US military against our own population. Oh and inflation. Short-staffing. Complete disconnect and hatred of left vs right. Russia and Ukraine and nervous questions about nuclear bombs. Mass shootings becoming tragically normal. Increasing suicide rates accompanying a growing mental health crisis. Texas blizzards knocking out power, paid for by all of us everywhere. End-of-times-looking wildfires in Australia. Hurricane force winds throughout the last month in my Minnesota backyard. Baseball-sized hail. All the biggest, baddest, unprecedentedest weather events in recorded history. Millions of traumatized nurses and doctors and teachers, arguments over whether their trauma even exists. And are the bees still dying? And now robots keep trying to follow me on Instagram and other robots are busy ringing a phone that I can’t get away from. Oh and did I mention inflation? And this is just scratching the surface of our universal sh**show–we haven’t even gotten to our individual heartaches, like losing jobs, losing loved ones, chronic pain and illnesses, and I still cry sometimes about Willoughby dying.

That is a lot of energy.

And it needs to go somewhere. Except you’re not supposed to wail.

~

All that energy. Where is it supposed to go?

Sometimes the energy gets so big and loud that people do really sad things to other people. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are healthy ways you can use that energy.

Remember the scene in Footloose where he angry-dances? I want to be like that scene when I grow up. It is an amazing answer to life.

Did you know that scared energy and excited energy aren’t that different physically? When you’re about to speak in front of a group, and you start feeling a little floaty and buzzy and shaky and fluttery, it’s similar to when you see your crush.

The good and the bad in life is constantly giving your body energy to respond. It’s revving you up for something. You could let it out by hurting people. Some do. I think you don’t want that, though. In fact, I think you’re trying so hard to not do bad things with all the anger and fear and sadness and stress that you’re holding it tightly deep in your chest. For years. And each day it’s getting a little harder.

What if you could let that energy out before it makes you sick or explodes at the people you love?

What if you could dance?

Or run?

Or sing?

Or drive hours into the dark night, letting the tears flow, or write it all down.

Or play a loud, low, angry sounding key on the piano, like sweet old Mr. Rogers in the movie It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

What if it’s actually really healthy to scream in your car?

What if you could laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed over a game with your friends until your stomach aches and you feel lighter than you’ve felt in 3 years?

What if yoga would help you release the heartbreak?

What if swimming underwater could calm your body? (It does. Google “diving reflex.”)

What if you could just SAY that frustrated truth you haven’t been saying to your partner? And not watered down?

What if something as simple as humming could let out all that overwhelming energy?

I was raised to cry quietly. I bet you were, too. We Americans are conditioned to be tough and pleasant. Until we snap.

But when she’s upset, Junko yawns and does a shake-off. Some cultures wail loudly for their lost loved ones. Both these options look and sound weird, but they work. They’re so healthy.

I think that we all have a lot of hard energy right now. Sad. Angry. Confused. Overwhelmed. Exhausted.

How will you release it?

(No seriously, tell me–we all need ideas right now.)

~

We need each other these days. If I can be there for you through this blog, put your email below.

You’d be surprised how many of us are broken.

Hey friend,

I’m asking you to take a closer look.

The world asks us all to put our best foot forward. To be fun, to be chill, to be cool, to be strong, dependable, easy to get along with.

Work demands our game face. We’re competing constantly. At all times on display, being assessed, critiqued, counted on. Competing every day for the chance to bring home groceries again next week. Even when we’re really good at competing, we always know we’re one misstep from it all being taken away. So we tread carefully. We hide our struggle.

Our friends and families may be a little more understanding. But when we show our weakness, sometimes their pity and patience only last so long. Some of us just can’t be bothered with another’s feelings, but I think far more often, it’s just that we’re fighting our own battles, too. And sticking around to watch his battle might make hers a lot harder. So when we overshare, over-need, our lifelines start to distance themselves, and we quickly learn to hide our struggle at home, too.

Hiding. Always hiding. Doing fine. It’s all good.

But please, look closer. We’re deep creatures. With deep happiness, but also with deep sadness. Deep fear. Deep pain.

And the constant fear that our deep feelings will get us kicked out of each other’s good graces means that our fear and pain and sadness and anxiety and depression and trauma and stress and anger and panic and burnout and insecurity and heartbreak get deeper and deeper and deeper. Because it’s dangerous not to hide.

So when you see a smile, look closer.

When you see success, look closer.

When you see beauty, look closer.

When you see laughter, look closer.

Sometimes you’ll find the smile is real. Sometimes you’ll find that underneath the smile, there’s a dam about to break. Sometimes you’ll find that the smile and the struggle are both very real together.

And sometimes, the person you were most sure has it all together, turns out to be barely holding on. I feel like I see this again and again and again.

So please, practice looking closer.

