Why Taking Downtime is Good for Boosting your Resilience
I’ve been here all along. But we suffered a big bereavement at the end of last year, and it sapped my will to write.
It’s hard to write about coaching when you feel a bit hopeless yourself. Which, for me, has been one of the major feelings that has come with this death.
In my work I talk a lot about self-compassion, and accepting emotions. In practise, I’ve felt guilty that my resilience was running on empty.
I’ve suffered a lot of loss and sadness over the last five years. With each loss I’ve felt my emotional reserves deplete further. Resilience isn’t an infinite reserve. Sometimes you need some time to build it back up.
I had to trust that doing less was the right thing to do. It wasn't easy. But sure enough, my enthusiasm and interest in getting on with things has come back. The rest is exactly what I needed.
There’s a metaphor below that you’ll find helpful if you are feeling depleted.
Resilience is not infinite: the bucket metaphor explained
When you experience something life-changing, a loss say, it goes into a bucket of things that you have to cope with. When the bucket is empty, coping with something, even something massive, is challenging, but you have some energy for it.
My emotional bucket has been full for a while. Over-flowing I’d say. With a lifetime of losses squeezed into a short time-period, some of them traumatic, it hasn’t been an easy road.
Every one of us lives with loss and uncertainty every day. During the pandemic, we all lost our routines, normality, and feeling control over our every day lives. Lives, regardless of our success or otherwise, are messy and complicated, and we don’t always know what to do about that.
My advice is to feel the feelings and take the time you can to replenish.
In practice, it can be difficult for me to honour my own good advice, since the social pressure to get back in the saddle are strong. (And there's the need to subsist, of course).
It can be hard for us to know whether we should trust ourselves when the external noise is loud. How do you know whether whether to push on through, or whether to rest?
Should you trust your own thoughts and feelings?
Sometimes your life will be a shit show… Seriously, sometimes you will make bad decisions, and sometimes horrible things will happen to you that you can’t control.
Sometimes you’ll sail through. Other times you’ll freeze. You’ll need rest and recuperation.
And although you know that this is the case, doing what you need isn't always straightforward. Doing what you need, instead of what you think you ought to do, can bring up difficult emotions: especially guilt.
But guilt is just a feeling, and it isn't always telling you the truth about what you should do in a situation. Here's why...
When guilt is a destructive social emotion
Guilt is a social and moral emotion. It usually happens when you think that you’ve done something wrong.
Perhaps you broke a rule or a law. Stealing, for example.
But it can also happen when you don’t live up to certain social expectations and conventions.
Things like getting married, eschewing heteronormative expectations, and choosing non-traditional ways of working. None of these are rule breaking. None of these harm other people. But we feel guilty about them because we are going against the norms of the group.
Guilt like this is slippery. Social conventions can ensure that we all rub along together. So feeling guilty about breaking those conventions might feel appropriate. But, social conventions are different from moral requirements. You don’t have to follow social “rules”. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about if you break them.
From a moral and co-operative point of view guilt is great.
Guilt, provides a behavioural guide, and helps us all to rub along together (more or less) in large social groupings without causing harm to others.
The problem is that we internalise a lot of rules that are more about propping up social paradigms and ideologies (consumerism, capitalisms) than they are about keeping ourselves and others safe from harm. And when we break them, we have the same emotional response as we would if we broke a more binding moral rule.
In this regard guilt reinforces the status quo. Your guilt about breaking the rules makes you want to toe the line. It can be hard, for example, to show yourself compassion, or take the time that you need to recover from difficult life events, because guilt is telling you to conform to expectation.
But if you ask yourself if you are doing harm by resting, you know that the answer is no. And you can give yourself radical permission to set healthy boundaries, feel your feelings and treat yourself with kindness.
Some examples of conventional cultural rules are:
working between 9am and 5pm (or increasingly, longer),
a 40-60 hour working week,
always being available to answer e-mails and messages,
being consistently visible on social media
fitting your grief into a neat timeframe
hitting milestones around babies, marriage, buying a home etc.
…you get the gist.
How I have been doing less to restore my resilience and enthusiasm
While I’ve been bucking convention, and taking the time I need to heal, what’s been going on?
I’ve given myself radical permission to do whatever feels like the right thing to do.
Work-wise, I’ve done a small amount of client work, because client work is never a chore.
I eschewed all marketing efforts, because marketing feels stressful, and I needed to
drop it for a while.
I’ve thought a lot. Where I am, what I want. I came up with lots of business ideas, which I am going to be working on for release later in the year.
Not-work-wise, I took up embroidery. When I say I took it up. What I mean is that I have become an obsessive stitcher and have made nearly 20 pieces. It’s a compulsion. I can’t help myself. It has the same addictive quality as Enid Blyton did when I was 8 years old reading under the bedclothes, with a torch so as not to be caught, until the early hours. In fact, there’s a similarity because I have this torch thing that I wear round my neck to see the stitches. It ain’t glamorous, folks.
But, by God if it’s not the most soothing thing ever.
And, you know, I moped about feeling sad and dejected, and scared about the hand that life can deal sometimes. And I found a new therapist to talk about that with.
But mostly, I’ve been doing very intense sewing. (you can look at my embroidery Instagram here).
And here I am, writing this post, picking up work again. Slowly. Because life doesn’t happen on a timetable. You can put things down and pick them back up again when you’re ready.
What should you do do when life gives you lemons, and you can’t be arsed with making lemonade?
When your resilience is low ask these four things:
1. Is this a sign for me to rest and replenish?
2. How can I show myself the compassion I need and deserve?
3. What feels manageable to me? (If the answer is nothing: try to minimise your responsibilities and stressors. Know that what you put down can be picked up again later).
4. If I can’t take the space to rest and replenish, how can I take care of myself in other ways that will make me feel better supported?
Sometimes rest is the resilience skill you need to employ. You can bounce back when you’re good and ready!
How Trevnee Coaching can help you build resilience
In my coaching practise I can help you with rebuilding resilience if:
You find it difficult to know when or how to take your foot off the gas;
It seems impossible to take the time you need;
You can’t shake the guilt when you need to rest and recover;
You need to learn to be kinder and more nurturing towards yourself;
You need tools to build your optimism.
I can help you figure it out and make the positive changes you need.
If any of this sounds familiar, I'd love it if you'd e-mail me and we’ll arrange a chat about it. If we are a good fit, I will invite you for a FREE coaching session. (It's important to me that prospective clients know what they'll be getting if they commit to working with me. And also for me to know if the fit is right. Short taster sessions don't quite cut it).
All enquiries can be sent to email@example.com