how to cure a people hangover

 

You know the feeling.  Head aches, ears buzz with that post-concert-like hum, mouth is cotton-dry from repressing outbursts of irritation and nervous system is set on “If one more person even speaks to me, I’m gonna lose it”.  And when in this state, we promise ourselves that we’re never going to indulge again.  We’ll move to a shack on an island devoid of all other humans to avoid ever having to feel this terrible again.

Shack with a View

Forget the shack. I’ve discovered a much more accessible cure for the People Hangover that doesn’t involve perpetual isolation. With practice, you can indulge occasionally, enjoy the benefits of interaction with others without over-doing and suffering the spirit-splitting consequences.

 

Self-Compassion

You know who you are, or do you?   if you resonated at all with the concept of having a People Hangover, chances are you’re an introvert.  By introvert, I do not mean shy, quiet or socially awkward.  Introverts are simply those who need to have sufficient alone time to re-charge their batteries, to refill their energy reserves and to process life in peaceful surroundings.  Introverts are often mistaken for the socially-challenged, under-developed or anemic cousin of the proud and potent extrovert but not so, my contemplative cohorts!

Introverts are often gifted with introspective intelligence. Cultivators of the inner landscape, they notice details others often miss, make connections, and have the ability to ponder, wander and wonder elegantly.  Yes, yes, introverts are prone to occasional bouts of melancholia and can sometimes be sullen and sorrowful.  It’s precisely that balance of dark and light that compels introverts to become poets, artists, dreamers, thinkers, tinkerers and gleaners of the subtle magic of even the most ordinary of moments.

If introversion was tattooed on your soul at birth, accept, embrace and nurture it.  It was not a mistake, you are not inadequate and your acceptance of this is the first step to preventing the dreaded and avoidable People Hangover.

 

Solitude

If you are like me, and your job involves working with people all day, then the opportunities to over-indulge are fierce and frequent. The key is to accept your need for solitude and to inject moments of it in your day at every opportunity. Think of these moments as small power-up sessions to tide you over until the end of the day when you can enjoy some longer, uninterrupted solitary serenity.  Be unapologetic if, right in the middle of your work day,  you choose to:

  • Close your door.
  • Let your phone go to voice mail.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Go for a drive.
  • Schedule spaces between meetings.
  • Re-schedule a meeting.
  • Ask for a deadline extension.
  • Eat lunch alone.
  • Say ‘no’ to social invitations that happen immediately at the end of a work day.

Levi reading

Shift to Celebration

The world at large is primarily geared towards extroverts but that is no reason to try to fit a mold that asks us to reject who we are at our core.  You are the architect and can design a life fit for an authentic introvert that does not require isolation.

  • Celebrate who you are. Sing the song of the Intrepid Introvert by living a life designed with deep respect for your particular need for solitude and peace.
  • Re-write the old script that suggests there is something wrong with being introverted. Make the re-write a bold affirmation of how your being in the world so fully and completely is based on a foundation of courageous solitude.
  • Challenge that thought that says there is something wrong with you when you are alone.  Choose to see being alone as simply one way of being.
  • Develop relationships with other introverts.  Enjoy socializing (infrequently, of course) with others who don’t require constant stimulation to be entertained and who can actually have an unexpressed thought!
  • Know your boundaries, push them, create new opportunities for engagement within communities then reward yourself with a quiet space, a good book or even better, a nap!

With prevention and cure now firmly in hand, go forward and boldly, creatively and without apology, live an introvert’s dream life without fear of occasionally over-indulging to the point of having to nurse a People Hangover.

 

 

 

my precious morning routine

“I am not a morning person. I have to ease into my day slowly. First I have my coffee. Sans eggshells or anything else one tends to pick out of the garbage. Then I have a low fat, high fibre breakfast. Finally I sit down and read a crisp, new newspaper. If I am robbed of the richness of my morning routine, I cannot function. My radio show suffers, and like ripples in a pond, so do the many listeners that rely on my advise, to help them through their troubled lives. I’m sorry if this may sound priggish, but I have grown comfortable with this part of myself. It is the magic that is me.”

The above “priggish” speech was pompously delivered by the tight-lipped yet lovable radio psychiatrist in the 80’s sitcom, Frasier.  He was defending his right to keep to his intensely, precise morning routine in order to perform his best throughout his day.  

After my last post about how often the pressure of time significantly increases my stress level, the scene from this episode came to mind along with the memory of the dismissive eye-rolling from the supporting cast and from me. .

I began to consider strategies I use to manage my weekday mornings.  Here are my three simple methods of creating space, stress-free morning moments and a way to ease into a world geared for moving constantly in fifth gear.

