The Art of Living

In Helpful Stuff, Self-Compassion by christine

The Art of Living

Living in a time of reduced social interactions due to COVID might be making you feel an overwhelming sense of pressure to do more. Maybe you had big plans to renovate your house, increase revenue by starting that side-gig, take that online course, or write that book…but those intentions and your actual energy are not aligning. For those of you who have kids, you most likely are experiencing increased pressure. You may be feeling utterly exhausted to perform the most basic of tasks. Sound familiar?

“I feel so lazy”.

I am used to hearing this from clients; however, this statement has greatly increased during this time of COVID. The pandemic has caused our neuroendocrine response to fluctuate or heighten due to repeated or prolonged stress. That increased feeling of weariness many of us are currently experiencing is called an allostatic load, the damage that occurs when our bodies are repeatedly exposed to stress. While it may feel like we are not doing nearly as much as we did pre-COVID, our brains are still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. We are exhausted not because our body are working hard, but because our brains are.

How can you take the time to reset and practice self-care and self-compassion?

Resisting the urge to “should” on yourself is paramount (I should be doing this; I should be using this time productively) as well as curbing the tendency to refer to yourself as “lazy”. It is interesting how frequently we in Western culture berate ourselves with this word…. How might things shift for you if you adapted the belief that you are succeeding in “the art of living”? Whenever I delight in simple pleasures like the smell of fresh lilac permeating the house, or slipping into bed for a read on a Sunday afternoon, I revel in thinking of myself as mastering “the art of living” ….When you think of the opposite of lazy – industriousness, workaholism – those don’t exactly conjure up feeling of joy do they?  So why strive for something that does not spark the stuff worth savouring? Perhaps, “lazy” needs a re-brand, just like “queer” and “black sheep”. 😉

How to foster an “Art of Living” mindset:

Adapt the belief that it is not necessary to plot out every hour or day with something productive.

Foster introception. Introception is the sense that helps you understand and feel what is going on inside your body. This is not something most of us were taught and because of that, we can lack awareness of internal cues such as knowing when we are hungry, full, chilly, tired, thirsty, anxious, sad, et cetera. Having decreased capacity in introception means that we will struggle with self-regulation. Ask yourself the question, “how do I feel?”. What bodily sensations are you experiencing? Be curious: what might these body sensations be telling you? Is that grumbling in your stomach telling you that you are hungry? Is the tightness in your chest indicating worry?

If you identify an adverse emotion when exploring bodily sensations, try to observe it non-judgmentally with active open attention – this is mindfulness, and helps foster distress tolerance and emotional intelligence (helpful stuff). We often desire to numb, deny, or suppress adverse emotions when they arise, but this can be akin to putting them in a pressure cooker that is simmering to explode at a later time. We humans are meant to feel a wide array of emotions. We cannot selectively numb the icky stuff, without also numbing positive affect. Try leaning into the discomfort of your unpleasant emotions, and have faith that like waves on an ocean, this too shall pass and make room for something new.  For more on mindfulness see here: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2020/01/why-mindfulness-2/

Try some breathing exercises. To get into the belly breathing position, put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. You will want to breathe in slowly, but deeply. Breath in for 4 seconds, feeling your stomach move outward in the process (imagine a balloon is being filled). Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Breath out for 8 seconds.

S-L-O-W down. Notice the colours in the sky as the sun rises or sets. Walk barefoot in the sand. Inhale the smell of the rain. Take in the aroma, taste, and temperature of your cup of tea. Feel the connection you get from stroking your pet.

What small pleasures can you chose to take delight in to embrace the Art of Living?