A Mental Health Testimony by Claire McGowan, (MSW)
What is a “self-spectation,” and how do I create a fulfilling one?
A self-spectation is a term that came to mind when I sat down to write and reflect on my current post-pandemic exhaustion and what might help to ease it. It brought awareness and emphasized the need to take ownership of some of the pressures I have been feeling.
I repeatedly asked the second part of the question as things continued to return to what was normal before. I emphasize the word “was” because I am still reminding myself that 2019 normal and future normal will probably never feel the same.
I believe that living post-pandemic is comparable to healing from an injury. For bodily injuries, we do physical therapy. We take it slowly. Others give us the grace to be patient and heal properly. If I broke a bone in my foot, I would not expect or push myself to hike 5 miles immediately after that bone “healed .” So why am I pushing myself so hard to be social and busy and complete ALL the things? Maybe because we spent the last couple of years anxiously awaiting the days of returning to friend dinners, sports matches, theater, and live music shows? Perhaps because I am out of practice.
I have been actively restructuring my self-spectations in my day-to-day life because I found myself getting tired. Not the physical and fulfilling exhaustion from a workout, but the slow just-getting-through-each-day-well-enough kind of tired. So here are some thoughts and ideas I am finding helpful in navigating this shift.
“Today, I feel fulfilled by doing less”: During a yoga class, this thought came to me when my mind was racing about everything I needed to accomplish. I was not intentionally utilizing my recharge time. What does that mean? It means I stay tired. So on that day, I decided to cut the list down and agree that I would feel fulfilled by committing to less.
The bucket concept: We all have a bucket. A tolerance for life and how much we can carry. A daily reflection on “how full is my bucket” and “what can I reasonably take on today” is a great way to maintain a connection with oneself and awareness for safely avoiding a breaking point. This idea can also be thought of by adding things we need (yoga, 20 minutes with a book, baths, woodworking, etc.) to help empty the bucket and make room for responsibilities we can’t avoid.
The jar: Another way to think about this is a jar with marbles. Each marble has a name of a responsibility or a joy. We fill the jar first with the marbles representing what we HAVE to do (feed the babies, go to work). Next, we add the things we should do. Then we add the things we want to do. Not enough room for everything? Is there one marble from the “shoulds” that can be swapped for a want? If not today, sometime this week?
Practice communication. Sitting down with our partners, co-workers, or children that are old enough and comparing buckets and jars can be a helpful way to relieve pressure or share loads and expectations. Having a phrase with those closest to you might help alert someone that you are overwhelmed or overcommitted and need help or just grace during this time. I like the example of sending a sloth or turtle emoji.
Therapy or a confidant. While this may seem like adding one more thing (and who has the time?!), 45minutes to an hour spent with the right professional might be a great way to empty your bucket and reorganize your marbles. Click here to read more about finding a therapist.
Sometimes we have too much to do, and we have to do it all. That’s ok. However, it turns problematic when doing too much becomes the expectation. Doing daily or at least weekly check-ins with yourself can help you to create a fulfilling day with intentional self-spectations.