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November 01, 2023

Episode 13: How to Navigate Mentally Difficult Times

In this episode Sarah and Pam discuss strategies for getting through times when you are distracted, overwhelmed, or just not feeling your best.

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This transcript was generated by AI so please ignore any weird errors. If there is anything really terrible, let us know.

[00:00:08] Pam: So today we originally planned to record another book club episode and we had a book planned that we were both reading and you reached out to me a couple of days ago and said, “Hey, I’m not ready to do book club this week because I had planned on finishing the book this week and I’ve been mentally overwhelmed by news that’s going on with Israel and Gaza.”

So can you maybe just touch on that a little bit and talk about what you’ve been feeling and how that’s been affecting you? And then we can go into some tips for navigating times like these and maybe even thinking ahead to preparing because these times are going to happen. So even if you’re in a good place right now and you’re not being affected by news or outside events, it’s good to know that good times don’t always last and there are always going to be times when you’re maybe, distracted or overwhelmed or just not at your best. And there’s things that you can do now to prepare for those times.

[00:01:10] Sarah: I think what I love about where, how you started and where I’m going with this is thinking, okay, if I’m feeling overwhelmed for whatever reason, where in my life can I create space?

And how can I make life feel better and easier for me? So, this was one example when the attack occurred in Israel recently and the ensuing violence In the region and everything that’s going on in Gaza and having many close friends in the region. And just regardless of that, having watching the news and feeling so impacted. Yeah, I’ve just found that it’s been on my mind a lot. It’s been on my heart a lot and it’s made it hard to sleep well. It’s made it hard to show up to, to do work. And so one of the impacts was yeah not finishing the book and then thinking, oh yeah, I can’t finish this. I can’t actually concentrate right now.

And as you said that happens sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed and when our brain and sort of heart has been taken over by something else.

[00:02:29] Pam: I could certainly relate to it. And I think there’s a lot of things that happen in life that can result in that feeling. It could be external news. It could be, like what you’re going through. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of instances of this. Two major ones that stand out are one, obviously when my Dad died unexpectedly last year. That came out of the blue and completely took me out of commission for, a couple of months, really, I was not mentally here.

And so I can definitely relate on that front, but then there’s also smaller things that happen. Just last month out of nowhere, I developed a really intense case of heartburn, like for 10 days out of the month, I was in pain and couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat and had low energy. And, just really was not feeling well.

And so that affects everything else that you’re doing. So there’s many ways that this can happen and can show up. It’s not just something traumatic happening. It could really be, anything that it affects your energy level and your ability to focus and just really how you can show up for work or your people, your family or yourself.

[00:03:44] Sarah: So true. And it’s, despite our desire to plan things and be organized and have, do our best to have it figured out. We’re not going to be on our A game all of the time. We’re not going to be able to feel present and grounded and focused all the time. And so we thought, let’s talk about that.

Let’s talk about what happens when life does throw a curveball, what are some of the strategies that we use or some of the tips that we have or insights that we have on how to navigate through those moments.

[00:04:24] Pam: A lot of them are mindset things. One that I wanted to start with was really focusing on the fact that this isn’t going to last.

No matter what you’re going through there, there’s an end to it. And it’s really easy to get into feeling like this is my life now. I feel terrible now. I’m never going to get back to where I was or the world is awful and the news is always terrible.

And just really getting sucked into this feeling of like everything’s terrible and it’s never going to be good again. And one thing that really helps me is like, this will pass. This is also short term. Things will change because everything always changes. Just like the good changed to bad, the bad can change back to good.

And just really focusing on that as a mantra helps me through times like that.

[00:05:13] Sarah: Okay, so what’s the specific mantra that you would say to yourself?

[00:05:18] Pam: I like a really simple one , which is just everything changes. And I use that in tough times, but also in good times, because I like to keep reminding myself that everything changes all the time. And so even if things are really good right now, that could change. And so you kind of always have to be flexible and aware and just present in what is, what you’ve got going on right now and knowing that things are going to change and you have to be comfortable with knowing that things are going to change and knowing that you’re going to make it through, no matter what changes, you’re going to be okay.

