7 Things to Do When Your Tank Is Empty

This week we continue to look at the topic was explored last week, resiliency. This week we specifically look what to do when you do not feel resilient, when you feel burn out, or when you just need a boost.

Karen Nimmo is a clinical psychologist and author from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She describes 7 ways to refill your tank when it feels empty. These methods are listed below, and you can read her full article at https://forge.medium.com/resilience-burnout-7-ways-to-cope-when-your-tank-is-empty-bf7cfa5320e1

1. Know when to quit the day.

I love this line from the young woman who was feeling she’d lost a chunk of her twenties. If you get to 3pm and absolutely nothing’s going right, take your foot off and quit the day. Curl up and have a cry if you need to. Know you’re not going to make your mark on anything today. Dump it in the way-too-hard-basket. And know that all feelings are temporary. Just because one day goes wrong doesn’t mean the next one will. Often, it’s quite the opposite. You can try again tomorrow.

2. Live in “day-tight compartments.”

One of the early founders of the self-help movement, Dale Carnegie had a strategy for reducing worry: “live inside day-tight compartments.” It’s a tidy way of saying take things one day at a time — to stay in the present, which is especially helpful during times of turmoil. Just live each day until bedtime.

3. Throw your heart over the bar.

One of the traps of feeling low is to do everything half-heartedly, which means you don’t enjoy anything much, you persistently feel like you’re going through the motions. So do fewer things. Or, better still, do one thing at a time. But whatever you do, bring all your focus to it. Do it with your whole heart. Your distracted mind will follow — at least for a little while.

4. Phone a friend.

Because it’s helpful for you to stay connected. But also just because someone, somewhere, may need a friendly ear. They may welcome a chat with you, they may benefit from it — and that confirms you as a good person. Bonus benefit: It takes you out of your own life (and head) into someone else’s.

5. Keep the routines but kill the to-do list.

Basic routines are helpful for framing your day. But 25 things on your to-do list? Seriously? Don’t do that, you’ll just end up transferring most of it to the next day and that’ll just make you feel bad. Be objective and real about your to-do list. Or throw the list out altogether and just do what you can.

6. Tiny, novelty projects

Routines help ground and steady us. But the downside is the sheer repetition of them. Humans are wired for novelty and stimulation. So we have to keep finding ways to spark our interest. Pick tiny, novelty projects that you can complete on the same day, or at least quickly. Cook a new dish, walk a new route, paint a picture, write a poem, put up a shelf, plant some seedlings. The rule is active — not passive, though. So finding a new TV show to stream doesn’t count. Aim for something that engages body as well as mind.

7. Remember to laugh.

There’s some really sad stuff going on in the world right now. And some shocking stuff, and some stuff to make you angry, all of which make it easy to lose your sense of humor — and feel guilty when you hang onto it. Even during suffering there are moments of weirdness, of fun, of joy. It’s a sign of emotional health that you can keep leaning into them.

7 Traits of Resilient People

While these articles are meant to be informative and inspirational, sometimes that starts with acknowledging the more challenging aspects of our daily lives. Many of us had hoped that COVID-19 would be mostly in our rearview by now, but that is not the case. And while this continues to contribute to fatigue and burnout so, too, has it shown the resiliency many of us never knew we had or that we did not see in each other. Registered Nurse Pantea Vahidi recently wrote on this topic and identified 7 traits that she has noticed are common to resilient people. They are shared here, along with some recommendations on how to connect with these traits when you feel you have lost touched with them.

1) Resilient People Accept the Baseline: Baseline is your current situation. It is a term we use in the medical field to describe the usual health condition of patients. Your normal may be different than someone else’s, but it’s yours to own. Resilient people do not ask “why me?”, they accept their baseline and put in the effort to change it if they are bothered by it. If you want to try to work on this area, check out these six Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) worksheets.

2) Resilient People Are Flexible: Being willing to change plans and pivot is crucial to being resilient. Those who have experienced adversities know that often life does not go as planned, and the frustration of refusing to change is an unnecessary source of depletion and burnout. Need help with this? Daniel Amen, MD offers these 5 ways to increase your emotional flexibility.

3) Resilient People are Willing to Learn: When challenges and change strike us, we need new skills and knowledge to cope with and overcome the adversities. Resilient people are open to learning about the topic that they are facing. They know that the more equipped they are with information and facts, the better they can make decisions and battle what they are facing. Ready to expand your boundaries? Any number of websites offer free course on a variety of topics, including Harvard, EdX, and Stanford.

4) Resilient People Seek Solutions: When life takes a turn, we can either sit and complain or immediately look for solutions. Resilient people are quick to look for ways to resolve or at least improve the situation. They do not expend their energy in reciting why the problem is difficult or unfair. They channel that time, mental, and emotional energy to find solutions. The VA offers online resources for finding solutions in challenging times.

