We all have dark days during this pandemic lockdown. Some days are nice than others, but when things build up and get a bit too overwhelming we can feel very heavy. When life gets too busy, we can subconsciously agree to long periods of stress which can lead to serious mental and physical health challenges. What is this burden and how can we move to a slightly lighter way of being? This question came from a friend but I’d like to share my answer and hear how you are coping when your cup fills up.
I have experienced many busy and overwhelming times in the past. Working in social media can be really demanding. Some campaigns last for months, 24/7 and interfere with all areas of our lives (work, private life, family time, parenthood, home, self-care time etc). Raising a child as a single parent poses similar challenges. Running a business from home can disrupt a healthy balance too. So here is the key realisation that really helped me in the past and something that I tap into a lot at the moment:
Knowing the difference between what we need and what we want helps us make informed choices.
This sentence might sound very obvious at first, but can be rather difficult to put into practice, especially if you live in a relatively comfortable, developed economy and are exposed to media messages based on the idea that “you are never enough”. So let’s go back to the basics: when lost and overwhelmed, sit down and ask yourself a simple question: are my challenges defined by realistic expectations? What is it that I need?
To separate your “needs” from your “wants” list all the things you want to have and do right now. Review the list and pull out the ones that you actually need to feel well. List them on separate pieces of paper or post-its. Now take all your “needs” and prioritise them in order of importance. Here is an example: (1) the need to feel healthy, (2) be safe and clean, (3) not feel alone, (4) have access to food, (5) have access to alcoholic drinks, (6) have access to Netflix, (7) keep busy/work, (8) sleep at least 7 hrs, (9) be in touch with family daily, (10) connect with nature. To validate your list and ensure you have “needs” and not “wants” we will have to be a bit extreme. Take each piece of paper starting with the lowest one and put it away imagining how your life would look like and feel like without that item. So in this example, you need to give up on connecting with nature. Imagine living in the city, in a small apartment without a pet and with no plants in the window. How can you cope with the reality of your life? Can you stay well? For how long? After this reflection take a step back and check: so do I really need this in my life? if so, is this still 10 on my list? if not, where would it be? if I need it, can I adjust my expectations and for example “need plants or a pet in my life?” instead of going to the local park each day? Be as creative as you can, but also firm in terms of defining your actual needs and weeding out “wants” from your list. Go through each item on your list to finalise it. When finished with the exercise it might also be worth reflecting on the entire process in the context of your life. So how is your life at the moment? What are your needs? How can you stay well in the currently limited reality knowing what is truly important to you?
What tends to happen in coaching relationship when we do this exercise for identifying core needs, core freedoms, life values or current life priorities is a shift in client from imbalanced view on their life to a more realistic, pragmatic set of expectations and a clearer view on what is important and what is achievable. On one hand, we can get carried away with wanting successful careers and dreams of financial abundance. On the other hand, we can also ignore some key needs that make us feel healthy. Addressing this imbalance on a deeper level can lead to a less stressful life – especially during a crisis.
In order to respect our inner selves, we also need to remember that we all have universal, but also unique needs. For all of us, it will be extremely important to feel healthy and safe at the time of this global pandemic. For most of us here in the UK, judging from the items missing from our stores, a go-to need is to feel in control of small tasks – many people turn to baking. Many of us also seek nature in response to the sudden limitations to our freedom of movement. However the very same activity – the act of baking a cake or going for a woodland walk – might have different meanings to two people in the very same house. And so in order to function well in the same household, we need to be clear on our individual and collective needs.
Now, more than ever, it is important to take care of our needs and take care of each other. It might be helpful to take a moment to review our needs to make more informed choices about our daily activities. We still have a wide range of choices available – exercising those can lead to a helpful sense of control, peace and balance, especially on darker days.