There are happy people. There are healthy people. There are people without mental illness, trauma. People who aren’t as fragile as others. People whose smiles are a lot deeper than their frowns. I think.

But what I know is that if you’re willing to look closer, you’ll be surprised how many of us are broken.

The longer I live, the more I see this vision of an earth crawling with a bunch of anxious creatures who just desperately need someone to give them a hug.

Brokenness isn’t all there is. There’s beauty and happiness, adventure and connection, accomplishment and excitement. There’s so much good in this world. It’s the stuff that we talk about all the time! That thing went well! Way to go at this! Look where I did a thing! We don’t often hide the good stuff.

So please, when you see the good stuff, don’t forget that underneath may be someone who really needs you to ask if they’re a little broken, too. Someone who might need a hug, a smile, a shoulder, a chat.

What about you? What are you hiding?

We’re all in this together, friends. Let’s be brave: Hide less. Hug more.

And every chance you get, take a closer look.

P.S. And if you can truly hear this yet, please know that your brokenness is okay. You are exactly you, and that is a good thing. So maybe “broken” is the wrong word…

Kahlil Gibran - out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls

8 Strategies for When You’re WAY TOO BUSY

Do you remember the busiest month of your life? A time where you over-committed yourself for a few weeks? Maybe it was a project at work, too many classes in school, a bunch of events–or a mixture of everything. A time when you felt like every day you just woke up, immediately hit the gas pedal, and didn’t slow down till you fell into bed at the end of the day. How did that time of intense busyness make you feel? What state did it leave you in? Stressed? Exhausted? Crabby? Anxious? Lonely? Burnt out?

All of my life’s experience has left me with this big piece of advice to give: DON’T commit to an insanely busy schedule. Being overworked and overly exhausted messes with you in a lot of ways. BUT–SOMETIMES we agree to cram our schedule full for a while anyway. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to grow or to contribute or to do something you love, and it’s too good to pass up, so you take the leap and book your schedule absolutely full for a week, or two, or three, or maybe for a month.

What happens when you do that? Well you already know, it will probably bring with it stress, exhaustion, crabbiness, anxiety, loneliness, and burn out. You may gain a few pounds, you may hurt a few feelings, and you may do a little more retail therapy than you wish. It may still have been totally worth it, but the bottom line is that it won’t be a walk in the park. So how do you make it through as healthily and happily as possible? How can you make the best of a tough period of busyness?

I recently got to experience this when I participated in a three week work project with an absolutely brutal schedule and workload. Long hours, working straight through the weekend, and it was the type of work that just didn’t slow down until you get in your car and drive away. Even then, unwinding took almost until bedtime–if you were lucky. I’ve gone through other times before when I was overly busy, and sometimes it’s gone better than others. This last time I didn’t do so well at staying grounded and positive deep down inside. It actually ended up being much tougher by the end than I had expected. So it left me thinking afterward: What could have made it go better? What will I do differently next time?

After reflecting for a while, I came up with 8 suggestions that I’ve learned by trial and error in my experience. 8 strategies for when you’re just way too busy for a while. Try as you may to maintain balance in your life, I’m sure you’ll find yourself facing another of those exhausting months at some point down the road. I hope some of these tips help you make it through happily and healthily.

When you’re facing a period of extreme busyness…

1. Show yourself compassion and support.

Cut yourself some slack. This is going to be a tough time and you’ll have bad days. You’ll be stressed and overwhelmed and you might not feel like your best self. Accept that this is normal when you’re overly busy. It would be weird if it didn’t affect you. It may help to think about how being overwhelmed and overly busy affects you particularly. Remind yourself on the rough days that you knew it would be hard, and be compassionate and accepting toward yourself.

2. Ask for help and patience from others.

Remember that this isn’t just going to affect you. There are other people in your life–spouse, significant other, kids, co-workers–who will also be affected by your busyness. The closer they are to you, the more they may find your stress directed toward them, no matter how hard you try to stay positive. Talk to them–even ahead of time–about what’s going on. It may feel awkward to say “I might be a little mean to you this month.” But if you don’t talk about it, they may not understand what’s going on and may not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Ask sincerely for their patience and help along the way.

3. Pick a couple things you can’t lose touch with.

Pick one or two or three things that will help you stay grounded and happy. Lifelines. Walks with your puppy. A TV show with your spouse. Daily meditation. Half an hour at the gym. Play time with the kids. What is a thing you just can’t lose touch with? A lot of things are important to you, but if you just try to keep up with as many as you can, you may find them to be so much that you end up keeping up with none at all. So pick just a couple and absolutely commit (meaning plan ahead and don’t budge on your plan) to keeping up with them.