5) Resilient People are Resourceful: Unusual circumstances call for unusual measures. Those who are resourceful make do with what is available and use their accessible resources to the best of their ability. Many can function and perform in ideal situations, but to be able to work with what is at their disposal is the difference between wishful thinking and being realistic and resilient. Often times this means asking for help. Check out this article from the National Alliance on Mental Illness on asking for help.

6) Resilient People are Creative: When we face trials and turbulences, we often need to think outside the box to come up with new ways to overcome. Resilient people know that they need to tap into their creative thinking to adjust and adapt. They somehow know what Einstein knew that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Author Matt Richtel offers advice on how to maximize our creative side.

7) Resilient People Set Realistic Expectations: Expectations are what we believe about the future. While not crossing the line of being pessimistic, resilient people know that by having unrealistic expectations, they are setting themselves up for a major disappointment, which will lead to frustration. Having realistic expectations is a mental rehearsal which makes us more prepared for what is to come. If you think you need help adjusting your expectations, have a look at this advice from PsychCentral.

Wellness Wednesday: From Cynicism to Hope

Extant literature suggests the acquiring cynicism is a natural part of human development. Much of this research provides evidence that people’s beliefs and statements are not always aligned and, further that people may attempt to deliberately deceive others beginning at a young age. Consequently, we begin to become sensitive to a variety of sources of inaccuracy in people’s presentations, also from a very early age, as a protective measure against being taken advantage of our outright harmed. The last few years have offered plenty of fuel for cynicism, but what happens when cynicism becomes the rule rather than the exception in our daily lives? Writer Aida Knezevic recently reflected on this in her own life. She found a significant negative impact on her personal relationships, her ability to affect change in her life, and her overall mood. With that in mind, there are a few steps you can take to help combat cynicism based on what Knezevic found:

  1. Challenge yourself to go just a few days without consuming negative content (especially on social media) and take the time you would have spent doing so to examine your automatic thoughts to emotionally provocative situations. Before passing judgement on a situation or seeking out sources of information that confirm these automatic thoughts, list those thoughts out and then list out their complete opposite and gather what evidence you can for and against each.
  2. Knezevic says that “when cynicism becomes your default state, it makes it incredibly difficult to be hopeful or optimistic about any challenge you’re facing. And when you lose all hope, you also lose any willpower to make your life better.” Naturally, this would cause one to become risk averse. As such, challenge yourself to try something new or wonder out of your comfort zone at least once per week if not daily. Even if you do not end up with desirable results, you can take pride in having learned something new.
  3. Knezevic  also suggest that “cynicism impairs your ability to celebrate the good not only in your own life but also in the lives of others, it can also cause your personal relationships to suffer.” As such, practicing at least one act of gratitude and compassion daily can help strengthen your relationships which can lead to improved quality of life and bolster you through difficult times.

To learn more, you can read Aida Knezevic’s full article here.

Empathy and the Latest Wave

COVID has been here long enough that many people have lost count of what wave of infections we are on, or even when to start and stop counting one from the next. As the current delta-driven wave surges so, too, have many of the emotions of earlier waves resurfaced. In particular this time around we are seeing a fair amount of anger between two camps of people, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. While anger is a natural and valid emotion, in times like these it is often worth reflecting when and why the anger is coming to the foreground, and how we can put to use the energy it is producing.  One means by which we can accomplish this is through the building of empathy. Today, we are offer a few guidelines to help increase our empathy for others with whom we disagree, and toward ourselves to assure we are always responding in a way that is consistent with our core values:

  • Remind ourselves that much of what divides us is a sign of shared trauma. Trauma in what we have lost in the last 18 months; for the vaccinated, trauma over now potentially losing all the gains that were made through vaccination efforts; for the un-vaccinated trauma over feeling pressured to accept a vaccine that their anxiety tells them may harm them, and that anxiety being compounded by others, often times those whom they love, shaming them and causing them to feel guilt.

  • Remember our shared humanity. We are all doing the best we can, and all working from the best information we have, even though sometimes that information may be incorrect or internally conflicting. Try to approach those with whom you disagree with genuine curiosity, and a desire to truly understand their choices rather than having your primary priority be changing their mind.

  • Practice the art of noticing. Get comfortable noticing when an emotion comes up, and notice all the subtle changes in your emotions throughout the day. Each emotion usually comes with an impulse to rally our resources and respond. Before you respond, though, ask yourself if your action is being taken in the name of your values and long term goals, or if you are going to do something for the sake of ridding you of an emotion you no longer want to sit with.

