What Happens When We’re All at Capacity?Aug 23, 2023
I’ve been holding space for a lot of people and organizations for months. I’ve been in proximity to death, illness, miscommunication, dysregulated bodies, huge emotions, and lots of folks who are at capacity. Some know what to do and don’t feel like they have the time and some truly don’t know what to do. The emotions are just too big. I’ve been around lots of people seeking therapy for the first time and finding that many places that offer services to people without insurance or that cater to folks who have never sought therapy before are also at capacity and not taking new patients.
I’m noticing that when people are stressed for extended periods, small things that are easily overlooked and forgiven in good times become big things that get in the way. When people have reached their limit, they have a hard time having grace for others and for themselves. They have trouble focusing or get hyper focused on something small. They get short tempered. They forget to look for the good. They criticize their own decisions, forgetting important factors that went into their decision-making. They focus on what they want and need and minimize the trauma that others are going through. It’s so hard to have compassion when you’re hurting, too.
Many start skipping the very practices that could keep them grounded – going barefoot in the grass, eating well, hydrating, taking breaks, meditation, art, and sleeping enough. People also tend to fall back on behaviors that give them a feeling of control – criticizing, rigid thinking, reflexively saying no, pushing forward regardless, and ignoring the wisdom of the body.
I’ve caught myself doing some of those things lately, both skipping my practices and falling into controlling (or avoiding) behavior. The last couple of days have been especially stressful. I’ve given others space that I usually reserve for myself – attending more than three Zoom session in a day (That’s usually a hard boundary for me), holding emotional space for several people back-to-back when I couldn’t find a way to build in breathing room, insisting on being in the room for a discussion when folks graciously offered to let me leave. As I’m showing up for everyone else, I haven’t done a good job of taking care of me. I haven’t been releasing all the energy that I’ve been absorbing. And it resulted in a mini meltdown over something that I could normally handle. Instead of being annoyed, I was angry. My hands were shaking. I said harsh words. (I still think they were justified, but I kinda feel bad.)
I spoke with two people afterwards. One laughed at me. In his words he gently laughed in my direction, not at me. He told me to breathe and reminded me that I knew what to do. The other person asked how are you going to take care of yourself tonight? My first response was that I didn’t have time because I had a blog post to write and a newsletter to get done. But as soon as I said it out loud, I recognized that I sounded like the people I've been holding space for who didn’t want to pause.
Sunset on the James River
And I know that pausing when you don’t think you have time is what creates the time and space to do things with more ease. (If I learned one thing working wild hours for nonprofits, it’s that taking my lunch and dinner breaks made me more productive, not less.) So I went to the beach, put my feet in the water, and watched the sunset. I burned some sage and prayed. I drank some water and had a healthy snack. Then I wrote this blog post.
So for everyone out there who is feeling overwhelmed, overworked, unseen, holding huge emotions – please pause. Take a deep belly breath. Check in with your body. Do you need to stretch? Drink water? Focus your eyes on the distance instead of at the computer? Do you need to sit back and close them? What is your body asking for? How can you give it what it’s craving in the most easeful way?
Choose to do something fun or easy or that brings you peace, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Most of my readers know that the beach is my go-to place to get grounded and feel at peace. So driving 10 minutes to the nearest beach, walking through the sand and feeling the warm water on my feet as I watched the sunset grounded me in a way nothing else could today. No amount of walking barefoot in the grass was going to make me feel the way I do when I get in the water.
What is your thing? Maybe it’s a scent, a yoga pose, a specific calming drink, a piece of music. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to Regina Carter’s Paganini: After a Dream. The jazz violin both calms and focuses me.
Once you’ve done your quick fix, plan how you can spend more than 10 minutes to restore your emotional balance. I’m blocking off tomorrow afternoon to spend it at the beach with a friend. And this time I’m getting all the way in the water. I’m going to float (and maybe gently swim) and laugh as we catch up. Sending you fierce love and holding space for you to give your body and mind what they need.
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