How are you today?
If you are serving the public in some way or caring for others at work or home, I imagine you might often feel drained and ready to re-charge your batteries at the end of your day? You may wonder why you feel so drained, fatigued or zapped of energy? Perhaps like many of us, you tell your self you 'should' be able to handle an ordinary day at work without experiencing fatigue and exhaustion?
Maybe you have special ways of taking care of your self? What are they? Even if you don't want to share them here, you could take a moment to consider how you take care of your self... and if you don't, might it be a good idea to start?
Me? I meditate, practice Breathing - sounds funny I know given we breathe all day, every day - however Breathing as a self care/relaxation/pain reduction technique really works. I paint, read, spend time in my favourite coffee shop Every Single Day. I write in my journals, I feed and listen to birds, walk my dog, get to bed when I begin to feel tired, ask for a hug from my Beloved or good friends, breathe in fresh air and when I notice pain I attend to it usually with meditation and some self exploration and breathing.
I appreciate there is a particular way of thinking 'out there' that nobody can 'make' you feel a certain way. I was introduced to this concept in 1996 during my early Counsellor Training and it was reiterated often over the years on various courses.
Now however I disagree with this concept.
There is a whole body of thinking that proves that people; friends, family, colleagues, the general public sitting next to you on the tube, anyone we come into contact with, can make us feel just as they do or change how we feel ...in an instant, especially if we are sensitive or empathic. They can also transfer their negative feelings on to another and walk away feeling much better. I am not saying they know they do it, or do it intentionally. I believe it is something that can happen easily between two or more humans.
Have you ever spent time with somebody and come away feeling exhausted, drained, angry, depressed or something else that you hadn't felt prior to meeting that person?
It could also have the opposite affect. You could spend a little time listening to and chatting with somebody enlivened, bright and motivated and somehow you feel uplifted and bright too. Great!
If this interests you, you could make a mental note of anyone you enjoy being around because they somehow lift your mood or energise you.
Now do the opposite and make a mental note of anyone who brings you down, leaves you drained, frustrated, head aching.... Could be a good idea to keep this in mind for when you are around them next?
We can go off to work with a skip and a jump wearing a bright smile on our face and within 5 minutes over coffee in the staff room we feel miserable and wonder what on earth happened to be hijacked this way.
In many ways humans convey unspoken messages to each other all the time. We pick up enormous amounts of information from body language. Try this; bring to mind someone close to you, a partner or good friend you know well. Have you ever had the kind of unspoken conversation where one of you might look at the other and convey; 'watch out, here's so and so that upset you last week" or 'ooh here's that lovely person you felt attracted to coming in" or 'I can see you are upset and I wish I could make you feel better'. You have? No words are spoken, but we know exactly what they are 'saying' without words.
Our Mirror Neurons in the frontal lobes of our brain can 'read' another in seconds. This can be a Danger Zone in terms of being around unhappy, angry/negative others.
I find understanding how something happens helps me to work with it and do something different, for example in this case, to protect myself. Here's a snippet of information which might make you think....
In the late 1990s, Italian scientists accidentally stumbled upon Mirror Neurons...
These scientists "had attached electrodes to individual neurons in a monkey's premotor area, then set up a computer to monitor precisely which neurons fired when the monkey picked up a peanut or grasped a banana. At one point an experimenter was putting food pellets into a box when he looked up at the computer. The monkey's brain cells were firing at the exact location where the motor command neurons were located. But the monkey wasn't eating or moving. He was watching the researcher, and his brain was vicariously mirroring the researcher's actions." Bessel van der Kolk; The Body Keeps The Score.
Mirror Neurons are very powerful and looking at/listening to/tuning in to an other who is perhaps stressed or disturbed can cause us to experience their emotional or psychological pain.
In our culture we are raised in such a way to look at the other when they speak to us. How many times were we told, or do we hear parents saying to children, "look at me when I am speaking to you!"
If these processes of 'looking at' and comprehending what is being conveyed to us begins at a very early age then how can we avoid feeling other's pain and unhappiness in our work or relationships?
