In my garden, there’s an explosion of colour right now. But the beautiful colours are hiding a war zone. Oranges, purples, greens, pinks, blue, whites. It’s like every day I wake up to a new place as new plants burst into life from their winter slumber.
But you can have too much of a good thing.
For every plant that’s deciding to take it’s gentle time and emerging oh so slowly, there’s another that’s so eager to greet the sun that it’s racing to cover ground. Beautiful pink roses are being drowned in exuberant purple flowers from some kind of mint. (Can you tell I’m not the gardener of the house?).
It’s literally like some are fighting to take up all the space while others get swallowed up. The delicate beauty of tiny blue flowers is no match for the might of the faster growing varieties that are trying to dominate.
I feel a little bit like those delicate flowers right now.
June is a month where the social calendar blooms along with the flowers. I want to say YES! YES! YES! to everything. To be that person taking up space and filling my life with joyful expansion. I want to grab life with both hands and gobble up every moment.
But at the same time I feel afraid. I’m scared of being overwhelmed. Of having TOO much to fit in the diary. Like if I say yes to everything I’ll suddenly find myself like that sweet smelling rose that can barely breathe.
During this time of peri-menopause, my current stage of life, the very real fluctuations of energy and capacity make that even trickier to navigate. My heart says “let’s do it all” but my head says “be careful”. And both of them have a point.
Sometimes my energy levels plummet and my anxiety soars. My mind starts racing to find some elusive threat whilst my stomach churns and my heart races. It can be disorienting and make me feel like I don't know myself anymore.
Does this happen for you? Whether you're navigating mid life transitions or not, it can be hard in this modern world to hold onto a sense of balance and calm.
So how can you find balance when your internal experience is fluctuating?
Balance is a tricky one.
Try to grip too tightly and things become sterile and lose their life. Let go too much and things can run away and quickly leave you feeling overwhelmed. I like to think of it as a dance. An endless dance of ebbing and flowing.
In reality, that elusive place of perfect balance is something that we are always weaving in and out of. Accepting that can make it feel easier to hold it gently and stay focused on the longer game. It's ok to get it wrong sometimes; to feel like you've held yourself back and missed out or to have burnt the candle at both ends and feel exhausted.
It's also ok to feel frustrated when you can't show up in your life the way you want because you're facing challenges.
The trick is noticing what's happening and taking care of yourself. Sometimes taking care of yourself means doing it anyway, and sometimes it means surrendering to time off the hamster wheel.
The Best Questions
When I stay connected to these two questions it changes everything:
What kind of person do I want to be?
What kind of life do I want to lead?
It’s like having a compass that I can keep tuning back into. Everything can then go through the filter of “Am I still heading towards the life and person I want to be?” It will likely change over time but the more often I ask them, the clearer I can become.
Maybe as you read this your mind is chipping in with lots of thoughts on the subject. It no doubt will try and convince you that it's just not possible to think about what you want and need. Your life is so heavy with commitments and responsibilities that there's no space for pleasure or passion. Perhaps it feels like a rollercoaster because of symptoms and experiences that feel hard to control. But what if that's not true?
Life will happen whether you choose your direction or not. You can't always control the final destination or even some of the diversions along the way, but right now in this moment you can make decisions to keep moving in a direction that feels right for you.
"Why not make cheerfulness, outrageousness, playfulness a new priority for yourself? Make feeling good your expectation. You don't have to have a reason to feel good - you're alive; you can feel good for no reason at all!"
Taking Committed Action
If your life isn't feeling the way you want right now or you can't answer the questions about the life you want and the person you want to be, that's ok. There's nothing wrong with you, you're not broken. It's such a human experience to realise that you've drifted off course or that just surviving is your focus for now. I feel it too.
When you're experiencing the physical, mental and emotional changes of menopause and midlife this is even more the case. "Who the heck am I now?" is a natural question to ask.
The truth is that the answers can come through action - which might be surprising to hear me say as a meditation and mindfulness coach. You might assume I would tell you the answers will only come through stillness, but that's only half true!
I'm a big fan of breaking things down so let's dive into three steps to take back control.
(NB: These steps won't necessarily mean you'll be able to control the rollercoaster, most of that may well be out of your hands, but it WILL help you manage how you respond so you can think, feel and act differently):
Slow down to go faster
When I unload my shopping from my car, I have to carry it a fair old way from the car boot to my kitchen. I always used to try to carry ALL the bags at once, as if by doing one less trip I would somehow unlock a miraculous time saving.
In reality, by the time I'd finished, there'd be angry red welts on my wrist from carrying the twisting and spinning heavy bags along my arm. My shoulders would be wrenched from their sockets and by the time it was all dumped and invariably spilling over the kitchen floor, I'd feel flustered and irritated.
One day, after delivering a workshop session about taking micro-moments of calm in a corporate organisation, I was doing this exact same manoeuvre when I had a mini light bulb realisation. In exactly the same way that micro-moments of recovery accumulate when we take them regularly, micro stress doses (just like this one I created) accumulate too.
Each time we add unnecessary pressure to a task in the guise of being productive, we send tiny messages to our nervous system that life is on red alert. Taking an extra trip to the car, pausing between the car and the kitchen, taking a moment to have a glass of water or pop to the loo...none of these things would materially impact how long it takes me to do this task. But they drastically alter the signals and cues I'm giving myself
What if micro-recovery was about slowing down to go faster?
Unloading the shopping might not seem like a big deal but what if, in every task you do across your day, you're loading extra strain by trying to go faster?
