Updated: Nov 4, 2022
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We have important health, fitness, or life goals. Nevertheless, what life requires of us can throw us off our center, making it difficult to create the necessary changes.
We need to consider how the nervous system works when it comes to handling a given amount of stress. It reads our reaction to a given stressor and launches the appropriate response in order to meet the demands of that situation. We go into state of heightened activation, also known as an upstate. Somehow, we find the energy to rise to the occasion and get through whatever it is we need to bring about a resolution.
When that stressor passes, our nervous system is then allowed to return to its default mode - the calmer, more restorative, and regenerative downstate - the ideal state in which to initiate new changes.
With the pandemic, especially in addition to the way things have been in modern life, many if not most of us have been in a position of having to handle one stressor after another. It is as though we are standing on a beach during high tide and having to weather one big wave after another without a clear idea of when respite will come.
This is a very challenging place to live. It is especially frustrating when we are trying to effect positive changes in our health and well-being. We cannot seem to find a sustainable path forward.
We may have created elaborate plans for ourselves. In an ideal world, we would just put these steps into place. Then we would begin to change, moving forward stepping into better health.
But what if this feels impossible right now? Unless someone just appears in your life to take things over so that you can finally get a break and gain some traction, it seems as though it is not to be!
You are forced to not only deal with the incoming waves but do so while everyday life is also going on. The meals need to be planned, the kids need summer activities, the groceries need to be bought, the car needs an oil change (and by the way, there is a nail in one of the tires), your job needs to be done, the bills need to be paid, the grass needs to be cut, and the list goes on.
Imagine that you are standing in a field with someone throwing a baseball to you. No sooner do you catch the ball than another one is flying towards your face. After a few of these you can no longer catch the balls, and then they start coming from other directions. Now you are just trying to guard yourself against getting hit, when you can.
There seems to be no down time for you to collect yourself and get back to that default mode of relative calm.
It is easy to become extra frustrated with and hard on ourselves, whether that is due to personality type, life situation, our perceptions of others’ expectations of us, and our expectations of ourselves. I have seen this phenomenon in clients as well as with myself.
Questions like these will come up: Why am I not changing, moving forward? Why is it that I weigh the same, or more, than I did 6 weeks ago? Why can’t I just stop the emotional eating? Why can’t I seem to nail my evening wind-down? Why is it taking so long to ___? Apply this to any habit or health-related change you would like to make, whether it is doing more or less of something. This includes implementing any tools and/or resources in order to help us change a health habit, which in and of itself takes energy and time.
We can seek to have a productive plateau rather than becoming so discouraged, defeated, and disillusioned that we unwittingly make things worse. Maybe at least striving to intentionally maintain our status quo, or limiting the lost ground i.e., damage control, is the next right step.
Many years ago, I was driving across Ohio on a very windy day and noticed a bird up in the air flapping its wings furiously yet going nowhere. It was like a universal
message to me during a challenging time that sometimes it takes every ounce of energy we have just to stay where we are. I can only assume that the wind eventually died down and the bird was able to proceed to where it needed to go to obtain food or reach its family.
When we are in the midst of a metaphorical windstorm in our lives, it really can feel as though we are working as hard as we can and staying in the exact same place. Ideally, it will not always happen this way, but for right now, it is.
When this is happening with you, try to find some self-compassion. Place a hand on your heart and acknowledge how hard things are right now. You did not intentionally choose for things to go this way. Try to find a trusted friend or other supportive person with whom to share your situation; chances are that they will reassure you that you are in a challenging spot and that you aren’t going crazy! I have a journaling practice that has also served these purposes for me.
Stay the course in your own mind and heart. Try to just do the next right thing. And when you don’t, just notice that as it’s happening and acknowledge that this was a moment when it was just too hard. Gather awareness for when you are able to make some adjustments. Try to apply the lessons next time, or when you can. Stay on a productive plateau until the storms pass and more of your energy is freed up to pursue your desired goals.