It's almost hard to believe that we have hit January 2022. At this point of the year, time strangely seems to stand still and move incredibly fast all at the same time. And, believe it or not, this time of year tends to be one of my favorites, because it can be a time of fruitful reflection.
As we return to work in the new year to pour over overflowing inboxes, review never-ending to-do lists, and confront daily stressors, the question "Why am I here?" may linger in the back of our minds.
Upon reflection though, I realize that getting caught up in the minutiae of work distracts me from the bigger picture. It's like I’m entering a party and worrying about whether there’s guacamole or salsa, forgetting entirely why I came to the party in the first place.
We spend our lives making ourselves busy and filling our time, often forgetting the reasons behind our actions. We forget that we’re at the party with something very important to bring—and the party won't be complete until we share it! Yet, we get so overwhelmed by the people and things we encounter around us that we lose sight of our purpose for celebrating.
In Brene Brown’s most recent book Atlas of the Heart, she shares her definition of stress and overwhelm:
- Stress is evaluating environmental demands as beyond our ability to cope successfully, including elements of unpredictability, uncontrollability, and overload.
- Overwhelm is an extreme level of stress, an emotional and/or cognitive intensity to the level of feeling unable to function.
We tend to use these two words interchangeably, yet the definitions make it clear that the two are different. When we are stressed, we can at least continue to function. When we are in a state of overwhelm though, there is a physical reaction in our bodies. We become immobilized by our accumulated stressors, unsure of where to start.
Brown goes on to explain that the only antidote for overwhelm is nothingness—that we have to stop, reset, recharge, start over. But what does nothingness look like in reality?
It can look different, depending on your situation. It might look like taking a walk, spending time with a pet, sitting in a parked car, breathing quietly for five minutes. Importantly, access to restorative nothingness means not letting go of activities that bring us joy.
When we get busy, the first things to go are the “luxuries” of life: exercise, playing music, drawing, taking long walks, cooking, dining with friends. Brown shares that these activities actually become more important during stressful times. Counter-intuitively, these joyful activities must be put at the top of our to-do lists and remain non-negotiable in times of stress in order to keep us from becoming overwhelmed.
A key factor to consider here is purpose. Our purpose is the truest expression of who we are. It is the internal self-driving the external self. Oftentimes, stress turns to overwhelm when we don’t have a purpose, or when we’ve lost sight of it. By taking a step back and engaging in our own preferred form of nothingness, we are able to reconnect to our purpose and get back to our functioning selves.
On a grander scale, our collective purpose is to raise consciousness. The way each of us does this is going to be unique. We all bring different elements to the party—some of us bring the dance moves, others the snacks, the decorations, the rituals, the stories, the magic tricks. Together, we create the most epic party we call life.
So, even though it may feel like the dog days of winter, remember that there is something magical about quieting our bodies and our minds. Fueling ourselves with nothingness during this time of unavoidable stress helps us to find our center and get back in touch with our true purpose.