Doctor Neha: Hi and welcome. Xenia is our guest today.
Doctor Neha: Xenia is a nurse and she was one of the women in my pilot program as I began to research and study how to best create a power handbook for women, as well as a way to help us heal in the chaos of the world that we live in. She’s a brave soul who’s willing to ask her questions so other people can learn. So tell me, what’s on your mind and what do you want to know?
Xenia: In my life right now, there’s so much transition and so much change—to the point that it sometimes becomes overwhelming, causing me to basically want to run, to flee. Fight or flight comes in, and I get very restless. Sometimes in that state, I don’t make the best decisions. So I like to be able to handle the change that’s around me and still sort of be like a duck—when they’re pedaling like crazy under water, all you see on top is the duck smoothly gliding along. That’s what I would like to be.
Doctor Neha: Okay. Is your desire really to be pedaling like crazy underwater and the image you give other people is that things are calm? Or would you like to be a fun and productive duck who’s enjoying the journey and what you see above the water is exactly what’s going on on the underside as I glide across the water?
Xenia: That sounds like a more pleasant place to be.
Doctor Neha: Okay. Here we go. You have to start with the goal being true to yourself. Not starting with the goal that limits what you can have and be. Because the duck pedaling like crazy under the water with the image and outlook of other people thinking it’s calm as a cucumber is not the internal authenticity of the duck feeling calm as a cucumber. It’s something very different. The duck is going to be exhausted by the time the duck gets to the other end of the pond. Everybody else is going to be wondering, What are you so tired for?
Doctor Neha: So let’s do a take two and reframe how you would like to be in change. What I’m hearing is there’s so much change—and you’re a nurse, you get high stress, you know how to be in service to other people, you know how to take care of complex acute situations—so for you to be saying you are overwhelmed and feeling like there’s too much stress, it tells me that there is an enormous amount of stress. What are the greatest sources of stress in your life?
Xenia: Work and family.
Doctor Neha: Okay. And with work, how would you describe it?
Xenia: Constant change. Lots of uncertainty. Organization, sub-organization, immediate leadership, lots of shifting parts. You get used to the new part and then it’s a different format, a different org chart. So you don’t even know who the leaders are anymore. It’s going so fast. I can’t keep up with the change.
Doctor Neha: Have you been trying to be that duck—where you’re speeding around and yet you project that it’s all good and you’re calm?
Xenia: It’s more like, I think, Yeah, it’ll be okay . But inside I’m churning and wondering, What’s next? What’s next?
Doctor Neha: Now family, what’s up there? What do you struggle in with?
Xenia: Adult interactions with siblings and sometimes I would like to be a more adult person instead of reverting to the kids that we were before.
Doctor Neha: Like the patterns you’ve been running for a really long time.
Doctor Neha: Okay. So we’ve got work; we’ve got family. How about inside you? How’s your health doing? How are you doing?
Xenia: That’s been really good. I’ve actually turned the corner. I made the conscious decision that I want to pay for my wellness instead of my illness later. So to that end, I am taking the investment of taking Pilates classes instead of saying, “They’re too expensive. I can’t afford them.” No, I can’t live without this. This is really good for me. And I feel great when I do it. I’m eating healthier, sleeping—recognizing and owning the fact that sleep is so important. I’ve noticed the change; physically my body feels better.
Doctor Neha: It sounds like the me part of this is handled. The way I think of things is as triple vision: me, we, world. What you’re really describing is that the me part of this is something you have taken charge on and you’ve been willing to change your mind from crisis care to prevention.
Doctor Neha: And you’re willing to spend money on it and you’re willing to say, “Investing in myself is worth it.” So that’s how I know your self-worth is already moving tremendously in the right direction. Then there’s family—we’re in the outer world, the concentric circle of we, which would be family and work. And then tell me how are you doing with the bigger world, like our world on this planet. How are you doing in general with what’s going on?
Xenia: Honestly, the political situation in this country affects me so much that I sometimes have to make the choice to limit myself to watching only one or two new shows because it’s overwhelming, and it makes me feel increasingly helpless. And then I realize, I’m only one person, but I could make a difference. And honestly, as an immigrant, as a woman, and as a woman of color, it just angers me. I don’t want to be angry. I want to be active but not angry.
Doctor Neha: One thing I want to say to you is that sometimes anger is justified. I teach clear, direct, authentic communication. And sometimes what’s authentic is that something violates your values.
Xenia: Oh yeah.
Doctor Neha: So don’t avoid anger. But what you want to realize is there’s an anger that creates change. And when your values are being violated, anger can often motivate amazing change. So did you know that next year is the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote? Vote?
Xenia: Yes. Amazing.
Doctor Neha: So if that was being taken away from us, should we be angry?
Doctor Neha: Okay, so there are some instances in which anger is useful and important. So use anger in the right way, at the right amount for the right reason—it is a healthy expression of how you’re feeling because it’s just you connecting to the experience of your life in this moment.
Now I’m not advocating going out and hitting people and hurting people and breaking things. That’s not what I mean. But if it motivates you out of helplessness into action, it’s a good thing. That’s the first thing I’d say when you’re overwhelmed. It’s important to think about the questions: “What do I have control over? Can I participate in changing my work environment? Can I do something different in the patterns of my interactions with my siblings?” Look at what the interaction is.
