I find my natural tendency when I’m going through intense seasons or events is to push harder. Some part of me has been programed to believe the only way through difficult times is to ‘buck up.’ Ironically, this type of thinking has often led me to soul sucking, dreary places—so much for being helpful.
To be clear, I’m all for resiliency and strength. However, those characteristics are only attained when we know how to care for our soul; they are consequences of caring for ourselves well. What I’ve found is when we live our lives believing we can simply push through all the hard things—we may find one day we are either:
a) physically sick from pushing too hard
b) self medicating to numb our emotional experience
c) emotionally burnt out
Why can I guess these options with some certainty? Great question. For one, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to believe there’s no option other than to try harder. But secondly, because I see it all the time in my counseling practice. Folks who have the best intentions but never learned basic elements of self care and boundaries find themselves depleted, depressed, and frustrated because they can’t simply will themselves out of hard times.
And so as my wise supervisor once told me, I’ll tell you: “You don’t need to try harder. Try softer.”
The essence of this idea is instead of pushing harder, we may actually need to do less. Instead of controlling more, we may need to lay it down in surrender. Instead of looking to please folks around us, we may actually need to allow disappointment. Try softer.
With that in mind, may I just encourage you to do self-care whether you’re in the storm or not? But, if you are in the storm, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to be kind to yourself right now:
1. Have excellent boundaries
You know the thing that is super draining to you and you’re only there because you feel guilty if you miss it? May I encourage you to step away from it for now? If and when you have the margin and desire to return, go ahead and go back. But do yourself a favor and give yourself permission to say no.
2. Do the life giving thing
What is feeding your soul right now? What causes you to most deeply connect with who God made you? Do that! It might be a hike, a beautiful novel, simply paying attention to the sunset, or connecting with a faith community. I think God gave all of us ability to detect what is actually life giving to us if only we take a risk and trust it.
3. Be with people who get it/Reach out
It is always helpful to have people who cause us to feel known and loved. But the time we need those people the most? Well, that’s now. So make a call, shoot a text, or an email or whatever—let them know you’re struggling. Allow those people to come beside you in the ways they can and encourage you. It’s so tempting to want to isolate ourselves when things are hard—but don’t. This is the time you need your people.
4. Listen to your body
This one is hard, especially in a culture that tells us what our body needs instead of helping us listen to what our body is saying. But hear this: your body is wise and will give you clues if you’ll listen. If we can actually pay attention, your body will tell you a lot. Are you tired? Go to bed early. Hungry? Please, please, eat. Feel cooped up—go out. This is simple in many ways, but learning to give ourselves what we actually need can be life changing.
5. Look Up
If there is ever a time to know we aren’t alone, it’s when we’re hurting. I have the honor of chatting with people who are in many different places in their faith walk. What I’ve come to realize though, is the depth of resource we experience when we realize how loved and cared for we are by our creator. In the midst of this big, beautiful, complicated universe we exist and we are known. You have permission to be awed by that truth, reader. And alternately, if you're having a hard time connecting with that, I hope you'll be gentle with yourself and allow yourself simply to notice the loveliness around you.
Be well, friends and try softly.