You know those days where everything feels overwhelming? You can’t find anything to wear and you want to cry. You go to make breakfast, there’s no bread and it feels like the end of the world. You spill coffee on the one shirt that isn’t wrinkled, and you’re heading into nervous breakdown territory.
And then there are the days where you are feeling amazing! Traffic snarl? No worries, you’ll just turn up the music and enjoy the alone time. Big stressor at work? You got this and save the day! Friend comes to you with all of her stressors. You are as solid as a rock.
What gives? How is it that you can manage stressors so well in some moments, and other times you feel that you can barely keep it together?
The Coping Tank
How you respond to stressors is largely influenced by the level of reserves in your coping tank. You tap into your reserves when there is a need for stress management. You also need to refuel your tank. You do not have an infinite reserve of coping fuel. You have to make conscious choices that will help you refuel.
What happens when your coping tank is running low? You start having a really hard time when stressors happen. You may feel exhausted all the time. You may feel tearful or on edge. It feels like there is nothing left for you at the end of the day.
What happens when you are running on fumes? You find it hard to meet other people’s needs. Everything feels like it is a huge effort. Your mood is volatile. You may start experiencing physical symptoms like hair loss, headaches, skin conditions flare up. You may start struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety. Things feel so hard.
Eventually you may even run out of fumes and all you’re left with is an old, rusted out tank. This is bad.
How to refuel your coping tank?
Self-care, self-care, self-care (and some more self-care for good measure). Easy, right?
Not so much. There are many obstacles to self-care. However, it is critical. It is no longer optional. So, here are a few ways to refill that tank so you don’t end up sputtering at the side of the road one day.
· Sleep. This one of the most basic, yet most overlooked, building blocks to self-care. If sleep sucks, everything sucks. Chronic difficulties with sleep drain you physically and emotionally. When you are tired, everything feels so much worse. Go to bed at the same time every day. Get up at the same time every day. Develop a bedtime routine to wind down (they’re not just for toddlers!).
· Eat properly. You can decide what eating properly means to you, but make sure you are regularly fuelled with good nutrition. I know that I easily fall victim to feeling “hangry”, and I can’t even cope with a hangnail if I’m not properly fed. Your physical body needs to be nourished so that you can functional optimally.
· Be careful if you’re using food or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Sometimes a nice meal, a sweet treat or the occasional glass of wine can be a part of your self-care regimen. However, if you feel guilt or shame afterwards, it can drain the tank rather than add to it
· Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated. Go outside for a few minutes. Belt out a favorite song. Find something that feels good to you.
· Notice when your tank is getting low. Are you more irritable? Do you feel exhausted? Do minor stressors feel incredibly overwhelming? Know your signs early on and fill up that tank!
In my London, Ontario counselling practice I regularly work with women who are running on fumes. I talk to friends and they are running on fumes. I talk to other professionals in all sorts of industries and they are seeing clients who are running on fumes. This is a common and serious problem! We need to start addressing our general lack of self-care and start letting go of the guilt that is often associated with taking time for ourselves. Please share this post and let’s start filling up our tanks!