1.  Night Vision

My mother tells the story of a time she came into my bedroom to wake me for school to find me still asleep but already fully dressed for the school day.  Apparently, I had put on my clothes the night before. And even more apparently, I was quite an odd child with the quirks to rival those of a sitcom character!  Perhaps my motivation was to find calm in the chaos of a busy school morning filled with getting my turn in the bathroom, practicing piano, making lunches, eating breakfast, doing the dishes and packing my schoolbag, all alongside my three siblings who were also doing the same things.

Currently my mornings do not involve jockeying for position with siblings or piano practice but can still induce a level of nerve-jangling tension when the clock ticks closer to the time I need leave for work.  For this reason I decided to use the night before more wisely.  No, I don’t sleep in my work clothes (often).  But I do prepare my lunch, choose my outfit, pick up some of the excess clutter and create a to-do list all before I go to bed.   This all takes me no more than half an hour.  Not too much work for a huge benefit of a slower pace in the morning.

2.  Rush No More

Realizing that rushing is a genuine energy-sapper for me, my goal is to pace my mornings so that there is no need to hurry.  To make this happen, I choose to get up as early as possible to leave morning space to pause, to linger, to, heaven forbid, dawdle!  By getting up earlier, I have time to sit for a short time of meditation, practice some simple yoga stretches, record three ‘gratitudes” in my journal and enjoy a leisurely breakfast while considering my day ahead.  There are those days when getting up so early is not so easy as others.  My routine is too precious to be written in stone so there is always room to change it according to the situation.  But there is a noticeable difference in my energy levels on the days that begin early with this settling routine.

There was a time that I would regularly check my work email in the morning but I quickly realized that it only served to put my nervous system in work-mode high gear and encroached on the unhurried pace of my personal time.  I was no further ahead when I got to work by knowing what new things were going to be added to my ‘to-do’ list and instead, I’d arrive depleted of energy that would be necessary for later in the day.

3.  Leave Stuff Undone

A problem for many of us with Chronic Productivity Syndrome, is that we feel the need to fill in any extra space with productive activity.  This is true for me.  I look at the clock, see that I’ve got plenty of time before I need to leave so I attempt to fit something useful into that space.  Wash the dishes, pay a bill online, clean the kitty litter, email a friend or whatever.  The pausing, lingering and dawdling are tossed out in favour of “getting something done”. The conflict occurs when I realize that I am soon going to leave my home for a job where i am expected to be “getting something done” for the next 8 or more hours.  Where’s the balance?

And if you’re like me, you’ll begin a task that will keep your steady focus on it until you look at the clock and realize that now you’re running late.  Nervous system is on high alert and deep breathing becomes more shallow and less nourishing.  The trick is to consciously, purposefully leave something undone in favour of a moment of just being.  See the task, notice your desire to attend to it immediately, to fix it , finish, manage it, then just leave it!  You know it wil still be there later.

With this precious morning routine, I clearly understand that I will most likely be considered priggish, hyper-sensitive, and a quintessential introvert to the n-th degree, but I’m okay with that.  This routine provides me with the pace I like, the space I need and energy I love to be the magic that is me.  (Cue the eye-rolling!)

Make it a morning of unhurried moments.

Egypt

3 steps to pacify the panic

As a young student, I quite enjoyed going to school. Despite my social awkwardness (and maybe because of it), I was able to achieve relative academic success especially in tasks that allowed me to work alone. I had never considered myself slow to process information but I do recall that the subject where my comprehension was the lowest and slowest was the one that coincidentally caused the most personal panic. Math! Ugh!

Math seemed much more like a foreign language to me than French ever did and, for some reason, Math had the added element of time pressure.

 

Pen en papier / Pen and paper

I can still recall sitting round-shouldered over my math facts sheet and gripping my pencil too firmly with sweaty fingers while a humourless teacher/ drill sargeant strutted through the room with stopwatch and counting down the time remaining. I’d quite literally freeze. Letting my head fall on my desk, I’d be numb, barely breathing until the litany of stories about why I was stuck began. “I’m stupid”. “I can’t learn Math”. “He is a terrible teacher.” And the downward cycle of fear and failure was in full gear leading nowhere fast.

This past week, I wasn’t working on math but in the process of breaking old patterns, learning new skills and some self-imposed due dates and deadlines, I was suddenly back in 7th grade at my desk writing a Math test. I did not enjoy being thirteen years old the first time so was not about to re-live that age of adolescent angst as a, for the most part, high-functioning adult. But ever-so-subtly, the disquieting panic began building until it developed into the full-fledged discomfort of a houseguest that would not leave!

