Emotionally Drained? Losing Steam? Give It Space

When I think about the way I want my day-to-day life to feel, words that come to mind are “light” and “in balance”.

Things in my life feel lighter and brighter when I’m in a routine that’s working - I draw energy from the harmony of things running smoothly. Those feelings of energy and harmony are big time contributors to my sense of momentum, and that momentum just builds on itself and bolsters my courage as the cycle rolls on.

...but.

That same feeling of momentum can feel so delicate sometimes, like just breathing on it wrong or looking at it funny can throw the whole thing off. (I hate that.) And whenever when my sense of momentum comes to a grinding halt like that, it’s often because those feelings of harmony and consistency in important areas of my life have been disrupted.

Messing with momentum

Change, or a break from routine, can be a really powerful catalyst for positive change. Sometimes it’s just what we need, and it can do a world of good if we’re ready to be catapulted into new territory. But under the wrong conditions, it also has the power to knock us off course, knock the wind out of us a little, and slow our momentum.

Looking back, I see how even a few small departures from successful and meaningful routines have killed my momentum, undone some forward progress, and allowed self-doubt and paralysis to creep in uninvited.

A few past examples come to mind:

  • Writing blog posts every week had been working great, until I skipped one — and suddenly I was in a losing battle with motivation.

  • My mostly-consistent fitness routine got interrupted by a much-needed summer vacation, and it took weeks if not months to find that consistency again.

  • Moving into a new place meant having to start over and create a new space that feels like home. It was tough to know where to start and how to avoid plateauing, as my now-husband and I worked on building a new home together.

While I don’t crave routine in every corner of my life, these are great examples of areas where having systems in place serves me really, really well. This kind of consistency gives me the energy to dream bolder, and the courage to reach higher. But when those systems break, I feel it — immediately, and immensely. And it’s not always clear where to go from there.

Responding to uninvited change

The interesting part about change or interruption, however welcome or unwelcome, is in how we respond. If you’re like me, there are usually two sides to that tug-of-war:

  1. the urgent compulsion to “fix it” and get things back on track, and

  2. the paralysis that comes with feeling overwhelmed or deflated and not knowing where to start.

The problem is, both of these impulses distort our picture of reality.

THE COMPULSION TO FIX

When something we care about is amiss, it’s a struggle not to get swept up in that unsettled feeling. When you’re in it, immersed, and the brokenness of your situation is crashing over you like waves, it all feels big and urgent.

I’m super guilty of hurrying into “fix it” mode to try and regain some footing when things start to slip. But when we get lost in the minutia of what’s broken and hustle too hard to fix fix fix from that limited vantage point, we risk settling to ineffective solutions that only work short-term — or worse, we forget to give ourselves enough space to rearrange the pieces, step back, and see the macro. That bigger, clearer picture of what’s really going on.

THE PARALYSIS OF FEELING OVERWHELMED AND DEFLATED

While it can be tough to stop ourselves from diving into “fix it” mode when something feels amiss, the “where do I even start, and is this even fixable?” paralysis struggle can be equally real.

I had a conversation with my mom recently about momentum, and we realized together that when you’re fighting with momentum, you’re fighting with science - and that’s a losing battle. Remember learning about inertia in school as a kid? “An object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion”? Turns out, Newton wasn’t messing around.

These are struggles I’m very familiar with. And while I don’t have a perfect solution, I can offer an observation that has changed the game mentally:


 

If the thing feels huge, and you’re drowning in your thoughts to the point that you’re either desperate to fix it, or too deflated to do anything about it at all… you’re probably too up-close.

 

Clarity comes with distance

Stepping back and seeing your pain points with clarity from a bird’s eye view feels wildly different than being immersed in them. Being in them is disorienting, while the view from 10,000 feet just gets a little quieter. Finding that distant, clearer viewpoint means you have to give yourself time to step away, let the pieces marinate undisturbed and rearrange themselves for a little bit, until a bigger, clearer picture reveals itself.

Each missed workout last month felt like a guilt-ridden opportunity to “do better next time” -- but a pattern of continuing to skip my workouts revealed some underlying shame about my health and my habits.

Each hurdle or fight in a past relationship felt like “a new challenge I’d find a way to resolve and live with” -- but behavioral patterns within those fights revealed serious compatibility issues and my own unmet needs.

Realistically, we give ourselves a huge advantage by learning to sit with discomfort for a minute and be less desperate for the harmony that comes from short-term fixes. A frantic desperation to fix and return to feel-good feelings can keep us from recognizing the bigger issues. It’s much tougher to sit with the discomfort, and to just be.

Choosing to step away with a real sense of intention can also help you avoid feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed by the thing you’re struggling with. If you can set some loose parameters with yourself up front and trust that you’ll come back to address the issue when you’re ready, the whole thing may start to feel less hopeless or overwhelming. As an added bonus, stepping away for a window of time also lets you gather strength and recharge so that when you return, you’re refueled and ready.

How do you give it space?

While it’s not always easy to do, below are a few suggestions to help you start to figure out how to give yourself permission to step back from the pressing issues in your life to gain distance in clarity, in a purposeful and attainable way:

  • Try doing an initial brain-dump on paper to clear the clutter and empty your stress, before you step away for a while.

  • Really visualize soaring over the issue(s) at 10,000 feet. That image has been much more powerful and effective for me than the words “step back” or “come back to it.”

  • Write your unfiltered thoughts down often. The writing itself is a great release, and over time, patterns or themes may start to emerge.

  • Resolve to come back to it when you feel grounded and ready, even if that takes a while. Set a (realistic) time frame if you have to. Otherwise, distance can easily morph into indefinite procrastination.

  • Talk it out with someone you love. Putting it into words and saying them out loud naturally helps us articulate, summarize, reframe, and hear our struggles in a new light. Plus, a third party who knows and loves you can often see things that you can’t.

  • Reconnect with people, projects, and things that bring you joy, energy, and life. It always always always helps with finding a renewed perspective.


What about you?

Is there something you’re struggling with these days where you’re feeling stuck? Does giving it space work for you? Let me know in the comments, if you feel so inclined - and in the meantime, remember to be gentle with yourself.

There’s no instruction manual for this stuff, but the more you can show yourself patience and softness, the easier it will be to start finding the clarity you need.