Nowadays, whatever I'm doing in my day I look out for the signs that I'm over-pacing myself: brushing my teeth like I'm in a race, rushing from the bathroom with water dripping from my hands, shovelling handfuls of my lunch into my mouth at the kitchen counter instead of sitting down to eat it....these are all opportunities to slow down to go faster. Not only do you start to tell your nervous system that you don't need to be in a state of high alert, but you also send tiny messages to yourself that you matter.
Why is it ok to routinely and automatically stress your body in the service of "productivity"? How can you look after the people who matter to you and do the things that light you up if you're depleted and exhausted from an accumulation of these seemingly insignificant strains?
Slow down to go faster. It will surprise you how much of a difference it will make to your energy and happiness.
Action: Spend time noticing the ways you put extra pressure on yourself to "save time". Are there small changes you can make that will let be kinder to yourself?
2. Become your own detective
We have a bore hole that supplies the water to our house. It's great and mostly you wouldn't know it isn't a mains supply...until it goes wrong! My son's bathroom is worst affected when there's an issue. Water will start to come out in a trickle before making all sorts of noises and then gushing out.
When I recently went to the equipment shed, after ignoring the issue for months and hoping it would sort itself out, there were just so many different parts. Pipes leading to gauges, leading to tanks, leading to more pipes and filters. So I called a bore hole company who spent half an hour guiding me to check out different pieces of the system. Before they come out (which will likely be expensive), they've set me homework of things i need to observe and monitor:
- What happens to the pressure gauge when the water is running normally? What about when it goes slow? Before we take any action we need to know exactly where the root of the problem is or it could get very messy (and wet!).
When you're in the midlife maelstrom, it's tempting and natural to try and find solutions to how you feel. You want to feel better, stronger, calmer. You want to be thriving, or even just surviving. You want your old self back. So you read lots of things online, you consult google, facebook, podcasts, friends. (It's really important to get information, especially accurate information, so there's nothing wrong with doing some research)
The problem can come when you try to take some action! We make a change here, we make a change there. Some things get better, some things get worse. It can be really hard to make sense of what's going on and we can inadvertently make things worse.
Even health professionals who specialise in issues at midlife can find it impossible to understand what's happening when it's for themselves.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the advice and suggestions, take some time to stand back and get a clearer picture of what's going on for you. Generally in the midlife and menopause storm, there's 3 areas to focus on:
Rebalancing the body
Rebalancing the mind
Stabilising your environment.
Try and keep a record of what's happening in each of those areas. What are you finding challenging? What feels difficult to solve? Does it change over the course of the month?
Even the process of observing things can sometimes help them to change. So perhaps you identify that you reach the end of the day exhausted and depleted. How does that feel in your body? What thoughts do you have and what do you do to try and feel better? You'll find some valuable information and identify what feels the most important to address first.
Spend a week (or longer if you can) journalling each day about what you're experiencing. Write down the headings 'Mind', 'Body', 'Environment'. Take note of everything that occurs to you about each of those areas. Try to avoid aiming to problem solve as you go. Can you be curious, as if you were a scientist doing research, and see what emerges?
3. Don't do it alone (and find the right cheerleaders)
You've slowed down, you're clearer about what is going on and why it's difficult. Now what?
When I took GCSE Food and Nutrition (a million years ago), I was not the top of the class. If I'm honest it came as a bit of a shock to me as I was super academic and fuelled myself with a belief that I could turn my hand to anything. My big challenge was my practicals. They just never seemed to go to plan.
I tried reducing the complexity by making a milkshake and a sandwich for one of my projects. Fail. It didn't provide enough evidence of technical skill - not sure why that surprised me. I tried to do one thing at a time and I'd end up running out of time and serve up sloppy half done plates. Nothing seemed to work to make it come together.
Finally I realised that I needed some help or I was not going to pass. I enlisted my classmates and friends to help me. Unbeknownst to my long suffering teacher, my classroom cheerleaders helped rally me to the task. They helped me organise my prep station so it actually worked for me, they checked on how I was doing so i didn't forget any vital steps, and in the crunch moments, when it all got on top of me, they pitched in and supported me with words of encouragement and practical help (like helping me wash up).
The thing is, I'm never going to be Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver. It's not my skill set or my passion. But there are people out there who LOVE it and are so knowledgable, so why not let them help me?
Why would you automatically know what you need to do to navigate the midlife transitions as a woman?
There's no class at school that teaches you this stuff and most of us have busy enough lives at this stage so trying to become an expert just isn't feasible. Of course for some (me included) the challenging times help you uncover a deeper purpose for your life. The missing pieces of how you can be of service to the world.
The next step is to use what you understand about what's going on to get help. That might be an expert in the field, it might be a friend who has been through it or maybe even a community that you can join.
With your information to hand about what's happening to you, decide which feels the most important to tackle. Do you need expert help? Find trusted sources of information and resources and reach out for support.
You are not alone.
The real beauty of this time of life is that you can discover pieces of you that have been buried under the years of pleasing others and doing what's expected. You have the right to take up space, feel vibrant and live your fullest and happiest life. Don't settle for less than that, even if it takes time to figure out how to get there.
Every flower in the garden deserves a space
If you'd like support to manage your mind and to find ways to support your body to process stress then get in touch. It's my mission to be here to help you.
You can book a discovery call here and I have free resources on my website at www.bemodernmeditation.com
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And here’s a sneaky little bonus practice for you to listen to right now
As always, stay in touch if you’d like to share your experiences or ask for support.
See you soon