Overcoming Emotional Exhaustion

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How can we keep going on with all the chronic, toxic stress in our lives these days? The “carefree summertime” is anything but for many of us here in 2020.

We continue to struggle with relentless worries about the coronavirus pandemic. We worry about its effects on our physical and mental health, our economy and our jobs, our families and our children’s schools.  We worry if we’re going to catch it and pass it on, or if a loved one may die from it.  For some of us, we’ve already had that experience.

At the same time, we’re struggling to come to terms, anew, with racial inequality and injustice.  For many in the white majority in our country, including myself, we’re trying to make sense of white supremacy, white privilege, and white fragility.  We’re trying to move from defensive claims of being “not racist” to constructive actions that are legitimately “anti-racist.” We’re trying to come to terms with our ignorance, our complicity, and our responsibility to make things right.

At the same time, the daily, cumulative hassles of life haven’t disappeared.  How do I get my work done today, attend to my kids today, take care of my marriage and myself today, do all the chores and errands that keep appearing on the never-ending To-Do list, today?!

How do I live peacefully and productively, day to day, while still dealing with all the big, bad news in the world?  Or as my friend and colleague, Anne Ard, recently named it – how do we get through this “long slog of uncertainty?”

More specifically, how do we get through it all without burning out?  Without melting down?  Without giving up from overwhelm and exhaustion?

I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Some days I’m frantically chasing my tail, getting frustrated, and blowing-up at the world – or at stupid little things that seem like the whole world at the time, but clearly aren’t.  Some days I worry that I’m spinning around uselessly.  I worry that whatever I’m doing, it’s not enough.  Or it’s not the right thing.  I should be doing something else – something more important.  I’m chasing this idea that I’ve got to get it right, I’ve got to make a difference.  I’ve got to prioritize, but there’s so much that matters.  Which way to turn?  Some days it feels like it’s all just too much.

What gets me through these crazy times?

I return to my mindfulness practice.

I practice Pausing.  Breathing.  Responding (not Reacting).

I practice being instead of doing.

I rest in the gift of presence.

I get out of my head, and reconnect with my heart.  When I do that, I inevitably reconnect with the truth of our inter-being (as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it).  I remember it’s not about me, it’s about we.

I believe in we.  I remember I’m not alone.  And it’s not up to me to “figure it all out.”  It is up to me to participate, to genuinely show up.

I remember to acknowledge the things I can’t control, and gently return my attention to what I can control.

I refocus my energies on changing what I can, and coping with what I can’t.  Right now.  Today.  This moment.  (For that’s all I can control or do anything about – this very moment!)

I remember these words of the the poet Robert Antoine Wilson:

You’re precisely as big as what you love,
and precisely as small as what you allow to annoy you.

I come to my senses.  I awaken to the beauty and blessings all around me and within me in this moment.  I notice the birds chirping.  The comfort of the clothes I have on.  My wife and daughter laughing in the next room.  The peaceful rhythm of my lungs breathing and heart beating.

I practice gratitude, continually refocusing that lens.  I appreciate my ability to pay the electric bill to a utility company that safely delivers the electricity to this house that powers this computer that allows me to share these musings with you.  I’m grateful for the capacity to think these thoughts and communicate them through fingers that work effortlessly at the keyboard.  Miracles all!

I seek out inspirational readings and videos and guided meditations.

I take in the compassionate wisdom of friends and mentors like Vinny Ferraro, and then celebrate the opportunity to pass them on to you.  To pay it forward.

Here’s something that uplifted me this morning.

Vinny sharing the words of Howard Zinn:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.
It’s based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty,
but also of compassion – of sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.

If we only see the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.
If we remember those times and places (and there’s so many),
where people have behaved magnificently,
this gives us the energy to act – 
and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world
in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way,
we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents (presence!).

And to live now as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us,
is, itself, a marvelous victory!

I rest in the hope that together, we’ll find our way through.

Then I go wash the dishes, and get ready for my next meeting.