You wake up, it’s Thanksgiving morning, the turkey is in the oven (no it’s not November — this is a metaphor, so roll with it =))…You’re focused on watching what you consume in the early parts of the day so that you have room to stuff your face with delicious delectables in mass quantities for dinner. And you love doing that! But how do you feel after eating? Stuffed, bloated, uncomfortable? Me too — who wouldn’t? This is why we only eat like this once a year.
Similar to holiday feasts, we stuff our faces with too much “life” — but we do this all year round. Stuffing looks like overloading your schedule, double booking, yes-ing too often, or the moment you have a little free space, you feel the need to fill it with something. You later feel resentful, burned out, and have to cancel your plans to carve out a little time for you. The guilt and frustration kicks in because you let someone down — that someone being you. You ask yourself, “Where did the time go?” and, “How did I let this happen again?!”
This reaction is an emotional cue; our bodies have a beautiful way of telling us when they are hungry, thirsty, and when enough is enough — if you listen to the cues. You were taught to understand your hunger patterns from an early age. Our emotions, energy, and thought processes are similar; however, we weren’t typically told how to listen to these more subtle pieces of ourselves.
This is a missing skillset; it’s not your fault, or your parents’ fault either. It’s in our nature (especially in the USA) to buckle down, push through, and work it out until we get the results we are looking for. We become so good at pushing ourselves to the limit, that it can feel easier to go till we “get the job done”, and cross that one last imaginary item off our checklist, than to pause and check in.
We can, of course, learn to listen to our subtle and energetic messages. Unlike our bellies, which rumble or churn, these systems can communicate quietly. It may take longer for us to hear the cues if we didn’t grow up looking for them, which might feel like our systems take “too long” to show us what they want to communicate. It’s easy to get impatient and want to skip maintaining our energetic selves.
What we sometimes don’t realize is, there is a major cost being paid for taking this on as a lifestyle. If you lived like you were eating a Thanksgiving dinner every day, this would eventually start to show up on your waistline. Physical changes are sometimes easier to point out. Overstuffing (overstimulating) your emotional, energetic and mental space is different, and you might not recognize it’s a problem until physical symptoms start to arise. Yes, you may notice the physical fatigue, brain fog, and the overall sense of feeling “off;” but that’s what coffee, stimulants, and sleeping pills are for, right?
You end up stuck in this perpetual cycle that doesn’t work, and it sometimes feels hopeless to get out because most of our culture is doing the exact same thing. “Ah!! Are you exhausted? I am.” We are rewarded for our accomplishments, the tasks we check off lists, or the rewards we receive. When do you ever hear someone say, “Heidi, you did a really great job handling your emotional load today,” or, “Man, I’m impressed by how you were able to deflect all that negative self-talk that came out of nowhere”…?
How do you even know if enough is enough, if you never have to time to take a step back and really listen to your own unique cues from your systems?
Getting to know you, and how you uniquely operate is one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever experience. You have a body — you’re alive!!! Think about that for a moment. Did you forget what a gift that is? I do too; we all have those moments where we take the most precious things for granted — like being here on this beautiful planet.
Learning your cues and how your system works isn’t going to happen overnight. In fact, it takes a lifetime to build a relationship with ourselves. Like in nature or with the food we eat, there are seasons we experience. We can’t live like it’s Thanksgiving every day…but pushing or indulging is sometimes necessary, too.
Life isn’t a straight line, and we all have those heavy, big life moments where our day-to-day is full to the brim — and then the tide shifts. If we don’t take a moment during the next wave to recover, pause, and reflect…if you keep running on an empty energy tank even when your belly is full, then it will become your new normal.
The body is very adaptable to internal and external conditions; its main job is to keep you safe and stay alive, and it will adjust accordingly so it can do so. When we run at full capacity all the time, setting off our “fight or flight” response, our bodies slowly pay the price. You will either start to lose joy even in the things you love, or your physical health will be impacted.
This doesn’t happen with a bang, all at once — it’s a silent sneaky ninja. You’ll probably first notice small physical symptoms (like what I mentioned earlier): that you’re tired, a little sleep deprived, and not quite feeling yourself. So what do you do? You may go to your yearly physical to validate what you’re experiencing…but because all your vitals check out, your doctor slaps on the good old this-is-all-a-part-of-the-aging-process sticker, informing you that if you eat right, sleep more, destress, and move your body, everything will be okay. Then they send you home with no real plan on how to accomplish that, as if we were all built with a manual on how our own unique body is supposed to perform or thrive in the world.
So, you continue to do what you know, being mindful for the first week — maybe a month, if you’re lucky and have the support. After making a few small changes your brain lights up, and you feel mildly satisfied for a few days. Then the high pressure from work and life commitments start knocking at the door, asking you to show up!
What do you do now?
Before I answer that question, let me tell you a story — because who doesn’t love a good story.
This is about me of course; a little bit about the summer I’ve been having. I consciously decided to take 3 months to dive into one of the most important relationships I’ll ever have — with myself!!!
