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Accepting Limitations: Dealing with Overwhelm and Stress

by | Mar 22, 2017 | For Everyone

The Impact of “Yes”

Are you like me? Do you tend to say, “yes” to too many commitments? Does your passion motivate you to sign on to “just one more thing” you cannot resist? Is your calendar all of a sudden full of activities that seemed like a good idea when you signed on, but when the time arrives to do them you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, overextended, and pushing against your limited resources?  Are you then, all of a sudden feeling stressed?

If you answered in the affirmative then, like me, you might struggle with accepting your limitations. We all have them. There are only so many hours in the day, so much energy in our bodies, and so much money in the bank. Learning to accept these limitations means that we step into relationship with the complex elements that interact each and every day, weaving the subtle and not so subtle fabric of our lives. This holistic approach lays in contrast to trying to force and bend reality according to our will. However, for some, this comes easy for others, not so.

What drives this pattern? The one where we try and cram as much into our lives as we can? Likely, the answer is both unique and complex; however, we likely behave this way because of reasons that make good sense. For example, sometimes people over-commit, having difficulty saying “no” because they don’t want to disappoint others. However, constantly putting others needs (or perceived needs) before one’s own, leads to eventual resentment and burnout. Another possible reason: Endless striving that is fuelled by feelings of shame; that ever-present sense that “I am not good enough”. Unfortunately, no amount of striving or achievement transforms shame, rather it fuels the drive to continue to do more and more. When we are motivated by shame it’s like we are trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom, which constantly leaks out our best efforts. In fact, efforts to change shame by fixing what perceive is wrong with us only makes shame grow – its as if the bucket gets bigger.

Bringing Awareness to Our Patterns

Although there are many reasons, here I wish to explore one particular possibility: We are often not conscious of our limitations. Likely there are many influencing factors as to why this is the case. For example, Western culture places high value on productivity. Therefore, for many, a successful day means that all items the “to do” list have been checked off. Our focus tends to be drawn to what we have to do rather than how to be. Thus, we lose touch with the “bottom-up” wisdom of our body, which is accessible when we slow down and tune-in to the sensations, images, and feelings that arise.

There are many ways that we are taught to privilege doing over being. For example, the technological revolution may have added convenience and accessibility to resources, information, and entertainment; however this comes with the expectation that we are always available and tuned in to our online connections as well as what is going on in the world. Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) defined as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_of_missing_out). Furthermore, we are hard-wired for connection and the addition of online forms of contact as well as access to news and other forms of information and entertainment has created a pervasive pressure to always be engaged and plugged in.

Turning our attention away from our internal world is reinforced not just by contextual elements, but also by the repetition of focus. Here, Siegrid Löwel’s famous phrase, summarizing Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb’s theory, is relevant: What fires together, wires together. In other words, neurons, the carriers of all energy and information that flows through our brain and body, literally form pathways with repeated activation. So, the more we think, feel, or behave in specific ways, the greater the chance we will do so again because a neurobiological energy and information pathway has formed.

Bring Being Into Focus

Eastern philosophy invites a different perspective. With more of an emphasis on being than doing, practices such as mindfulness can slow us down and refocus our attention on the present moment. When we are open to noticing the realities within (i.e. sensations, feelings, energy levels, needs) and outside (i.e. environment, context, role demands, tasks), we bring our whole being into the mix. We begin to notice and respect information from all sources, not just specific flows of energy such as our own or others goals and wishes.

The benefits of this are backed by science. Dr. Dan Siegel, one of the founders of Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB), suggests that one of our fundamental human lessons surrounds embracing our limitations. These limitations result from the realities of living in our human bodies in and amongst other living systems, which are held by the realities of impermanence, uncertainty and mortality (Siegel, 2012). In other words: all living organic beings experience change, must deal with unknowns, and come to terms with the fact that all life comes to an end. Our human resources are not infinite and to live these precious lives well, we must somehow come to terms with these realities.

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