[00:05:58] Sarah: And building on the awareness piece I think, so yeah the having a mantra, having a perspective of what’s going on in the moment. And so I think even naming it, saying this is happening right now and it’s having this Impact on me and noticing it without judgment and knowing there are times in my life where I’m going to feel powerful and capable and positive.

And then other times where I’m going to feel completely knocked down. And that’s just part of the spectrum.

[00:06:29] Pam: Yeah.

[00:06:31] Sarah: So that self awareness piece the mindset piece, I think is always a great place to begin.

[00:06:36] Pam: So with the awareness of, I am in this now, this is what’s happening. We can, like I said, get really focused on the negative and on And not to say that you don’t want to think about, what’s happening or focus on the negative things that potentially are happening.

But I also think that there’s power in having that awareness saying “this is what’s happening right now. This is how it’s affecting me”. But also what’s not wrong? There’s still good things that are happening. So yes, bad things are happening here, but what can I hold on to? What can I anchor presence to that is still good?

And that could be, even something as basic as like, I’m still healthy. My kids are healthy. What, whatever that is that you can like center yourself on that is a positive and just, ask yourself, that over there, that is bothering me. It’s all terrible, but what’s not wrong.

What can I center myself on? That’s not wrong.

[00:07:41] Sarah: Yeah, I love that. Yeah. So finding those points where we can feel grounded and present. And then to build on that, something that helps me a lot with that is staying connected to other people. So this is like a concrete action that I’ll take. And I’ve learned this about myself that in the past, when I felt down, I’ve sometimes had the tendency to retreat and think like, Oh, I’ll just figure this out on my own.

And then when I’m feeling better, cause I don’t want to, burden my friends or be that person who’s feeling like such a bummer. So once I’m no longer a bummer and I’m fun again and happy. Then I’ll reach out to people. And I realized that that wasn’t having a great impact on me because then I would suffer alone and then maybe I would speak to friends after and tell them and they’d say, well, why didn’t you just tell me so I could have been there for you?

So now I’m consciously trying when I’m feeling anxious about something, when I’m feeling upset about someone, something. Connect to people, right? Even, meeting with you today. Like I actually know that when I’m in a meaningful conversation with someone with whom I trust, like that’s something that makes me feel good.

So I might, if I’m feeling low, think, Oh no, I’m just going to get in my jammies and hide under the covers and say no to everything. And yet I know that having a moment of connection with another human tends to make me feel better. When I’m feeling low. So that’s something that I try to build in for myself when I’m navigating a tough time.

[00:09:15] Pam: Yeah. I feel the same way. I’m definitely the type of person where I retreat and connection is hard for me. I’ve built that muscle up over the last few years. I’ve got a few people that are close to me that I trust and that I feel, okay being vulnerable with telling them, this is happening, I’m not feeling great, and even if they can’t do anything about it, just having that connection helps.

[00:09:40] Sarah: Yes. Yeah. It’s not even that you’re looking to people to solve problems, many of which are beyond our scope to solve. Right. So it’s just having someone to witness you or just be with you.

And then a few other things to build on the connection piece, cause I gave this one some thought. So, a few ways to connect with people when you’re feeling low is one is just to reach out and share and have that moment of connection. Another would be asking specifically for help.

So if there’s a particular way that you know someone could help you feel better, give you a resource, make your life easier provide some kind of perspective. Ask for it, right? Think about a safe person that you feel comfortable asking for it and ask for it. So that would be my second suggestion in involving other people.

And then the third is being of service. So if I feel like if I’m feeling sad about or overwhelmed about something that’s going on in the world, well, what, how can I be of service to make somebody else’s life a little bit better? So maybe that might mean donating money. Maybe it might mean for me, I’m lucky that I’m a coach, so it can be coaching people showing up and really, just shining a light on somebody else’s life and seeing what I can do to help them feel better.

It might be finding some organization. to support volunteering. It might be reaching out to other people who you know are having a hard time and just saying like, Hey, I’m holding you in my heart today. I’m thinking about you today. How’s it going? So just dropping a line to other people can You know, make them feel better, your own service.

And of course, there’s the byproduct of when we help people, we feel better. So I think when I’m talking about like connection and the importance of connection when we’re going through a mentally tough time, I mean, there are different ways to do it.

