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This is a story based on a conversation I had with a patient of mine a while ago. She walked into my clinic room and she burst into tears.

All I asked was, how are you doing today?

Nobody had asked her that in a while. And she hadn’t offered it. Instead, she put her head down and pushed through. Getting things done, losing herself in the process.

She thought she was ok. That is, until somebody thought to ask her. She was juggling the balls, doing the things, smile glued firmly in place.

Here’s how you cope with tough times

But here’s the thing when you come through a tough period in your life. And yes, 2022 was tough for a lot of people, and that tough period has been going on for quite some time.

You adapt in response to that adaption, what was tough becomes the new normal. You don’t feel stressed. Maybe just a little bit tired. But isn’t everyone these days? Because you carry on, but just because you’ve stopped registering the heavy toll, it doesn’t mean that the heavy toll has gone away.

You’re simply no longer alarmed by it. So you carry on. You’re doing the things, juggling the balls. You already feel like you can’t continue. You’re dreading work but you’re showing up anyway. Until one day you can’t. Somebody who you don’t need to be strong for asks you how are you doing?

Our mind seizes the opportunity to remind you that actually, you’re not doing great.

You might find yourself with tears rolling down your cheeks while you’re waiting in line to pay for something or on the train.

You might wake up one morning and you simply don’t have the energy to get out of bed, to shower, to wash your hair.

How did you get here? We live in a world where it’s accepted that you’ll push through. We had a brief respite when momentarily it was ok to stay at home because you were sick. But this too seems to be on the wane. The antidote is connection. And that begins with connection with yourself.

What is connection?

If you gave yourself the gift of doing nothing but sitting in your chair for half an hour, how would you feel? Lazy! That’s how my patient responded, she said. I’d feel like I wasn’t doing anything.

Our three nervous systems

We all know about our sympathetic nervous system. It’s the alarm bell. It’s the fight or flight. And generally it tends to want more than its fair share of time in the driving seat of your life.

There’s also the enteric nervous system, and some say that this one is the seat of wisdom if you’re willing to trust your gut, that is. It also plays a key role in supporting our immune system along with our parasympathetic nervous system.

The healing one, that’s the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s responsible for resting and digesting. So when you sit still or you sit in silence, for at least 30 minutes. You give your parasympathetic nervous system a chance to do some quick housekeeping, it’s also an opportunity to check in on those gut instincts.

How relaxation can change your life

What if instead of wrapping relaxation around the to do list, we made it our first and foremost in our lives?

What if we gifted ourselves just 30 minutes each day to check in with how we’re really feeling.

How am I feeling? What’s my interpretation about what that feeling means?

If it’s a feeling I’m keen to now move on from, what needs to happen in my life. Noticing how you’re really feeling, noticing what you’re making that mean, and if needed, deciding on a new course of action in order to change that feeling, well, that’s your first step to proactive recovery.

Who lights you up?

The next step is to reflect on your social circle.

Who lights you up?

Who brings you down?

Once you see you can’t unsee it. Now, you’re in the realm of choosing, choosing who you’ll spend time with, who’s the person you can whisper to when you’re not doing so well, what can you do to support them and lift them up?

It’s like a bank account. There’s an ebb and a flow. Support and loving kindness flowing in. Support and love and kindness making its way to you. What can you do? Or how could you be to get even better at letting that support and that loving kindness in? Oh, I don’t like to impose, my patient said.

Think back to the last time you did something kind for somebody. How did it make you feel? Warm, joyful, appreciated? Knowing that it feels that good why would you choose to deny somebody the opportunity to feel that good when they did something kind for you and more importantly, you wholeheartedly let it in.

What do you want 2023 to be about?

When I tune into 2023 I can feel a softness in the air. An invitation. Just like the ebb and flow of the waves on the shore. It has been hard. You’ve made it through. Now is the time to bring in more rest, more respite. And begin the process of being gentle with yourself.