After a few days in a deep-freeze of panic, I decided to warm my icy nerves with three steps to begin the thawing process and move me from overwhelmed to okay. Perhaps these steps will help others who are prone to panic when their time seems to be running out.

1. Observe Your Body

Observing takes a commitment to being still. Even with deadlines looming and the expectations of others in the balance, noticing where the panic is settling in your body will not be clear in the midst of fussing and fidgeting. While indulging in activities intended to numb or distract, your awareness to your body’s sensations is in slumber-mode. Sit comfortably and do a slow, simple body-scan. Begin at the top of your head and move downwards. Where are you tight? Where is there discomfort? For me it’s a deep buzzing sensation in my solar plexus. It’s a constant heavy hum that makes taking a deep calming breath challenging.

2. Breathe To Your Capacity

This breathing exercise works best when you are lying on your back stretched out. If you feel that you don’t have time for this exercise, check to see how much time has become unproductive or lost to the frozen-feet syndrome. Once on your back, you may feel a temporary increase in heart rate or a feeling of being exposed. This is common. Breathe as naturally as possible to give your body, mind and breath a chance to settle.

      • Place your hands on your lower abdomen with middle fingers on either side of your navel. Breathing slowly and evenly through your nose, fill your belly with air, allowing your lower abdomen to rise and separate your middle fingers from each other. Exhale slowly and evenly through your nose, allowing your belly to collapse and your middle fingers to come back closer together. Do this for three full breaths. Return to natural breathing.

 

      • Next, place your hands at the base of your rib cage with the webbing between your thumb and first finger on your side body. Thumbs will point toward your back and fingers will be on the front of your abdomen. Using the same method of nose breathing, inhale slowly and evenly until your ribs expand sideways allowing your side body to rise into the webbing between your thumbs and first fingers. Do this three times deeply then return to natural breathing.

 

      • Third, place pads of your fingers directly below your collarbone and find the tender spots between your collarbone and uppermost part of your rib cage. Using the same method of breathing, inhale slowly and evenly to fill your abdomen all the way up to your finger tips. Work to see if you can cause your fingertips to rise slightly with your breath. Repeat three times deeply then return to a regular breathing pattern.

 

If you feel comfortable with this process, the next step would be to do draw the breath to all three places in one breath starting with the lower abdomen, to the side body, then to the upper chest. But even simply doing the first step of three deep breaths in each area brings me immediately to a state of calm. And being calm is necessary for the next step to pacifying the panic.

3.  Prove-Proof Your Space

I once read a book by Anne Lamott who was giving advice to writers whose tendency to self-edit resulted in low productivity. She suggested putting the “voices” that make up your inner critic in a mason jar and screwing the lid on tightly until the task at hand is completed. Choose any voice that is asking you to prove your worth to them. These voices may be clearly attached to a person, past or present, or may be a collective voice of all those who caused you to question your value. If it helps, keep an actual jar in front of you as a token of your determination to quiet the panic that comes from constantly trying to prove yourself.

This week, after I noticed the jackhammer hum in my solar plexus, the telltale sign for me that panic wants to keep me stuck, I did the three-part breathing exercise then I jarred the voice of my inner critic. Since then, the fuzzy-headed feeling has dissipated, the spiral of negative thinking has ceased and the frozen feet have thawed.  And for the moment, I am unstuck.

Meditation

This has become my standard practice and you may find that one or more of the steps works for you. Or maybe you have your own methods. Do tell!

How do you pacify your panic?

 

pattern interrupted

 

We each contain within us a multitude of patterns and unconscious reactions. They’re often thinly disguised in thoughts and phrases such as “I can’t help it, this is who I am”.  Or perhaps they come to light in a moment of “Why do I always do that?” or when we catch ourselves consistently and insistently complaining about a particularly annoying person or event.

But what if a pattern is no longer beneficial and even becomes a hindrance to our growth and prevents us living freely, then what?  What if a pattern is trapping us in our own Groundhog Day experience? Or if it becomes a pleasingly patterned yet hard-to-penetrate and limiting brick wall?

Patterns

The point is to interrupt the pattern. Whenever a pattern is interrupted, there is a moment of awareness (often accompanied by a moment of panic). That interruption gives you a moment to see or exercise another possibility.–Ken McLeod, Buddhist teacher and writer

Four Steps to Pattern Interruption

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with using these four steps in response to the regular fall-out of my own pattern of staying hyper-busy/ compulsively over-working.

