Last week was a stressful week. I had several “emergencies” at work, and in the midst of it all, my computer stopped working and we had some plumbing issues. Everything seemed to be going wrong—any little thing that happened at that point seemed to be just one more insurmountable problem. Of course none of these problems were unsolvable, let alone tragic, but it was easy to get into the mindset that the world was against me and nothing was right. When you start to feel like this, it’s important to step back and think about your life in a holistic way and gain some perspective. There are very few phases in our lives when nothing is wrong. We have to learn to roll with the punches and think about life’s hurdles as something that we need to address—sometimes daily. When we get into the “nothing is right“ mindset, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because we think that nothing is right, we find that everything is wrong when, in reality, little is wrong with our lives. Perspective is one of those things that’s easy to talk about but difficult to practice. Stepping back and focusing on all the good things in our lives is critical to having the proper perspective of life‘s challenges.
How do you fill your hours and days? For many, it just happens; they don’t need to really think about what they’re going to do because they have so much to do. People who have had jobs and other pursuits for many years often look forward to times when they can pull back on the throttle a little, when the demands on their time recede and they have some breathing space. However, time off is really “time on” something else. As the hours go by, you have to fill them with something—because there’s no such thing as doing nothing. You continue to exist. You think, you breathe, and time goes by. You can make your time “mindless” and force feed inane TV (of which I’m a fan on occasion), but ultimately your mind will rebel and desire something more substantial.
We all have those days. Days when we wake up, get our coffee, sit down, and don’t feel like doing anything else. We begin to feel guilty, but inertia is fully in control. We may struggle with the battle between our need to do nothing and our responsibilities all day long. Why does this happen? It can happen because we had a terrible night’s sleep or because we drank too much the night before. It can happen because we’re upset about something and our emotions have immobilized us. It can also happen when we’ve been stressed or overwhelmed for an extended period of time and our bodies and psyches are shutting us down to reboot and recover. Whatever the reason, we should give this feeling the space it needs. We should consider why we feel like this and learn from it. On many, if not most, of the days when we feel like this, we should succumb to the feeling and go with it. We should veg out and give ourselves fully to going into standby mode. Our bodies and minds are often wiser than we are. When they speak so forcefully, we should listen.
We all need time to ourselves—time to rest, recharge, and reflect.
But it’s important to distinguish between finding meaningful alone time (see “Alone”) and escaping from our connections or retreating from our engagements. All of us, even the most extroverted, have times when we don’t have any more energy for people. We also need time to ourselves to gain perspective on what is happening in our lives and to plan for our futures. This time is not only important for our mental health, it’s also a critical aspect of a meaningful and fulfilling life. We have to have time to ourselves to truly get in touch with what we’re after and where we’re going, to maintain our connection with who we are at our cores, and tounderstand our values and passions. BUT we have to make sure we have a healthy balance and aren’t avoiding people or problems when we need to engage.
We’re being advised to stay away from everyone on the planet—everyone except those we live with. We have to spend time with them. We have to spend literally all of our time with them. How can we do this without driving each other nuts?
Living in close quarters in stressful situations is especially challenging. Many of us are faced with new and unfamiliar challenges, such as homeschooling children, working remotely, or making less money. While facing these challenges we are also deprived of many of the outlets for pressure that we have always been able to count on in the past—spending time with friends, going out on the town, or spending the afternoon at a ball game. Spending all of our time in what amounts to a bunker means figuring out how to get along. It means being extremely specific and intentional about what bothers us and how to resolve those irritations without impacting those around us. It means getting to know ourselves in this new reality.