I’ve heard some version of the phrase “f**k 2020!” probably a billion times. I’m not even being hyperbolic. Between conversations with friends, social media, the news….yeah. Billion sounds about right.
I get it. Trust me. I’m over it, too. This year has brought with it a monumental number of changes. Most of them have inspired more curses from me than even the most bawdy sailor could hope to compete with.
Everyone I know is telling me that everyone THEY know are all going just a little bit crazy. Not all the way to crazy (QANON, and Antifa notwithstanding) But just…you know…edgy. Cranky. Put out. Exhausted. Fed up. Pissed off. A little less able to deal with the day-to-day Covid-civil unrest-economic hardship- grind.
The election is definitely not helping.
I don’t know about you, but my responses (in terms of my behaviors) have varied as time has gone by. I go from over-performing to under-performing. One minute I’m committing to 20,000 step goal step-bets, the next minute I’m drooling as I click “yes, Netflix…I DO want to watch another episode of Great British Baking show….stop judging me!”
And all this year, some part of me has been in a weird sort of holding pattern. I keep thinking “I just need to get through this year and then…”
Or if not “this year” I’m thinking “I just need to get through this election …”
But buried underneath all that wishful thinking, there is a knowing voice within me…sitting quietly…feet kicked up…waiting for me to hear her quiet reminders…
The election cycle won’t magically fix this, no matter who gets elected. The turning of our arbitrary clock from 11:59pm on December 31st, 2020 to 12:00AM on January 1st 2021 won’t make all this insanity go away.
Damn. That’s a bummer.
Before this whole pandemic thing got started, I was slated to move from part time status at my job (a job I happen to love) to full time status. I was putting out content pretty regularly. I was starting to do more mingling at meetup groups….and I was even facilitating meetup groups, if you can believe it…
In essence, I was setting down some routines. I was creating some momentum. I felt like I had some measure of control in my life (or at least some influence in it).
When the pandemic hit, it threw EVERYTHING up in the air. Everything was put on pause. Because everyone, or at least it felt like everyone….was suddenly in uncharted territory. Unsure of what to do next. Overwhelmed. Bored. Uncertain. Scared.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, spoke to our collective response to all this, beautifully, in a conversation with Lex Fridman titled: Counterintuitive Ideas About How the Brain Works.
In essence, she explains that our bodies produce cortisol in response to a new event (and she makes a point of saying that cortisol is not actually a stress hormone, as it is often mistakenly called….it’s simply a hormone that shoots out sugar into the bloodstream to help give us energy to either move…or learn).
That second one is in bold because it’s one I didn’t know was a thing until she mapped it out. Apparently, learning something new is metabolically expensive (it costs us a lot of energy). That should make sense. Have you ever noticed that when you are in training on a job site, you end up feeling exhausted, even though you haven’t actually started…like…working yet? It’s because your brain is trying to integrate a lot of new information at once, and that’s taxing.
According to Barrett…our systems LOVE novelty. We need it. It’s what keeps us interested in life. But like with anything, too much of it at once can put us in a sort of metabolic deficit where we spend more energy than we have to give. Once that has occurred, we burn out.
This explains, in part, why we are seeing so much divisiveness in our country. To empathize with someone who is different from you requires curiosity. The willingness and the ability to learn something new. We are running a little low on the energy required to do that, at present.
This also helps explain why so many people are feeling agitated. Edgy. Foggy. Helpless. We are burning out (or we have long been at the burn-out finish line). According to those who study this concept…burnout looks like: physical exhaustion, cynicism, and a feeling of helplessness.
So the hunger….the ache…to want to return to a world that was more familiar…its perfectly understandable. It’s just not an option.
And maybe that’s not a terrible thing.
Make no mistake, I’m not saying I’m happy with our current state of affairs. I’m no fan of Trump (there…my bias is out of the bag). I’m certainly not pleased that there are millions of people all over the country who are suffering from either having direct exposure to a nasty virus OR from the economic fallout that has resulted OR from navigating a world that is already incredibly divisive.
But if there is one thing that crisis brings to the table, it is an opportunity. With crisis comes a reality check. We get to see the weak points of our beliefs about the world. We get to see the gaps in our personal, communal, and political resources. And while it smells like shit, much like fertilizer, it’s rich with potential.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste it.
I can’t fix the world. I can’t wave a magic wand and make everything all better for all those who are suffering. But you know something I can do? I can look around and take some responsibility for my own life (breaking that down…I can take some response ability).
So rather than waiting for my current job to decide whether or not it wants to give me full time status, I went ahead and took a second job as a virtual health coach. Why? Because I am a big fan of diversifying my income. And focusing on helping other people feels like a better way to spend my time than only thinking about my own troubles. And why not get into a field that is virtual in a world that appears to be headed in that direction, anyhow?
Rather than wait until some mythical magical moment to put out content and wait for it to be all “perfect” and organized…I’m just going to put content out there. Because for all I know, maybe something I write or speak to or video about will be helpful for someone else.
Rather than spend all my time worrying about who is going to be our next president, I’m going to spend some time getting curious about people who don’t look or sound like me. Maybe if I spend more time trying to understand people who disagree with me, I might spend less time being pissed off at them for being wrong about everything (because they can’t possibly be wrong about everything)
And rather than wait for my external world to right itself so I can go about my business and stop being burned out, I can engage in the practices I know will help me stay sane….which will probably help me to navigate this new world we all live in more effectively.
And for those of you who are wondering what practices tend to help with burnout…these are the evidence-based practices (meaning…people much smarter than myself who graduated from institutions like Stanford and Harvard validated these practices with research) that are known to help us to overcome our apocalypse burn-out
- Exercise: helps us take all that stress and, literally, burn it off so we can think clearly.
- Eat Right: Try to eat something with some fiber and protein every 2 – 4 hours
- Deep Breathing: Helps signal to our brain that we are safe
- Joy Time: People who are happy do things that make them happy. It’s a practice.
- Connect: When stressed, we are primed for connection. Give someone a hug.
- Creative Expression: This helps process stress in a way that is constructive
- Try Something New: Do something that gets your mind off present circumstances
- Rest: Spend at least 7 – 9 hours sleeping. It’s a game changer. True story.
Did I miss anything? What kinds of things help alleviate suffering for you in your daily life?
How might you integrate it in your daily routine RIGHT NOW (rather than waiting for New Years resolutions)?
How might integrating these things into your life help you to improve the lives of others around you?