Are your expectations stressing you out?
“Stress is the space between where we are, and where we think we should be”
I heard this quote the other day and it really hit home to me that stress is often if not ALWAYS linked to the expectations that we have of ourselves or others.
It doesn’t matter what the situation, when we are feeling stressed it is because we are expecting too much from ourselves or others in the moment. It might be that there are external factors that are challenging us, but the expectation we then have of ourselves is to carry on with life at our normal pace, rather than re-evaluating and adjusting some of the expectations we have of ourselves during that challenging time.
It has become a social norm for us to feel continuously stressed.
In particular, being a parent in these modern times can feel overwhelming, exhausting, draining. We can feel like we have a million and one things to do, rushing around from the moment we get out of bed until the moment we fall back into it at night. Our minds are whirling with everything we need to remember, our to do lists are out of control, we rush around like headless chickens trying to stay on top of everything: looking after the kids, working, the housework, the nursery runs, the food shopping, the meal planning, the cooking, keeping track of the kids social events, trying to keep track of the finances, the washing OH MY WORD THE WASHING! The ironing? Who has time for that?! It never ends because it is the treadmill of daily life and there will ALWAYS be more housework to do, more clothes to wash, more shopping to do, more food to cook.
Then sometimes there is a disaster, a crisis – the boiler packs up, the washing machine breaks down, the car won’t start and everything else gets put on the back burner – but of course it piles up in the background waiting for you to get back to it! It never goes away.
Sometimes we don’t eat nourishing food, we don’t wee when we need to, we don’t drink enough water, we don’t get enough sleep and before you know it, it is US that has packed up, broken down, stopped working. We are BURNT OUT and we have to slow down usually due to physical illness or mental overwhelm. Our minds and our bodies tell us ENOUGH!
And we are forced to listen because we are physically and mentally not able to carry on.
So why do we allow ourselves to burn out?
Because we have a choice every day of our lives to either:
A) Meet our own needs or
B) Ignore them.
No-one else can meet our needs for us. Only we can ensure that our own needs are being met.
So how do we do that when we have soooooooooooooooo much to do? This comes back to expectations.
This year has been a challenging year for me for many reasons. And at times it has been very stressful. There have been numerous times that I have felt burnt out, overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. The key thing that had happened every time I felt burnt out was that my expectations of myself had become unmanageable and my self-care had fallen to the bottom of the list because I was trying to cut corners to save time.
But here’s the thing. We simply CANNOT cut corners when it comes to our health. Our health has to remain our number one priority otherwise everything else suffers.
I know I am not alone in cutting corners! I speak to Mums all the time who feel sleep-deprived, exhausted, overwhelmed, burnt out and their health is suffering. So why do we let it get to this point? When do we stop listening to our needs?
I look at my baby girl who cries when she’s hungry, needs a cuddle, is tired or has wind. She cries immediately when she needs something because that is how she communicates that her needs are not being met, and this is how I know when to respond.
So why don’t we listen to our bodies when they are crying out to have their needs met? Why don’t we respond to our own needs immediately? When did we learn to stop responding?
When we have a car we need to keep it regularly refuelled, we need to do regular maintenance checks – an annual MOT, we do an annual service and we change the tyres when they go flat. If we don’t do these things the car eventually stops running. Without regularly refuelling ourselves, regular maintenance checks and regularly meeting our needs we will also eventually stop running.
So how do we manage everything when we feel that we have SO many things to do without burning out?
The key is to prioritise our own needs.
When our own needs are met then it becomes so much easier to achieve other things on our to do list! We have to first meet our own needs so that we have enough energy to meet the needs of others. This can often feel counter-intuitive as we Mums in particular, seem to feel a lot of guilt around prioritising our own needs. But meeting the needs of tiny babies and children is incredibly demanding and we need all the energy we can get! And our energy comes from meeting our own needs for sleep, nourishing food, water and time to recharge.
If you are someone who regularly feels overwhelmed, burnt out, exhausted and like there are not enough hours in the day, then this is an indicator that your expectations of yourself are unsustainable.
So instead of accepting stress as a normal part of this busy modern life that we are living, we can instead use stress as a warning sign that perhaps our expectations of ourselves are becoming unmanageable. We can then address those expectations BEFORE we burn out.
Here are some useful questions to ask yourself, next time you are feeling stressed:
* How can I ensure my own needs get met today?
* What else am I expecting myself to do today? Are these tasks more important than my health?
* If I could pick only one thing to achieve today and the rest could wait – which one would it be?
* What would happen if the other stuff did not get done?
* Is there anything I can outsource or ask for help with?
Another useful exercise you can do is to identify the things that nourish you, energise you and recharge you.
A good way to do this is write down 100 things that you LOVE to do! Things that feel good.
It can be spending quality time with your family and friends, the work that you do, doing something creative, the coffee you enjoy every morning, a clean and tidy house, exercise, chocolate, watching your favourite TV programme, the cleaner who comes in once a week or the play-date you have every week with a friend or the walk you do every day with your dog.
ANYTHING that you LOVE to do and that feels good, no matter how big or small, can go on that list.
Then stick that list up where you can see it or take a photo of it and store it on your phone, have it as your screensaver on your laptop – anywhere where you can refer to it daily. And every day you can choose to do some of those things every day.
Some of them you may do already, they may be part of your daily rituals. But some of the things I am guessing you are putting off until a day when you ‘have more time’ for you.
I wonder what would happen if you had less expectations and more time for you every single day? :-)