Some things I wished someone told me about never slowing down.
Today’s world is just rush, rush, rush. We can’t even stop in a lift or on a bus without keeping busy with our phones. The pace we are doing stuff in modern life is relentless. But for some of us we speed or avoid solitude because we feel we have no choice. It keeps us safe.
The number of clients I see who tell me they have been constantly busy or moving their entire lives, only for their problems to suddenly catch up to them when they slow down astounds me.
It astounds me even more when I think about how in some ways I used to be the very same way! Thankfully without realizing it I changed after lots of working on myself (us therapists have to do a lot of therapy ourselves).
We all avoid our feelings at some level, life naturally keeps us busy and so we can use it as an excuse. We say that “the devil makes work for idle hands” and many adopt a philosophy of “if I’m not moving forwards there must be something wrong”.
What’s wrong with that:
Being that person can be great, if we are working towards a goal or have some plan in mind. But it is not healthy if it is our permanent mode of being. When we have to keep busy it denotes anxiety and a fear of slowing down.
It is the difference between doing mode and being mode. Another statement I hear so often is: I have known about this for years but have just “never gone there”, or “I know I have never dealt with this”. So for many people they know a problem exists, but they avoid and ignore it until it catches them.
Therefore, what I want to write about today are two aspects of this that are rarely talked about and that I feel are worth talking about. I wish I was more aware of these two issues growing up but nobody ever talks about these things in school.
The first aspect of this this is how many of us become unconsciously afraid of slowing down and facing our past, our emotions, and our real selves. We’d rather run ourselves into the ground with busyness.
The second aspect is when we hate our own company and can’t sit in alone: when our quiet time alone is the last thing that we ever want.
Running to avoid feelings:
Just to be clear, I am not saying that being ambitious, driven, busy or having a full schedule is necessarily a bad thing. But for some of us out there reading this perhaps there is a realisation there that sometimes busyness is a cover.
Busyness can be a defence mechanism. I see this all the time. People who since they were small learned that their feelings were not safe for them and had to be avoided.
It was just never an option for them. Naturally when we are busy we can’t feel what is troubling us. It keeps us from having to deal with it. I could also speak about substance abuse in the same way, it numbs those feelings. Busyness also numbs.
Perhaps in some cases we also move forward to prove that we are not bad, stupid, weak, etc. To not be moving would mean we would have to accept some terrible feelings from our past or accept that we only conditionally like ourselves.
Another major way this affects people is following bereavement. Post bereavement we can go into a deep state of action, keeping busy first with the funeral, minding others, etc. then we jump back into life thinking wow I should be ok with this now it’s been a few months.
Yes but a few months of running from the feelings, jogging on the spot and not actually grieving? Eventually when we slow down, maybe due to exhaustion, even years later, it is not uncommon to be flooded with repressed feelings of loss and anxiety.
Never wanting to be alone:
This one I think can strike us when we are young but also, at any age. I know myself at times I never wanted to go home to an empty house and indeed on bad days who does.
This is not to pathologize the genuinely lonely or anyone for that matter. But rather raises the curious question around when we can’t face our own company.
This can also be a sign of dissatisfaction with who we are, or of not wanting to face up to our feelings.
Many people I speak to in clinic tell me that when they are in work, with friends or family or out and about they don’t suffer as much with their anxiety.
With alone or downtime, the mind wanders into the darker places. Many of us end up then on our phones, submerged in TV, out late or sitting in bars rather than face time alone.
Being alone can be scary when we have something upsetting going on, but again I wished someone told me that it is not 100% healthy to never want to be alone.
Now I adore my alone time and seek to balance it with time spent in company. That took me a lot of work.
How do I know if I am doing this?
One of the great ways to know if we are running from issues or from the past is to challenge ourselves to slow down.
Ask what would slowing down say about me? Would it mean I am bad? Does it make me feel uneasy? Certainly, post a loss there comes a stage where time may be needed to do nothing and remember the person.
Make a list: what am I avoiding. What do I not like to talk about and what have I never talked about?
Maybe it’s worth it for you to be able to? Maybe these things still impact you more than you think or you are in danger of passing unhealthy attitudes about emotions to those around you.
While doing this remember that keeping busy to avoid emotions is a mechanism that humans developed for a reason, so don’t be too self depreciating.
Many people survive unimaginable horrors (think war or famine) and to keep going forward we avoid how we feel. Our survival instinct puts all our suffering on pause and tells us we need to move forward.
Our brain and our bodies motto is “we can deal with that when it’s safe”, but this should be temporary. We spend years waiting to deal with stuff.
Ultimately, we will never out run our trauma, pain or emotions unless we run into the grave. We must face them, embrace them and reconcile our losses and hurts with ourselves. To not do so means we spend our lives chasing our tails.
Is it worth changing:
Always being the climber that keeps their head down and keeps scrambling up the mountain has a downside! They never manage to stop, turn around and enjoy the view.
This maybe hard to grasp for those that don’t have this problem. But for those that never stop because they are on the run from their feelings, their past and themselves this is a super important lesson.
The people that come to me for therapy are often at the end of their tether: they don’t know why they are so overwhelmed and can’t explain why they can’t control their emotions.
They ask but why is this happening, nothing has happened this week, month or even year to justify it.
This is because when we drop exhausted from chasing our tail. I can guarantee that it’s because we have been doing it for a long time!
Imagine we didn’t have to keep running. Imagine we could sit alone in the calm and wait for what comes. Imagine our alone time was as resourcing to us as our social time.
When we can do this we are looking in the mirror at someone who has balance and who has room for the joys and pleasures of life. But it’s not an overnight change.
Learning to strike a balance:
For me I had to learn repeatedly, over and over again, that I was ok and that my emotions were just that. Emotions are temporary and we are made to handle them! But the years we spend running away from them, not fully living, taken together are much more painful than when we are finally ready to face them.
The glory of being human is that we can always change who we are and how we feel, act and think. By sitting with ourselves and with the help of another we can become aware of all the unconscious things that haunt us.
It makes me think back to the introduction to a online meditation I remember which said: to sit for 30 minutes and allow anything and everything that our mind and body can throw up it is very brave. It is brave, it means you aren’t afraid anymore or going to run away.
Until I learned this lesson myself and until I started work as a Psychotherapist I had no idea how many people struggle with feelings of “if I stop something bad will happen”, “I just don’t like spending time with myself” or “I have never dealt with that”.
Helping people realize that they have been running, and then helping them turn, face and conquer their fears, self limiting beliefs and traumas is nothing but a privilege and an honour.
Nobody should have to work through these things alone. Poor self-esteem, bereavement, scary feelings, the past, our traumas can all be balanced and conquered.
We might run from them until reach our 30s, 40s, 50s, or 100s but our painful stuff catches up with us all when we can’t run anymore. This is often a blessing in disguise.
When we are called on that journey to self heal it feels scary and we resist, but I promise it can be a glorious journey which enriches us in ways we never knew possible.
Therapy is a great way to get to the bottom of these questions and I am always open to chatting to how from my location in Glasnevin I can help clients. At Anxiety Ireland we have a team of accredited psychotherapists who work helping thousands of people with anxiety every year.
I am always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.
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Team Anxiety Ireland
Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.