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My Key to Overcoming Stress — My Daily Bookends

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

For as long as I can remember, I looked outside of myself for answers. I'd ask my family members, my friends, my mentors, pretty much anyone and everyone who I thought might know better than me.

Whenever I had a problem, a decision to make, a major life dilemma, I'd get to asking!

Now don't get me wrong, getting insights, advice and support from your circles of support can be a really useful thing to do when you're facing an area of uncertainty in your life. We all need to feel like we are surrounded by those who have our best interests at heart and who deeply care about our well-being, and when we are faced with unprecedented challenges, it's totally natural to turn to those we trust for help.

“But sometimes, we begin to trust, lean on and listen to others more than we do ourselves. And that's where things get tricky! Five years ago, I came to a dramatic and startling realization: I was so connected to everyone around me that I had completely lost track of myself. I realized that my voice, my inner experiences, my needs and my feelings were totally missing!"

As women, we are more often than not taught to serve, to please and to prioritize others, often at the expense of ourselves. Does this sound like you? Have you ever found yourself so caught up in the feelings, needs, demands and activities of others, that you felt completely left out of the picture?

I lived my life like this FOR YEARS. And the most bizarre part of it was that I was completely unconscious that I was doing it! Sure, I felt somehow like something was "missing." I had that uncomfortable ache in my gut that gnawed and nagged at me late at night when everyone else was sleeping.

But the truth is, we're often too busy to pay attention to that icky-yucky sensation in our stomach that tells us that something is off. For many of us, we push away the discontent and disappointment, because we really aren't sure what to do with it. The bigger, deeper truth of what is going on within us can be hard to face:

“We have allowed ourselves to become disconnected from who we are. We have become strangers, or foreigners, in our own lives. We have lost track of our home.”

Our home is the place where we feel safe, connected, understood, protected, tuned in, loved, respected, appreciated and aligned, right? Or at least, that's what many of us yearn for. If our outer home environment is in disarray — with "stuff" scattered everywhere, kids yelling and screaming, uncompleted tasks, a sense of conflict or discomfort — we're often unable to relax and truly enjoy our time there, am I right?

As women, we tend to regularly buckle down to the work of keeping our outer home environment in order. We wouldn't leave uneaten food on the counters for days, would we? We wouldn't not talk to our partners or our kids or our friend or roommates for weeks or months, would we?

But what about our inner home?

How often do you check in with yourself, sort through and "clean up" the mess that is hanging out in your inner landscape, your inner home? How connected, loved, appreciated, understood, safe, cared for and respected are you in the home inside of your body — the space where your feelings, needs, desires, dreams, values, beliefs, and vision reside? How "well kept" and connected is this space that is at the center of your very being?

For many of us, our inner world is nothing like the sanctuary of love, care and understanding that we strive to create in our outer world. Why? Because we live from the outside in. Our outer worlds consume all of our time, our attention and our energy. Our to-do lists are epic, and we are always running between the needs and demands of those around us.

We struggle to juggle the ever-growing list of activities and engagements, all the while doing our best to support and take care of those around us. Our days can become a never-ending haze of needs, support and to-do's. And by the time we drop exhausted into bed each night, who even has the time to think about our own feelings, needs and desire? Those things must be reserved for women with more time and space in their lives than we have, right?!

But, the aching continues, doesn't it? The feeling that there's got to be something more... The nagging sense that there's a "me" in all of this that is barely uncovered, because she's always on the move, always in her head.

I know this from personal experience, because I lived this way for YEARS! I was SO disconnected from my inner experience that it was as if I was a head attached to a pair of legs, always running around doing things for everyone else. I was WOUND SO TIGHT. I'd gotten so good at repressing and ignoring and putting off my own needs and feelings that a certain level of numbness had set in. I'd actually catch myself holding my breath as I attempted superwoman-style feats of multi-tasking. And, to some extent, I felt pretty good about myself, like: "hey, I'm actually managing to get it all done and done pretty well!" I'd mentally pat myself on the back for a fleeting moment, and then put my head down and keep plowing ahead.

