Overwhelmed with responsibilities?
Give yourself a break.
SAMHC Featured Blogger:
ABC Medical Reporter
“How do you do it flawlessly? I’m absolutely torn between failing miserably at being a father, son, brother, surgeon, teacher, researcher, friend…”
These were the comments on social media from Australian surgeon Dr Eric Levi.
The comments sparked a massive outpouring of support.
It takes courage to drop your guard and admit your vulnerability but the response was overwhelming and positive.
One doctor wrote: “lower your expectations, even lower, still lower, keep going – yep about there.”
Another wrote: “like Sisyphus, we are striving to push our boulder up the hill only to watch it roll back down every time. You are not alone.”
Yet another highlighted the perils of believing what you see on social media.
“I try to remind myself not to compare my behind-the-scenes with someone else’s highlight reel.”
Why do we let ourselves believe the voice in our head which says we are the only one who is struggling? And that everyone else has this thing called “life” nailed?
Letting your guard down and showing vulnerability, like Dr Levi did, is a show of strength, not weakness.
He said the response he received showed him vulnerability provides an impetus for change, support, acceptance.
“I learned that everyone feels the same way. Like depression, anxiety and many other negative thoughts, I’m not the only one experiencing that,” he said.
“My work as a surgeon and the burnout it can bring impacts negatively on my emotions, while at the same time, we are expected to maintain a strong facade for our patients and colleagues.”
Dr Levi said it was important for everyone to know that we all struggle.
“Vulnerability opens that door to connect and share and support each other,” he said.
“I call it the untapped resource of each other. There is good support around, we just a need to unlock it.”
Searching for meaning
It’s these feelings of human frailty that bind us together and shows we are more alike than we realize.
As Pema Chodron says: “Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”
I’ve written before about my own journey of feeling disconnected and how I had tried to bring meaning to my life.
Many people responded saying they felt exactly the same.
I realised I had not been living my authentic self, according to my true values.
The research certainly backs up that many of us are choosing to numb our “authentic selves” with too much work, too much alcohol and too much food.
What we are left with is too little time to make real connections with others that see our spirits soar.
Turn off the mind chatter
What often fuels the comparisons and feeling of overwhelm is the mental chatter, the negative self talk so many of us engage in, without ever stopping to challenge the validity of those thoughts.
Research has shown that the majority of our self-talk is negative and works against us rather than for us.
Negative-self talk undermines confidence, according to Dr Russ Harris.
The negative thoughts create feelings of frustration, irritation and hopelessness.
So what if there was a way to break that cycle, to distance our actions and behaviour from the mind chatter?
Dr Russ Harris, an expert in acceptance and commitment training, has some good practices which can challenge negative thoughts.
“Ask yourself: If I allow this thought to guide my actions, will it help me create the life I want?”
In his book, The Confidence Gap, he suggests practical ways to distance or unhook yourself from negative thoughts.
One idea is to say: “I am having the thought that…(I feel overwhelmed, unhappy).”
Or imagine the thought track of your mind to be like an annoying talk radio station, as he calls it Radio Fears, Flaws and Failure, always banging on about something you need to improve.
“Sure, from time to time it quietens down, but soon it starts up again, doesn’t it?” he writes.
Once you can distance yourself from the thoughts, you can detach and defuse them.
Why does self-talk matter?
But why is it so important to detach from negative thoughts?
“Because judging ourselves does not help in any way; it does not work to make our life richer and fuller,” he says.
It takes practices to break the nexus between our negative thoughts and our actions.
But it’s worth persevering.
Take a moment to answer these questions:
- If you had all the confidence in the world, if you acted as if you had “life” all sorted, how would you behave differently?
- What would you start doing?
- What would you stop doing?
- What’s holding you back?
Take the time to acknowledge the disconnect between what our internal thoughts tell us (I’m failing miserably) versus our actions (I’m actually doing OK).
So rather than failing miserably, Dr Levi showed, like the rest of us, he is human, with some good days and some days that are better.
He says the messages of support almost universally say “I am struggling too and the key is to focus on what really matters in life.”
And wanting to be a good parent, spouse, sibling, and friend, are very worthy goals, as long as we don’t forget it’s the journey towards those goals that matters, not reaching perfection.
By Sophie Scott
ABC Medical Reporter
Sophie Scott is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster and author who is on a mission to educate and inspire people to enhance their health and happiness.
Her stories have led to improvements for patients in many areas including cosmetic surgery, genetic testing, and eating disorders.
She is an ambassador for Bowel Cancer Australia and on the advisory board for the Australian Mental Health Prize.
In her spare time, she is a mother and step mum to four boys. You can see her blogs on health and happiness at www.sophiescott.com.au and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sophiescott2.
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