1.  Notice
2.  Uncover
3.  Re-Write
4.  Repeat

Notice
This may be easier for some patterns than others.  For me, the “work” pattern has become clear to me by way of a frantic mind, an oft-weakened immune system and chronic irritation that results when I work to exhaustion.  According to Ken McLeod, interrupting the pattern requires pausing just before the pattern is repeated instead of staying in a trance.  This will be a challenge since my tendency to overwork sort of steamrolls right over pauses.  Meditation has definitely been helpful in disengaging the pause-crushing steamroller and creating more space for noticing.

Uncover
Using the 5 Why’s to uncover the underlying story that informs my pattern has been quite useful for me.  Sometimes I can even rationalize up until almost 10 why’s.

I can’t stop working right now, I’m too busy!
Why?

Because I have this job/ task that must/should be finished.
Why?

Because I’ve already started and it is easier to just push through and finish it before I take a break.
Why?

Because I’d feel better, once I was resting, to not have to see the unfinished task in front of me.  I’d be much more relaxed if it was just finished.
Why?

Because I’d feel guilty sitting down when there’s work still to be done.
Why?

Because I feel valuable when I am productive and get work finished. My value stems from how much I accomplish.

BINGO!

My hidden story is that I believe my value is based on how much I accomplish so my value, in my mind, goes up the harder I work. Clearly there’s a deeper back-story there but, in order to maintain focus, let’s just leave that for when there’s time for self-reflection later and now consider the next step.

Re-Write
The story of “work = value” is an interesting one but is far from liberating and not one that I want to have as a silent director of my actions and decisions. Time for a re-write of that old script.  New script says “Working or not, productive or not, I have value”.  


Repeat
To make even a dent in the ancient story I’ve held to as truth for so long, this new script will need to be be expressed verbally every day until it becomes the new pattern.  New decisions will be based on the freedom of choice, not within the confines of a claustrophobic story.

I’m famously stubborn so this process might take longer for me than it does you.  I already caught myself pushing stoically through to the end of writing this post without taking a break when my mind and body were asking for one.  And this is only one of my patterns!

One pattern, one step at time.

time after time

 

“Don’t wish time away”.  I heard this phrase many times growing up.

But we do that very thing every time we unconsciously use languaging like “I can’t wait!”,  “I wish it was already the weekend.”, or  “Is it 5 o’clock yet?”

More subtly, we do it whenever we rush.  We scurry from one activity to the other without lingering because we’ve got so much life to live and so little time in which to do it.  A full day of the flurry of hurry finds us slumping into our easy chair with an exhausted sigh at the end of it.   A long week of this and no wonder we’re all waiting for the weekend.

But seriously, what’s the rush?

I was recently on my way to meet a friend and I found myself rushing significantly.  It was to the point that my body began giving clear signals that this was not okay.   My mind was so distracted and scattered that I couldn’t find my keys that were right in front of me.  My heart was racing to keep up with my manic multi-tasking and my abdomen felt like it bound was in a vice-grip with no sense of softness or room for breath.  So I stopped.   I took a few deep belly breaths and asked myself why I was rushing. The following inner scripts came quickly to light:

1.  Being late is morally wrong and is a sign of disrespect
2.  The person waiting for you will think poorly of you, if you are late
3.  Time is running out

Some of these underlying beliefs may sound familiar to the perfectionists in the crowd.  Or maybe you have your own stories.

The Passage of Time

Clearly it was time for a script re-write!

!.  Being late is not a sign of immorality or disrespect. It is a sign that you planned too much and didn’t realistically balance with how long things would take you.   It is merely a sign of poor time management, not of your value as a person.

2.  The person waiting for me will think “She’s late. She’s usually on time so something unexpected must have held her up.  No big deal.”   (And why does concern about what others will think take precedent over genuinely enjoying this moment?  Another inner script begging for a re-write?)

3.  Time doesn’t run out, it simply is what it is.  It is one moment after the next.  This moment isn’t running anywhere but you are rushing to get to the next and the next and the next moment based on falsehoods and fantasies.  All the while you’re missing this amazing moment right now.

I once had a yoga teacher who implored his students to be authentically present and aware in the pose he was teaching wherever they were that day.  A simple yoga pose is multi-leveled and our openness on any given day allows us to explore the depths or stay at the surface and learn there. His experience led him to say “I’ve been to the end of this pose and there’s nothing there.” Perfecting the pose, taking it as deep as possible doesn’t get us to any promised land or to ultimate answers.  It’s the process that matters. The journey of each step is where the abundance lies.

Turkey Yoga Pose AsanaInstead of wishing time away, how about witnessing each moment as an eternity?  There is more than enough time to be present in this moment.  And this moment is the most important one you’ll ever have.

What will you do with it?