Think about our Nervous System... We can shift from relaxed and happy to a very Stressed place in a second if we perceive threat. Once our Stress Response becomes activated many processes are set into action and ultimately our body's immune system closes down because all of our energy has shifted in to Survival Mode.
We can help to protect ourselves by breaking eye contact with somebody who is expressing very negative feelings or thoughts. I appreciate that this will feel alien to us, perhaps 'wrong' in light of our upbringing in terms of having good manners, being polite and respectful. However if we remain in such contact, how can this help us? Especially if we are a Helper...
Something else you can do is Move. Literally shift position in your chair or how you are standing. Cross your legs if you are sitting, or uncross them,
If possible, get up and open the window. The fresh air will help however actually moving and walking will help more.
Don't mirror the other person's body. We are often taught to do this to build raport in relationship and to make the other feel more relaxed. The more you mirror them the more you will feel just as they do.
Bring your attention to your breathing. You could have a little 'check in' with yourself. Let yourself know you are at risk from 'catching' big emotions or moods and by breathing deeply and checking in with your self you can protect yourself.
Have an extra strong mint which will activate your Taste Sense and help 'bring you to your senses' as the saying goes. It literally brings you into the moment and will help disconnect you from the other briefly whilst you are tuned in to your own response.
Again I appreciate this goes against all we are trained to do as professional Listeners, Nurses, Carers, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and simply as a polite human being, but to break your Presence will take care of you albeit briefly. It will offer you some protection.
Just saying internally for a moment that you are aware the other is in pain and it won't help you or them if you soak it all up and become immersed in it too could be helpful.
Staying with your senses; you could listen to what else is going on in your environment, feel the chair you are sitting on, touch the fabric and notice what it feels like. Notice what you can smell around you. Remind yourself of who you are, the day/date.
One of the most effective things we can do to really help ourselves is to take a nice deep breath, particularly a long out breath through the mouth. Breathing out deeply enables our parasympathetic part of our nervous system to relax us.
This is a complex and huge topic with many strands to it, far too many to consider in a simple blog post like this.
Somehow though just beginning this kind of conversation can really help us to acknowledge that something huge happens between human beings when we are in contact with each other.
Personally I believe we need to be more self protective, more aware of how we are impacted and by whom. If we don't, how will this impact us in the long term? Burn out is an enormous issue.
Through all the personal development work I have undertaken, I know I am a very sensitive personality. I am inately compassionate. I have a tendency to reach out and help rather than run away. I believe many of us, those who care for family, Nurses, Teachers, those who work in residential care homes, Counsellors, Social Workers are in these kind of jobs because we are naturally caring, compassionate and empathic humans. We want to help others. We don't enjoy seeing others suffering. We want to make a difference.
Without awareness of the risks involved and techniques to protect ourselves, I think this leaves us vulnerable to the 'big' feelings such as sadness, anger, depression, anxiety every day.
There is a huge 'Need' out there in our world, we don't have to look very far to find it. Cast an eye over your facebook page right now, I am guessing within moments you will be bombarded with all sorts of images and statements that press your empathy and compassion buttons. With your empathy and compassion comes your Stress Response. With your Stress Response your body goes into survival mode. Being in survival mode for long periods or regularly brings about poor health, our immune system cannot work well under these circumstances. It all has a knock on effect and a very negative one at that.
As mentioned earlier, this is a huge topic and this is just a tiny window to look into it. If you have any Self Care, Protective tips you would like to share with others, please comment below.
Babette Rothschild, Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine and many others offer theories, research and helpful suggestions regarding this issue. I can't recommend them enough. You may also like to read about Projective Identification and how we humans can transfer our 'bad' or 'unwanted' feelings onto others.
Just a little reminder of how I Self Care; Art, Music, Walking in nature, Meditation, Authenticity, Trusting my Body to know and listening to my self every day. Feeding the birds. Hanging out with Trees in the woods (they are fab company and beautiful to look at). Resting, Playing, Creative Journaling, spending time with others who are positive and uplifting, Loving, Hugging. Saying NO! Not Rescuing others...
I'd love to hear how you take care of your self and the benefits you have experienced from doing so.
Take care of your precious selves, and thanks for visiting me here,