One of the most common after effects of any kind of trauma is becoming so busy one does not have time to process one’s emotions or feel the emotional pain.
Do you find yourself frequently striving to achieve the impossible?
These photos are of my dog Pebbles jumping to catch a squirrel about 20 feet above her (looking down at her smugly). I wonder why my dog will jump 20 times to reach an animal that is clearly out of her reach. I also wonder why people try so hard to make relationships work where they are being mistreated by their spouse, work long hours to experience a sense of achievement that keeps escaping them, and try to do more than their time allows.
Pushing hard and constant activity activates adrenalin, which can feel rewarding. Adrenalin is a substance which can be as addictive as drugs or alcohol. Adrenalin is a chemical response that can feel good, adds excitement and numbs negative emotions. However it can lead to being out of touch with one’s body and physical needs, overeating, and substance abuse.
One way to balance between trying too hard and being ambitious, is to notice if the activity level has any negative consequences. A common negative consequence is “time debt”. Earlier this year a friend explained time debt is using one’s time in a way that lives beyond one’s means. She gave an example of when she used to fill her days with so many activites and tasks that she did not get enough sleep and was always exhausted. Linda Sivertsen describes this pattern in a Ted Talk about time debt, which she said may be more widespread and dangerous than financial debt. Sivertsen states “It is an affliction, the disease of our era”.
Signs of time debt are 1) thinking you are a machine-thinking you should do what ever it takes because you or someone else expects you to do so 2) not planning margin time for unexpected circumstances 3) denial of time and space-thinking you can pack more in a day than humanly possible. 4) time shock-looking at the clock realizing in surprise that it is later than you thought was.
Siversten suggests one way to reverse time debt is to keep track of what matters most and then track how much time is spent at what matters the most. If you value your health, do you make time for exercise and healthy eating? If you value your family, do you have quality time that you spend with family? Common ways to misspend time are to stay in bad relationships, work too many hours, and be active from morning to night.
About 10 years ago a friend told me why she had ended a 24 year old relationship. She had gone to the funeral of a friend who had died at age 60. She was close to this age and asked herself if she died within a few years, was she really living the way she wanted to? Her answer was “no” and although it was very painful, she broke up with her partner. Periodically she evaluates how she spends her time. I admire that she has a practice of not doing anything else while she eats, eats slowly and practices gratitude for her food.
I remember reading a helpful way to guide how to spend time in Charlotte Kasl’s book Women, Sex and Addiction. She recommended her readers do “light readings”. By this she means to ask oneself if you feel lighter or heavier about the activity you are thinking of doing. When possible, she recommended people do what makes their hearts lighter.
Cheryl Richardson specializes in helping people practice self care and organizing their time. In The Extreme Art of Self Care, she wrote that it was her observation that the people who consulted with her packed too much activity in their lives. She recommended on average that these people cut out 1/3 rd of their activities. Can you imagine reducing your activity level by 1/3? The thought boggles my mind although it probably is wise advice.
Many people were not valued as children and crave recognition they hope will make them feel good about themselves. Many people are over responsible and over caring. They want to cut back on work or helping others but they feel powerless to do so. This is when therapy can help. It is good to “try hard” but not when it causes you to stop enjoying your life.
If you would like help to slow down and get your life in balance, or get help for something that has happened to you in the past that you suspect still bothers you at some level, please call me at 586-799-2399 to schedule an appointment or initial consult. It’s time to let go of trying to do the impossible. You can read more how I help people with unresolved issues/trauma here.