4. Choose sleep over keeping up with other activities.

You’re going to really miss all the stuff you can’t do while you’re overly busy–stuff you normally have plenty of time for. It’s very tempting to give up a couple hours of sleep every night so that you can keep up with all your life stuff. DON’T! You need sleep. This is already going to be a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting month, and being sleep deprived will make it worse. Besides, you’ll find those life things aren’t that fun when you’re sleep deprived anyway. So keep your sleep, keep your health, and keep your energy, so you can actually enjoy the couple routines you do get to keep up with.

5. Use a little transition ritual to stay grounded.

It is so easy to lose touch with all of your Why’s and all of your What’s when you speed from one busy thing to the next without slowing down to think. Try building a couple little grounding practices or rituals that you can use when you move between tasks or between sections of your day. For example, before you start a new task you can close your eyes for ten seconds and ask yourself the question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing today?” Or you can set aside five minutes after each meal to stand outside in the fresh air and breathe deeply or daydream. Just slowing down and re-connecting with yourself can keep you from getting lost in your whirlwind of a schedule.

6. Waste a little time at the end of your day.

Your brain needs rest. Sometimes, and for some personalities more frequently than for others, you need to let it shut down and waste some time. Not be going-going-going, not worry about accomplishing or being productive. This might mean when you finally get to the end of your ridiculously busy day, you turn into a couch potato for a few minutes. Twenty minutes of mind-numbing TV might be just what the doctor ordered. Don’t get stuck in a cycle of not-having-accomplished-enough. Give yourself a break.

7. Celebrate and reward your hard work.

No matter how stressful or frustrating this busy period ends up getting, you’re doing an impressive thing by working through it and taking on so much all at once. Even though it’s not easy, you’re pushing through, because you’re doing this for a reason–to better yourself, to contribute to a cause, whatever it is. So why don’t you celebrate? Reward yourself a little for all this hard work. Bragging to your friends about your hard work, or getting yourself a favorite treat can help make a tough experience a good one. What if you promised yourself a relaxing spa day at the end of the crazy month?

8. Accept and prepare for recovery to take some time.

This is one step you might not have expected, but it will really help to understand ahead of time. When you overwork yourself for two or three weeks, increasing your stress of all kinds–mental, emotional, physical–it’s probably going to leave you in worse shape than you’d like. You might feel anxious, crabby, out of shape, lonely, disconnected from your closest people, and a little burned out by the time life slows back down. Here’s the thing–those things won’t suddenly feel all better when you stop being too busy. It may take you several days or a couple weeks to feel back to normal–back in touch, on top of your game, and in sync with your relationships. Expecting all the burnout to go away on your first day off will only lead to frustration and blame. Accept the shape your busyness left you in and allow yourself plenty of time and space to recover.

What else works for you?

Happy life-ing and good luck!

 

P.S. For your inspiration…

“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate the stormiest roads in peace.” – Steve Goodier

Lou Holtz - how you carry the load

Urgent vs important

Henry David Thoreau - Not enough to be busy

Can you imagine the feeling, finishing up a task, sitting back, and thinking to yourself, “Hmm… I literally have nothing left to do today!” That would be really weird, right???

Life just needs to slow down. Right? But I have a hundred things to do today. So much to catch up on. So much to organize, fix, clean, or find. So many people to get back to. Those things I’ve been wanting to try, and stuff I’ve been invited to.

I happen to think it’s a particularly American tradition to live every day at a breakneck speed. We never, ever, ever run out of things to do right away. When my wife and I got married and honeymooned in Italy we learned that the entire country traditionally closes its shops and sends its people home from work for a few hours over lunch. I often reminisce about my days in Ethiopia and Uganda, where even hard-working people walk slowly wherever they go and spend hours in peace and quiet with family or friends.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury in the States. We have stuff to do. Always. We wear our over-flowing inboxes and day-planners like a badge, like there’s something special about our ability to cram a thousand little things into every single day.

But what are we even busy doing?

 

When are we going to do those deeper, bigger, more meaningful life things? The things we keep putting off “until we have more time.”

I think the big things that we want to do–that we want to look back and be happy about at the end of our lives–we want to do just right, and we want to do with unlimited time and attention. So we keep putting our real life off while we try to catch up with our bottomless stack of to-dos.

 

What would happen if you set aside the urgent stuff today? Let them just not happen? Would you finally start writing that book? Take your kid out to do something fun together? Make a plan to eat healthier and exercise?

And what if you kept ignoring so many of those “urgent” things–would you keep writing, stay more connected to your loved ones, and discover you actually have time to get to the gym most days?

 

Urgent vs Important–we constantly face a choice between the two. Urgent is the squeaky wheel whining for your attention. But at the end of your life, which will you wish you had chosen more often? Urgent or important?

What big life thing have you been putting off for years because you’re always too busy? What if you decided this weekend you were just going to start it–no matter what notifications pop up?