The last 10 years of my life have been dedicated to personal development, spiritual growth, growing a business, getting married, buying two houses — lots of adulting happening behind the scenes. I must admit, I enjoy the high of producing lots of goodies, and don’t want to get off the treadmill of the fast-paced life I’ve developed for myself. This nonstop go-go-go attitude had its cost. I heard the cues my system was communicating, but didn’t listen. (Trust me, even when you know and teach energetic boundaries for a living, it doesn’t make one a magical human. Even me.)
How often do we set aside the time to reflect on all the things that we’ve learned and get to know ourselves? Yes, I still set my yearly goals, and review my numbers, and check in with myself, but I can’t remember the last time I had three months to focus on nothing else but myself — like a full summer vacation. Remember those times before social media and cell phones? I used to call someone out of the blue to see if they wanted to hang out, or as a kid I would ride my bike and made friends with whomever was outside playing already. Life still had its complications, but it was a simpler time.
I miss those simpler times; don’t get me wrong, I also love the convenience of technology. Ordering groceries online, buying anything I want on off the interwebs, and having my robot vacuum (his name is Gary) suck up all the cat fur — oh what a blessing he is. It has been so ingrained in me to take the next class, work on the next project, and do the next thing, that I forgot what it is like to just live. You know, enjoy your life, laugh with friends, and kill some time without guilt, or shame, or thinking about all the things that you’re not doing.
Turns out going back to simpler times is easier said than done. The first three weeks of my summer journey were probably some of the hardest of my life, because that’s exactly what I experienced — so much guilt and shame that it felt like I was doing something wrong.
Once I realized what was happening, I soon settled and just let myself feel that. All the shame, guilt, and other dark feelings came flooding in like I just released an emotional dam that was about to drown me. It’s like that vacation you plan and have been dreaming about for months, but when you finally get there all you can think about is how you “should” be working. Feeling this whole range of (e)motion felt like work, even though I’d created more time away from extra responsibilities.
I did finally get to chill and just be in the vacation. I simply had to move through all of that to get to the good stuff. My summer has been filled with lots of nature walks, enjoyable time with friends and family, and most of all lots & lots of time with myself. I forgot how much fun I am! I forgot how good it feels to have a fully rested body, have a quiet mind that only produces my thoughts, and to finally focus on only what’s important to me. Our time and energy are divided all the time. By moving past all those emotions, I’m actually able to sink into those experiences now and be present in the moment.
What started as a reset — a way to really listen to my emotional cues — has turned into a huge reward. In fact, I like this pace so much that I have decided to make this my new lifestyle.
A well-rounded life
Let’s go back to our Thanksgiving metaphor for a moment. We talked about how we sometimes live life as if it’s Thanksgiving every day, and it overstuffs us mentally, emotionally, and energetically.
Ask yourself, what do you do when you’ve reached your overstimulation (overstuffed) capacity? When life keeps going, and your joy is hiding or physical symptoms start to arise? This is a signal that you may have waited too long to listen, like I did — for me, a big break was in order. You might be thinking, “Great, Heidi, that doesn’t help ME much,” and that may be accurate. A three-month slowdown might not be the “right” move for you, or feasible for everyone. So what could that look like instead?
It’s too simplistic to say that we always need to seek moderate levels of stimulation to stay sane. You may crave low levels by going to the spa, or desire high levels by attending a party or event. This is going to look different for each person and may change moment to moment because our needs are different all the time. What fills you up and nourishes you is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Rather than biting off everything in 3 months, taking a huge step back, and trying to catch up from years over overload like I did…what if you had time carved out every week, or a few moments every day? (Remember, moments can last minutes or hours.) In all reality, if I would have practiced this consistent step-back sooner, it might not have taken me 3 months to get back to feeling normal.
How can you measure something that you might not always feel?
Let me say this again: learning your cues and how your system works isn’t going to happen overnight. So, until you learn to “feel” when too much is happening energetically, you can start with some mental boundaries and check in with how they work.
The best way I’ve discovered to do this is to look at your calendar: does it measure up? Does your behavior match what you’re committed to? For example, if you’re committed to hit the gym three times this week, did you prioritize that? Or maybe you want to have more family time; are you going to add another thing to your plate, or block off Friday evening for pizza and a movie?
It’s too simplistic to say that we always need to seek “moderate” levels of stimulation to stay sane. You may crave low levels by going to the spa one week, or have a week where you desire high levels and attend a party or event. This is going to look different for each person and may even change moment to moment, because our needs are different all the time. What fills you up and nourishes you is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Personally, I like to check in every Sunday before I dive back in to the week to see how I feel. I look at the activities that are important to me and I write them in; if there isn’t any room left over, then I don’t plan anything else — even if it sounds really fun, or I feel like I “should.” It takes practice to honor our word, especially to ourselves. And if you have a full plate — because, remember, we will all have our Thanksgiving day moments — can you carve out time on the weekend or the following week to recover (even if you don’t feel like you need it)?
If you try these practices on, notice the effect they have on the subtle aspects of yourself — your mood, your energy levels, your state of mind. Keep building that relationship to your subtle cues, so you can choose how to create your version of a full life without being too stuffed.