We all have those days, right? When you look at a screaming toddler and think, “I wish I could get away with doing that, just sitting down and crying my eyes out, until a kindly grown up comes along, picks me up, gives me a cuddle and makes everything ok again”. Ever thought that? You’re not alone!
The thing is, sometimes life is hard. And sometimes, even when it’s not particularly hard, difficult stuff happens or we have one of those off days where it just FEELS hard. It’s easy to feel like life is disappearing off down the rails on days like that, and you just want to scream “STOP!” and curl up under the duvet for the rest of the day.
I’ve been feeling like that today. It started off well, with a coaching call with one of my lovely clients this morning and doing some successful “adulting” (you know, the tedious but necessary stuff like lifemin, paying bills, changing addresses etc) but then, imperceptibly, my mood started to slide. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it changed, but I suddenly found myself getting teary and frustrated. Variations of the usual gremlins started to appear: “Gee, you really suck at this life stuff”, “You’re so lazy, just get on with it”, “Who do you think you are, thinking you can make this work?”, “You’re so useless”. And so on.
Thankfully, I’m getting better at recognising these gremlins for what they are – just voices of my various sub-personalities – and I can acknowledge them but choose not to listen to them. I’ve named this particular gremlin (my Inner Critic), Gertrude. “Hey Gertrude, I hear you. Thanks for your contribution, I’m sure you’re trying to help but you’re not welcome here today. I’m not letting you into the driving seat, today or ever!” Having identified Gertrude and firmly set her to one side, I examine what’s really going on.
I’m tired. I’ve had a seriously busy few weeks, and they have been demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I made two return trips to Cornwall from the Cotswolds in four days, moved out of and packed up a yurt, crewed at an intensive training course, moved house and completely rearranged and consolidated two garage-sized storage spaces. I’m on my period. I’m cold. I’m hungry. I’ve used up a lot of my executive functioning (my decision-making capacity) doing the adulting, and I’m adjusting to life in a new house, a new village, a new county. It’s entirely reasonable that I’m feeling a little less than completely perky!
This understanding doesn’t necessarily make it easier to feel this way, but it does make it easier to show myself a little compassion. To tune into my Mother PowerType™ and send myself a whole heap of love. In the same way I might care for an exhausted child, I reassure myself that I am ok and treat myself kindly. I make myself a cup of tea and take myself off to the sofa with a hot water bottle and a blanket, opting for a cosy night in with a movie.
I’m going for a weepy movie tonight, which might seem like a strange choice. Shouldn’t I choose something happy, to cheer me up? That’s what I would have done, at one point. “Mustn’t wallow!” and “Look on the bright side!” could have been two of my favourite mantras. I was (and still am) known for my on-the-whole cheerful, positive outlook on life, and whilst that’s not to be knocked, I realised I was missing something crucial.
We can’t always be happy.
Ouch! I’ll admit, I’m still getting used to this concept. I found it rather unpalatable, initially. I mean, I like being happy! Correction: I LOVE being happy! So I did everything I could to avoid NOT being happy. The thing is though, there’s a whole range of emotions we are capable of feeling, and limiting ourselves to just one or two cuts us off from not only the “bad” emotions but also the plethora of “good” emotions too. As Brene Brown points out: “We cannot selectively numb our emotions. When we numb the painful emotions we also numb the positive emotions”. Not only that, but suppressing or denying uncomfortable emotions can have devastating long term effects. Suppressed fear can turn into chronic anxiety and suppressed anger can turn into depression. Suppressed emotions generally can lead to a wide range of health conditions. Sometimes, what’s best for us is actually to have a really good cry, or to thump a pillow, or to go out into the woods and scream and stamp our feet. To get it out. Because once it’s out, we can let it go. When we don’t let those emotions go, we hold onto them and they simmer away, brewing into a bitter and volatile concoction that could explode at any moment, given the right trigger – more often than not a relatively benign event which doesn’t justify the intensity of the reaction. Instead of holding on to those emotions, having a good cry can be incredibly cathartic. Tears have actually been shown to be healing; they contain, and therefore help us shed, stress hormones and other toxins, and some studies suggest they even stimulate the production of endorphins, our “feel-good” hormones.
And so, these days, when I feel the need to cry, I let myself. If it’s not appropriate at that precise moment I’ll put those tears on hold – using a “Shelving Nasties” process I teach my clients – and come back to them later in the day. Sometimes they take a bit of finding again and I need the help of some sad music, some journaling or a weepy movie, at other times just mere permission and space brings them on. Once they’ve cleared, then (and only then) I will do something uplifting. Listen to some happier music, reach out to a friend, watch a few cute cat videos, read something inspiring. No, it’s not good to wallow. But sometimes you’ve got to let yourself dive into those uncomfortable emotions so you can come out the other side.
I’m still learning, still exploring, but I’m committed to feeling ALL my emotions, not just the “good” ones, and it’s a fascinating and liberating journey. I encourage you to explore your own spectrum of emotions and I’d love to hear how you go.
If you’d like any help or guidance, have a chat to me about my 12 week “Powerful You” programme. It’s a deep dive into what’s currently driving you and where you might be holding yourself back, with tools designed to help you take back control of your life. One of my clients, Pip, said: “Jen has been a life-changer! My anxiety has reduced enormously and I’ve learnt more about myself and how to bring out the best side of myself than I ever thought possible. If you’re thinking of going through the programme, go for it, it’s so worth the time and money, because as a result you’ll feel so much more comfortable in your own shoes which is priceless!”.
To find out more or to book a free discovery session, visit my coaching page here.