And There are obviously, friends and loved ones that you can connect with, but hopefully people are in a job where they have the ability to communicate with their coworkers or their boss or whoever it is that they can say, Hey, I’m in a period right now where I’m having a really hard time and it’s affecting me.

[00:11:59] Pam: It’s probably going to affect my productivity. And, just let them know. Because you can get in a situation where, you are just making it worse by building all this anxiety about falling behind at work and not living up to their expectations. And they, if they don’t know what’s going on with you, then all they see is

your stress and you’re falling behind and, you, you can just exacerbate the situation and make it worse. So having that connection as well and opening up to the people that you’re working with, I think can be really beneficial because it can take some of the pressure off that you may be feeling to produce.

[00:12:35] Sarah: A hundred percent. I feel like bottom line of this particular section of our conversation is don’t suffer alone.

Don’t suffer alone. Like, just talk about it, connect with somebody, and you never know how it might help. But it most likely will create some more space between you and like the bad feelings.

[00:12:57] Pam: So in your notes, you have a bullet point that says focus on my MITs. Can you tell me what MITs are?

[00:13:04] Sarah: Yeah. Um, this is, I write for most important tasks.

[00:13:08] Pam: Ah, okay.

[00:13:09] Sarah: Yep. So those are my most important tasks and I wrote, keep it simple, right? So when I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s not the best time to tackle that side project and do all that extra whatever do the extra things.

It’s really being clear with myself about, okay, what do I actually need to get done? So where are the things where I can cut myself some slack, have some grace and what do I actually have to get done? And how can I just, shine a light on that thing, get that thing done, and then focus on completion.

Because for me I find I can just let something drag on, like a project drag on. So if I’m in a, like feeling in a bad mood, if I can complete one thing… okay, you know what? This draft is done. It’s going out. You know what? This proposal is done. I’m sending it. You know what? This reflection that I’m sending to a client is complete. This new course outline, it’s done.

So it doesn’t have to be perfect, but the draft is done, complete. So I find It’s not about being perfect and getting everything done on the list, but when there’s something that I can focus on and have that feeling of completion then that’s a plus for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything else.

[00:14:22] Pam: Yeah. I think that’s great because there can be a tendency when you are feeling overwhelmed by things to just sit in your overwhelm and sit in the, the negativity or the feelings that you’re having about whatever’s going on, and it can be really hard to then like get something done. And while you do, want to give yourself a break and some grace and some slack and, maybe take some time off, it can also be really good to just say, look, I have this thing that has to get done and, and shift your focus to it and, put some energy into that.

And that can maybe help take you out of that cycle of being stuck in those negative feelings.

[00:15:05] Sarah: yeah, do you have something like a strategy or something you say to yourself when there’s something you do want to get done? But you know you’re not, you know that you’re still like your brain is a bit foggy or you’re still distracted by other stuff like what did you do for example right after you lost your dad and and you still did have some things that needed to get done.

[00:15:26] Pam: Yeah. So during that period luckily I had a lot of slack with my clients and I didn’t have a ton of work that was really time consuming, so I was able to really shorten my days, but last month when I was not feeling well, I had a ton of work. I had just onboarded a new client. I was working more than I have in the last year and also feeling terrible, so my strategy every day was like your MIT is your most important tasks.

I would look and I would say, this is what absolutely has to get done today. And the faster I can get it done, the sooner I can take the rest of the day off and, relax or, focus on self care or whatever needed to be done to feel better. So for me, it’s really about time, like get this done as fast as possible so that the rest of your day can be for the time off and the relaxing.

[00:16:17] Sarah: Okay. I love it. And building on this idea that sometimes action makes us feel better. I find that when I’m feeling low, when I’m feeling distracted, doing some, doing things to take care of myself. So I’m not a huge cook. I don’t love preparing elaborate meals. We’ve talked about this, but I do find like, okay, Sarah, like make yourself some eggs for lunch.

Like the act, because then I’m doing something. To take care of myself. Just make something for yourself, complete, make that phone call that you need to make for yourself. Like doing meaning, like actually self care. I don’t mean getting my nails done. That’s fine. But I mean more, what are the things that you need to do to take care of your, yourself, your home, your family, your body, take the time to do some of those things.

And I find that that has. Like, that feels very soothing to do that, or like self affirming.

