“Something feels ‘off’”.
I say this to myself inside my head and sit with it for just a moment before I begin the internal checklist of what could be bothering me. I go over the of things that could be leaving me unsettled. None of them really fit the bill. If someone asked how I was doing my answer would very easily be “pretty good”. I can’t name what it is that has me feeling “off”.
Sometimes people feel like as a counselor, I should have all the skills to maintain emotional equilibrium. And, while I do have a myriad of skills to help, sometimes I am too tired to use them. There is a big difference between having the tools and having the time and energy to use them.
We do have a phrase that we use in counseling. “Name it to tame it”. I use this a lot with kids and because of that, it is often my first attempt at figuring out my own emotions. It sounds simple enough, except this time the feeling seems abstract and ambiguous, like I can’t quite put my finger on it.
I am in a place of uncertainty. I am unsettled. Feeling as if something is happening under the surface. Which really wouldn’t normally bother me, except I can’t handle any surprises right now. I’m tired. I can’t take a feeling sneaking up on me, surprising me and threatening to overwhelm me.
I had a child describe a similar state of being once. Their words, “I have a feeling”. At the time, I remember giggling inside just a little because it was such a sweet representation of how she was doing on the inside. But now, as I sit here having my own “feeling”, I understand why she came to me, and it doesn’t seem quite as sweet when I am on this side of the problem.
The emotions that typically get my energy and attention are the big ones. I guess in a way I am living in a place of emotional triage. So many of us are living in this space right now. We are using the coping skills that have worked for us in the past, and while some of them help, they are not helping us the way they used to. Leaving us feeling a bit lost and quite frankly a little unnerved.
In the past, after a night away, I felt rejuvenated and ready to take on the world! Lately, when I intentionally plan activities for my mental health, I expect to feel the same refreshed feelings I have experienced before. I do feel better for a little while, but then I feel “off” again. When we have tried all the tools in our tool box and nothing works, we are still left with “a feeling”. It just sits. Instead of processing it and dealing with whatever it is, we find ways to live with it. We mask it, we ignore it, we change its name, even at times forgetting that it is there. But the reality is, it is still there. It is lurking beneath the surface.
We can’t name it or tame it, and we live with the fear that even if we do call it what it is, nothing will change. We all feel the weight of expectations and the even heavier weight of unmet expectations. We do not have time to waste on something that will not make us feel better.
It has occurred to me that maybe my tools needed a tune-up. But, since I didn’t have the energy, I opened Facebook instead. Which, for once, turns out to be the best thing I could have done. Right there as I am scrolling, a graphic comparing self-care and self-soothing appeared.
Do you ever have those moments that the coincidence is just too much and you know that God put something in your path? This was one of those moments.
Self-soothing? What is that I thought? My reading revealed something very clear to me. Somehow, as I was living through the last couple of years my self-care had transitioned to self-soothing. The goal of self-soothing is to make us feel better immediately. We need that. We are living in a time where stress, anxiety, and emotions are high and sometimes the thing we need most is to feel better for a little bit.
Real self-care however, has a different goal. The goal of self-care is to feel better in the future.
Much to my surprise, most of my tools had become self-soothing tools. Taking a bath, massage, date night, dinner with friends, special food or drinks… they were my tools and while they can also be considered self-care at times, I was not using them as such. In my survival state, I could only focus on one day at a time. The future was too far away. I was soothing. Not one of my tools was used for the purpose of helping me find the long term emotional equilibrium that I crave.
Turns out “treating myself” into balance doesn’t work. In fact, it left me feeling like I was doing something wrong. How could I, even after all the things I do for myself, still not feel great all the time! Honestly, it made me not want to put a lot of effort into what I was calling self-care. I even stopped using a lot of my tools because they took a lot of effort and the reward was short lived. My self-soothing was not the magic fix that everyone claims it will be.
Maybe I am not alone with where I am. Maybe you too are looking for the balance that leaves you feeling peaceful and content. Or, maybe you haven’t even slowed down long enough to know where you are emotionally. My hope is that whether you feel “off” right now, or you slow down at some point and realize in the future that you are unbalanced, that you will recall these words and when you are ready, you will take action.
We need both self-soothing and self-care. The two of them together create a balance that can bring peace. However, one without the other can create an unbalance that leaves us vulnerable to calling both self-care and self-soothing ineffective.
True self-care will better you as a person for your future. Your goal in participating in self-care is not a temporary feeling, but an activity that brings meaning to your life. Something that helps you to grow as a person.
I have found that one of the best self-care activities that I do is writing. Expressing myself and putting my feelings and experiences into words has helped me to grow as a person and a writer. I did not start writing until I was in my 30’s. What works for me may not work for you. What worked for us in our 20’s may not work for us as we grow older. True self-care is deeply personal. If you are looking for meaningful self-care, ask yourself these questions:
- What makes you feel alive?
- What do you do that scares you a little, but also pushes you to grow?
- What activities make you feel like you have a purpose?
- What makes you feel accomplished?
- What can you do for yourself that will contribute to your overall health?
You are worth it. You are worth the time and the investment you make in yourself. It is not selfish to do things that help you to be your best self in the long run. Take the time to get to know you. You are important. The world needs what you have to offer. Give yourself the opportunity to grow and find meaning in your life.
You deserve to feel good in the moment. If you use a workout or a meal with friends for a quick pick me up, good for you. Don’t feel guilty for binge watching a TV show now and then. Embrace the soothing techniques that bring you joy in the moment.
We are not made to be balanced all the time. We live in a constant ebb and flow. Take the time to notice how you are feeling. Give yourself the gift of noticing what you need. Allow yourself to create opportunities for self-soothing and self-care. Love yourself enough to invest time in you. Your future self depends on it!