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Engine Braking: Why it’s ok to need to slow down

I couldn’t move. There was no pain, just an emptiness. I closed my eyes and sensed into my body. Everything felt disconnected. It was like there was a firewall up between my thinking mind and the muscles of my body. No amount of "we should move" signals seemed to have any traction. Finally I did get up and fumbled in the drawer for the electronic thermometer. Temperature raised again. Not by a crazy amount, but it seemed like my temperature control switch was malfunctioning. One minute it would be raised and the next minute it would be normal. Fast forward two days and I was pulling up at the drive-through test centre. Retrieving my test kit and dutifully shoving a cotton bud to the back of my throat and the furthest reaches of my nose. 24 hours later: negative Covid 19 test result. Phew. That was my week last week. Such a strange and exhausting "bug" that my children came down with too. I began to feel better and then I began to hear similar from lots of people.



Collective exhaustion


Do you feel it too? First came the excitement of spring in the air as the weather seemed to shift gears. Lighter skies in the morning. Evenings where the sun was a tiny bit more reluctant to set. Then news of a roadmap out of lockdown and restrictions over here in the UK. Hooray! Kids going back to school. Plans for the future tentatively back up! But, for many I’m speaking to lately, then there came the crash!

A warning light

I’m thinking of this wave of exhaustion as a warning light on the dashboard. Letting me know that even though there’s a green light ahead, my tank is low and I need to refuel. In fact most of us have been driving on fumes alone for many months as our tanks have been emptied. The relentlessness of the pandemic and its restrictions has been one of its trickiest features. Normally when we’re under stress, our nervous system only has to sustain red alert for short bursts. This has been different. There is the ever-present background threat of the virus itself. The challenges to everyday life that it causes. The loss of connection, support and fun. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect storm to deplete every last speck of resilience.

Please take a minute

Alongside the depletion, there’s another potential danger brewing. The "push through response". That’s my name for the idea that we need to push through feeling tired and get back to being productive. That sense that, with kids returning to school and businesses preparing to reopen, we should be at the door and ready to roll.

But can we pause for a second?

Wherever you’re reading this, can you just lift your gaze for one moment. Look around the room or space you’re in. Listen to what you can hear right now. Close your eyes and now feel the sensations in your body. How are you really feeling? When you stop to tune in, your body is telling you more than you think.

How does it look?

Maybe you’re finding it harder than usual to focus and are easily distracted. Perhaps things that aren’t normally a big deal feel really irritating. It could be that you feel sad without any real reason that you can think of. Or maybe you’re just aware that you’re not firing on all cylinders. The engine seems to be faltering when you try and put your foot on the gas.



You don’t have to be ready

If you’re truly full of energy and excitement right now then woo hoo! I’m so happy for you that you’re nearly able to get out there again. But if you’re not quite feeling it, then that’s ok too. Even if you’re driving a Ferrari, if you’ve been trying to drive with the wrong mix of fuel then the engine is going to need cleaning! There’s nothing wrong with you if your performance is down. Without our usual structures of support and balance, it’s like we’ve all been trying to keep moving without our pit crew. That warning light on the dashboard is also telling us that we need a full service to check for hidden damage.

So what’s the answer?

I could give you a list of suggestions to help you through but actually there’s just one thing to do. Listen. Listen to your body. If you let yourself become still, your body will tell you how you’re really feeling. The subtle aches and pains, the hidden emotions, the strong sensations. It’s all there. The clues about how you are underneath the busy. Maybe your life situation means you don’t have the luxury to take a deep rest right now. Many of us still have to keep the engine going somehow. But we can all find small pockets of time. Tiny micro moments to check the engine. To ask "what do I need right now?"

Take small steps

When you tune in, you might find that what you need is a roadmap back to calm and clarity. A way to gradually gather the pieces you need. If that’s you, check out my 21 Day Ninja Mind Skills journey. It’s bite sized but packed with rocket fuel. What do people say who’ve done the programme? "I am really LOVING the 21 day journey. In fact I have just smiled to myself as I have noticed that I am finding out the 'real me' underneath the sense of overwhelm I had previously been experiencing...and then tuned into one of your modules where you said exactly the same thing!!" "The sense of clarity that I gained was phenomenal. It helped me realise that I am ready for a new vocational challenge." "I was able to reach the stillness within me and find both space and clarity for the first time in ages. It has helped me "shed" a lot of unhelpful thinking patterns." "Thoroughly worthwhile. The 21 day programme has been very encouraging, accessible, interesting and really enriched/varied my existing daily practice." "Joining the 21 day programme has refreshed my "tool kit" of the background knowledge and affirmed to me that daily 15mins meditation is very practical and does me good in so many ways." You can check it out here.