Let’s say that when you get upset with somebody, you hang up the phone on him. And you’ve been doing it ever since you were little. When you don’t get along and get really frustrated, you hang up the phone and don’t talk. The first step to changing that—yes, I do have control of that. In the moment, I’m so overwhelmed, but maybe I could ask for time and not just hang up on somebody. There are things that feel like we don’t have control over them that we actually do have control over.
The first thing you want to do is do a 7-day energy intake. For seven days, pay attention to the people, tasks, interactions and experiences that give you energy and then the people, tasks, interactions and experiences that drain you of energy. Then you look at the pattern—because there is a pattern.
Once you see the pattern, ask yourself: Which ones align with my values and give me energy? Which ones drain you of energy and feel more like an obligation? It’s inspiration versus obligation. And then you want to think of the things that I can change, which ones do I have control over and what are the options? It’s curiosity—not in the moment that you’re angry or upset or any of that. Because when you’re overwhelmed, you can’t change anything. That’s fight flight or freeze. What you’re moving into is when you have a little bit of creative time when you don’t feel really triggered but you feel more calm and peaceful and creative.
So then the next question is: which items here could I influence or delegate, have somebody else help me with? Could I make a decision or ask a question about how I could at least influence an outcome positively? And the last question: Which ones do I need to accept? If you just had a baby, you might need to accept that changing diapers is part of the deal because the poop is going to keep coming. But when you’re in an environment and it doesn’t feel like you anymore, you want to ask yourself, “Have I learned what I came here to learn with this group? Have I outgrown this community? Have I outgrown this job title in this community?” Maybe it’s time for something different. These are all curiosity questions. How would you influence the situation? You might apply for another position if it feels bigger than that. And the actual setting feels like it’s gone too far from who you are or you’ve grown in a different direction. No one has to be “wrong” for how you’re feeling. You just have to keep assessing whether you are still a good fit for the environment in which you are.
About your family—the hard part about changing dynamics with family is you both have to be ready.
Doctor Neha: You might be ready sooner or later than someone else is. But with that, it’s more of an offering because lifelong lessons come with family. And so sometimes you might put that offer out there. For example, “I’d really like to repair our relationship. I’d really like us not to get anxious with each other and hang up.” What would your example be like? You don’t have to tell me with whom, but just tell me what’s a dysfunctional pattern that you might experience with someone?
Xenia: Oh, in our family, people can shun each other. So if they’re mad, they just shun you.
Doctor Neha: Meaning what? Stop talking to you?
Xenia: Stop talking to you, walk right past you and not say anything. It’s very cold.
Doctor Neha: Cold shoulder?
Doctor Neha: So you might want to say, “Hey guys, this is like a strategy we’ve been using like our whole lives with each other and I’m just wondering if you are open to us coming up with some other strategies and brainstorming on how we could express ourselves differently?” Tell them, “I’m reading this book on communication or I’m taking this online workshop with the doctor who teaches that our inability to communicate makes us physically ill, and I want you guys to be around for a long time. And I want to be around and be healthy for a long time. I’m wondering if we could get any ideas about how we could do this differently.” Now you have to gauge other people’s openness because you might be ready and they might not be. Don’t get mad at them for it and shun them.
I think you’re on the right track. The first thing is taking care of yourself. And it looks like you’ve got self-care handled.
Xenia: It feels really good. It’s new, and it’s empowering.
Doctor Neha: Now you’re going to have bandwidth to handle the we because you’ve taken care of me. Now it’s time to move into we and world. Any takeaways for you today?
Xenia: I want to do the 7-day energy intake and be more conscientious. I may be still stuck in my brain and not listening to my body. And I think my body will probably tell me more situations that I feel strain or energy decreasing or leaving me or tightening in my body.
Doctor Neha: You do the seven days of the people, tasks, and interactions that give you energy and drain you of energy and next to it you put how your body told you. For example, I felt the sinking in my stomach. I felt lightheaded. I felt my heart was open, and I was breathing easily when I saw my daughter. Say how the wisdom of your body tells you and how you know that you got energy or you felt drained of energy. Document that as well.
Any of you out there feeling the chaos and being overwhelmed? What I’d say is follow any lead that starts with self-care. Self-care is where we must begin because you have to fill your own cup first before you move into we. Take care of me, heal me, then serve we and impact world. The second step is figuring out which things are in your control, which things you could influence, and which things are important to accept as they are. One of the biggest problems we have is that there are things that are in our control but we have learned to feel helpless in them, thinking we don’t control it. For instance, you may think something costs too much money or it’s too expensive to take care of yourself. You can reprioritize that. Or people try to control things that are no longer in their control. These are two places where energy is drained immensely. I hope this was helpful and a joy. Thank you, Xenia, for your curiosity, your openness and your sharing.
Xenia: Thank you.
Awareness Prescription When Feeling Overwhelmed
Take a seven-day energy inventory:
For seven days, make two lists:
- The people, tasks, and experiences that give you energy
- The people, tasks, and experiences that drain you of energy
Next to each example, indicate how your body let you know that you felt drained or energized (e.g., headache, tired, fluttery stomach, heart racing, lightness).
Identify the overall patterns and ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I have control over?
- What can I influence (perhaps by asking a question or communicating with someone)?
- What do I need to accept?