  • Connect. One sure fire way to manage any emotion is to connect with the present moment. Reach out to someone and check up on them, or reach out to your trusted source for your own check-in. We can often counteract the corrosion by promoting connection, not exacerbating the disconnection. Engage in a valued activity, or go get exercise to burn some of that energy. Have a snack.

Remember, anger is a natural emotion, and these days many of us feel it is well justified. But using that anger to make others feel bad will never lead to change. Reconnect with our own values, and finding new ways to connect with those with whom we disagree with may offer a path forward.

Little Habits, Big Differences

For most of us, mornings are rough. We snooze, wake, repeat. Jump out of bed. Java. And then start firing off emails and Slacks. It’s no way to greet the day and its disruptive energy that carries into our work. To help you kick-start your day the right way, here are 10 tiny, two-minute switches from the folks at Ladders.com that are easy to implement and can have a major impact on your day.

Joyscrolling, and other Doomscrolling Antidotes

Joyscrolling, and other Doomscrolling Antidotes

It is official, Doomscrolling has been added to the dictionary. For those who are not familiar, this term describes the practice of obsessively checking online news for updates, especially on social media feeds, with the expectation that the news will be bad, such that the feeling of dread from this negative expectation fuels a compulsion to continue looking for updates in a self-perpetuating cycle. This behavior has been associated with poor sleep, increased depression and anxiety, as well as increased substance use.  

Dr. Ariane Ling of the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine says that we engage in this behavior because we as humans are hardwired to constantly assess for risk as a survival mechanism. The problem is that when this hardwire connection was made in the human brain early in our evolution there was no such thing as social media, and so our risk assessments did not take very long since the amount of data was small and did not change that often. What we are seeing today is maladaptive belief that is understood well through basic behaviorism: “I consumed all the information possible about the plethora of terrible things out there, I did not die, thus I must continue to consume all the information possible to be sure nothing catches me off guard and thus will not die.” Sadly, this logic will not stand the test of time for any of us.

So what do we do to combat Doomscrolling? Dr. Ling has some practical advice:

  • Be Informed, Not Inundated: We do need to stay informed, so choose some trustworthy sources and check in only at regular intervals. For example, you can commit to checking in with the CDC and WHO websites once per day or even only once per week if your focus remains on gathering COVID-related information.

  • Joyscroll, too! If you are going to be online, balance your exposure to distressing content with some Joyscrolling, or intentional exposure to positive content. This can help combat the impact of its more negatively focused counterpart, Doomscrolling. While John Krasinski is no longer producing his “Some Good News” series, other websites continue to curate more inspiring content.

  • Build Awareness, Set Limits: Set a limit and be intentional about how much news you are consuming. Ask yourself if you were not on your phone, what would you be doing? Build awareness is usually the first step in any behavior change. Once you are more aware you can set a reasonable, specific time limit and set a firm boundary for yourself on how much news you are consuming. Once you have reached that limit, and found your good news balance, log off and find a way to re-engage with the world around you. Need help re-engaging? Check out this article from Positive Psychology.

Delta Blues

Historically when one thinks Delta Blues they think of musicians like Robert Johnson and one of the earliest-known styles of Blues music here in the States. But as COVID cases rise again, and the majority of those cases are of the Delta variant, and many are already feeling anxiety about potential new waves, hospital utilization, impact on schools come Fall, and countless other issues. This is to be expected. During times like this it may be a good idea to return to some of the basic coping skills we learned early in the pandemic.