[00:17:23] Pam: It feels it’s like rooted in, caring for yourself at a really deep level that I think is really meaningful.

And so I alluded at the beginning to this idea of putting in place processes when things are going well, so that when things aren’t, it’s easier to do that kind of rooted self care.

And, we just recently did an episode about processes and, putting in place things that can make your life easier because they’re things you have to do every day. And this is one of those times when having those processes in place really does make life easier.

[00:18:01] Sarah: So true.

[00:18:02] Pam: If you’re feeling terrible, the last thing that you want to do is come up with dinner,

[00:18:08] Sarah: Or a new budget.

[00:18:10] Pam: Right? Do budgeting. Well, that makes me feel better but I’m a crazy person. But yeah, you know that those parts of life that just like have to happen and if you’ve got the processes in place before If things hit the fan, then it’s easier to flow through that period and know like, okay, I’ve got this taken care of.

I don’t have to worry about the bills getting paid this week. I don’t have to wonder what my kids are going to eat this week because we have a system in place for that. And it just really takes some of that stress off that would, when you’re already overwhelmed, would put you over the edge and just make it so much worse than it has to.

[00:18:55] Sarah: It’s so true. So, lesson in there is figure out your processes, work on your processes when you’re feeling up. Like when you’re feeling good, you get them going and when they’re habits, it’s easier to follow them. You want to follow them, even when other parts of your life have fallen off the rails or when the world has thrown you a curveball.

That’s a great point.

[00:19:19] Pam: And you mentioned boundaries in your notes. Can you talk a little bit about how boundaries play into this time in people’s lives?

[00:19:30] Sarah: Yeah, I think we, we always need boundaries, and when we’re suffering, we especially need boundaries. Because we need to take care of ourselves. So it starts with acknowledging, hey, I’m, I’m struggling right now. And what do I need? There’s a self awareness piece and like a self actualizing piece.

Like this is what I need in order to meaningfully care for myself right now. I need this time and space. And that means. I’m not able to do this thing for you, or I’m not able to show up for this event, or I’m not able to do this extra project, or whatever it is, and I have boundaries for myself where I’m going to put myself to bed, this is an example, put myself to bed at a good time, so that I can get the rest that I need to wake up with as much sort of power tomorrow. So just being, when I say boundaries, I mean knowing what it is that you need in this moment. Knowing that this moment is a little different than other moments in your life, and you might need more, more self care, more love, more space, more support more slack from other people.

More treats more sleep, more good food, who knows what it is, only you know, right?

[00:20:44] Pam: Yeah. Yeah, and that brings up one more piece of the communication part that I wanted to touch on, which is when you’re not at your best, it’s much harder to interact with other people. So it’s a really good idea to just give people a heads up, like I’m not feeling great today so I might be a little more combative.

I’m tired today, so I’m going to be a little shorter. So, have that awareness in yourself that you’re going to have that tendency, but also let other people know, like, maybe today’s not the best day for us to have a really intense conversation because it’s not going to go as well as it normally would have.

And you’re just having that awareness to like, put your hand up and be like, Hey, today’s not the day.

[00:21:33] Sarah: I love it.

Something else I wanted to talk about was that When stuff is going on around us and we see a lot of people suffering it can feel complicated to put our own needs on the table. Sometimes we don’t have that freedom because we’re literally in the middle of the crossfire. So I’m talking about for those who are, fortunate and privileged enough to have that space, right?

But you’re seeing it around you and I want to acknowledge how crippling that can feel and complicated because what I’m hearing from some people is like a guilt, like a wanting to help more or be right there in person to help and sort of all the complex feelings around that. And it’s a cliche, but it’s true, this idea of really you can’t pour from an empty cup. So remembering that when there’s conflict around you, when there’s stress and suffering around you and you want to help and you want to be there, first fill up your own cup, put on your own oxygen mask. From that place, you can be of service.

All these techniques are. In service of you leading in the way that you want in your life.

And most likely I think for most of our listeners, that’s going to include, giving back and being of service and being a beacon of positivity to other people in the world, whatever that means to you. And so how do you do that? You’re aware of all the things going on in the world.

How do you do that? You need to like be nourishing yourself during mentally tough times so that then you can continue to shine your light and, and do what you can to make the world a better place.

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