Of course, from time to time, I'd have a "meltdown." I'd lose my shit all over the place — which usually meant exploding into a helpless barrage of "why is everyone so selfish and uncooperative. What about MY needs?!" aimed at my poor, unsuspecting family.

And then, I'd go for a run, go to bed early, maybe take a bath to "shake off" the awfulness of how I was feeling following that moment when my numbness turned into red, hot anger and I "exploded" at the people I loved. I'd "cool off," take a few moments for myself, and I'd feel a bit better. And then the next day? I'd go right on back to doing what I was doing before — head down, running around, taking care of everyone else. I'd feel a little bit calmer or more connected for a day or two maybe, because I'd gotten out for a little air and exercise. But the lightness of that brief release would quickly wear off, and I'd go back to stuffing down my own emotions and needs in service to everyone else.

It was exhausting and overwhelming. I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone! But I didn't know any other way. I just figured this was the way it had to be for a woman like me: capable, smart, passionate, loving, raised to think of everyone else's needs before her own.

Does this sound at all familiar to you?

You might be reading this and having a slight inkling that maybe you're "one of these women" that I'm talking about, that just like me you've spent years with your head down "doing it all" in service to everyone else. "Hmm...maybe that's me," you might be musing...

“So what? Isn't this just the way of the world for women like us? Is there actually another way? I mean, I've read all of the "right" parenting books, and I use all of the latest and greatest tips and tools to keep my life running like a well-oiled machine. This is just life, right?!

For years, I certainly thought so! I was doing my best, and there just didn't seem to be any other options. The idea of feeling at home in myself, having a sense of flow and belonging, of being rooted in my own power... Finding a sense of release and relief from all of the anxiety and pressure I was experiencing really didn't seem like a possibility for me. "Maybe one day when things slow down...!" was my mantra in those moments. But they never really seemed to!

Two years before my 40th birthday, I hit a wall. Figuratively, but it might as well have been literally too. I knew I just couldn't go on this way. I was angry and frustrated and fed up with the way my life was going each day. I was beginning to feel resentful and even to have regrets, because I thought that maybe I'd made the wrong choices in life. This was a major red flag for me. I've always declared loud and proud that "I don't believe in regrets, I believe in learning from our choices!" "Oh shit," I thought to myself, "I'm becoming someone with regrets..."

And that's when I made a choice: to do whatever it took to figure out how to reclaim my home within myself, to re-discover and uncover the essence of myself, the me that had been hiding out far away from view for years. There was obviously no roadmap available to this place in myself that I had somehow lost, and so I was determined to create my own path back home. And I did.

Beginning each morning and evening, I created a commitment to start and end each day with a ritual. My "bookends," I like to call them. For each of us these will look different, of course. But whatever form they take, they are essential. They are the place that we go — AT LEAST TWICE A DAY! — to connect back home to ourselves. They are our grounding, the way we re-center and get clear about who we are and where we're headed. And they are our guarantee that we won't GET LOST in all of the craziness that tends to take over our lives as stuff to do piles up and as we juggle all that others ask of us.

These are the practices that we commit to with certainty that we will NOT skip them. No matter what. Even if we're tired. Even if we're unwell. Even if we just don't feel like it. Because when we commit to daily practices for us, we commit to us. The key is that these "bookends" are non-negotiable.

There is no cut-and-dry recipe for deepening your self connection. Each of us has our own style. While some of us may tend toward quiet contemplation and reflection, others will get connected through energizing movement. Most days, I fit somewhere in between. I begin each morning with mediation and yoga and my "morning pages," followed by a short run or workout. While my meditation allows me to sense into my body, my feelings and my needs for the day, when I run, I find that big, juicy, creative, exciting ideas of opportunities to explore come flooding in. In both cases, the time is totally and sacredly about me. No disruptions, no distractions, no scheduling or phone calls or tech buzzing in the background. And at the end of each day, I sit again in silence for even just 5-10 minutes to reflect on the day's learnings and express gratitude for even the hard stuff.

Each of us must find our own "bookend" rituals that fit with our schedules, our needs, our environment and our individual traits and qualities.

So what are your bookends?


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