  • F = Focus on what’s in your control – You cannot control what others think, believe, or do. You can, however, control things your diet, your exercise, your sleep behaviors. You can turn to reliable sources about COVID.
  • A = Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings – Thoughts and feelings tend to pop up automatically, almost like any other reflex. We can, however, manage our response to them once they show up and that starts with acknowledging them. Acknowledge them as normal responses to an abnormal situation. Here is an exercise to help you with this.
  • C = Come back into your body – Many times these distressing thoughts and feelings we have about COVID or anything else are treated like actual, physical threats. Sometimes it is a good idea to bring our attention back to our body, to help our brain understand what is actually going on around us in this moment. You can learn how to do this via Grounding Techniques as explained here.
  • E = Engage in what you’re doing – As above, often our goal is to keep our attention on what is here, and what is now. We can often benefit from keeping that attention on activities that are important to us. You can learn more about this from the author of FACE COVID Russ Harris.
  • C = Committed action – Committed action means effective action, guided by your core values; action you take because it’s truly important to you; action you take even if it brings up difficult thoughts and feelings. Once you have dropped anchor using the above methods you will have a lot of control over your actions – so this makes it easier to do the things that truly matter. What are simple ways to look after yourself, those you live with, and those you can realistically help? What kind, caring, supportive deeds you can do? Can you say some kind words to someone in distress – in person or via a phone call or text message? Can you help someone out with a task or a chore, or cook a meal, or hold someone’s hand, or play a game with a young child? Can you comfort and soothe someone who is sick? Or in the most serious of cases, nurse them and access whatever medical assistance is available?
  • O = Opening up – Opening up means making room for difficult feelings and being kind to yourself. Difficult feelings are guaranteed to keep on showing up as this crisis unfolds: fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and many more. We can’t stop them from arising; they’re normal reactions. But we can open up and make room for them: acknowledge they are normal, allow them to be there (even though they hurt), and treat ourselves kindly. You can learn more about Developing Self-Compassion here.
  • V = Values – Committed action should be guided by your core values: What do you want to stand for in the face of this crisis? What sort of person do you want to be, as you go through this? How do you want to treat yourself and others? Your values might include love, respect, humour, patience, courage, honesty, caring, openness, kindness …. or numerous others. Look for ways to ‘sprinkle’ these values into your day. Let them guide and motivate your committed action.
  • I = Identify resources – Identify resources for help, assistance, support, and advice. This includes friends, family, neighbours, health professionals, emergency services. And make sure you know the emergency helpline phone numbers, including psychological help if required. Also reach out to your social networks. And if you are able to offer support to others, let them know; you can be a resource for other people, just as they can for you. One very important aspect of this process involves finding a reliable and trustworthy source of information for updates on the crisis and guidelines for responding to it. The World Health Organisation website is the leading source of such information.
  • D = Disinfect & distance – I’m sure you already know this, but it’s worth repeating: disinfect your hands regularly and practice as much social distancing as realistically possible, for the greater good of your community. And remember, we’re talking about physical distancing – not cutting off emotionally. If you aren’t quite sure about what this means, read this. This is an important aspect of committed action, so align it deeply with your values; recognise that these are truly caring actions.

Work-Life Balance: The Sunday Struggle

One aspect of wellness often discussed clinically, in the research literature, and simply amongst friends is the ongoing effort to strike a satisfactory Work-Life Balance. Many of us want to be successful and be considered hard workers by our peers and family members, and at the same time to not want to give up time with our loved ones, leisurely pursuits, and other aspects of self-care. One place where this often manifests for those working a traditional work week is Sunday afternoons into the evening. This phenomenon was recently described by Jessica Stern, PhD, who also offered some tips on how to manage it.

Dr. Stern describes feelings of worry, fear, dread, and anticipatory feelings of being overwhelmed at what is coming up in the next week, along with sadness at leaving other things we enjoy behind. She feels that this anticipatory distress is often chronic, is common, and is a sign it is time to check in with ourselves, what we have on our plates, and how we are coping with this.

The goal is not to avoid the thoughts that trigger these uncomfortable feelings but to manage them effectively by finding ways to take control of what you can. To help with this, Dr. Stern suggests that we prep for the week throughout the weekend in brief ways through activities such as meal preparation, putting together outfits and hanging them in order in the closet, or scanning your calendar to get a good sense of what your game plan is going into the week, so things feel more predictable when you hit the ground Monday morning.

Small Change

If we are being honest, most of us know the changes we could make to improve our health and wellbeing, but it is complicated. Even the easiest changes have prerequisites as well as impact on what is often already a very right schedule. This is why the field of psychology often puts early emphasis on breaking big goals down into smaller ones, and taking things step by step.

First, think about what needs to change. Are you ready for tweak your diet? Up your exercise? Rededicate to personal or spiritual relationships? Pick JUST one, and figure out where you are in the change process with this brief guide.

Then, develop a SMART goal using this guide.

The key is to start SMALL! If we try to do everything all at once we set ourselves up for failure and become less likely to do anything. If you want to lose weight, start by tracking your diet for a few weeks before you try to change anything. Then, identify that one snack, soda, or other indulgence you do not need and see if you can reduce or eliminate it for two weeks, then on to the next goal, and so on.

Your progress may seem painfully slow at first but, before you know it, you will be well on your way to where you want to be!

Self Check-In

How are you?

This is question that you may ask others all throughout the day, and that others may ask you, to which you or they may provide a very automatic “find, and you?”

But everyone now and again it is helpful to stop and take stock of how you are actually doing as objectively as is possible.

One of the ways we might do this is through formal or semi-formal assessment, which also lets us track how we are doing over time. One such measure, called “The Wellness Assessment” is available for free here.

There are no standardized metrics to consider here. The authors simply suggest that as your score increases so, too, as your attention to wellness. So be sure to check in with yourself today and, if the assessment suggests one area in particular is suffering, consider a review of our Setting Intentions exercise to address that area.