What happens when feeling kind and being kind is a struggle? There are days that I feel overwhelmed and exhausted and the light seems to have burned out. When I find myself looking for the kindness coffee because my life is stuck on fast forward, I need to take a closer look at my kindness diet. It’s pretty clear when I’m running on empty.
I consider myself an enthusiast. I love practicing kindness and teaching others about how it affects our world. When I take on too much and that world becomes too much to process, I am less able to adapt to my stimulating life. Honestly, I don’t feel kind at all. Often in the whir of action mode I don’t pay attention to the signals to slow down until it’s too late. Situations like a chaotic family vacation can push me right into sensory defensive mode. After a recent trip to the beach, instead of returning to my life on pace and refreshed, I came to a screeching halt. Work seemed to be piled up, requests for assistance went unanswered, social connections were draining and unwelcome. My creative energy felt buried under the piles, as if I had to dig much deeper for the spark that typically ignites when I am on the mat teaching or training. At first I felt frustration, but after a few days of struggle I was angry and defensive. Every small thing that seemed to add to the pile became infuriating. I was defending myself from the onslaught of my life. Sound familiar?
When life is moving at fast forward, kindness may mean hitting pause.
As a human being, our actions form according to the information our senses feed us. When we feel overwhelmed, our nervous system will drive us to defend against over-stimulation. Our world is defined by sensory input such as touch, sight, sound, smell or movement. The brain screens and sorts in order to respond to this sensory information by organizing feelings, thoughts, perceptions and actions. This powerful process of sensory integration directs you to act accurately and efficiently with the world around you. When the nervous system is calibrated at a faster speed breathing and heart rate increase. The entire body is tight, drawn inward and working overtime just to behave as it is designed. In a state of continued stress the feedback loop between the brain and sensory integration systems can get stuck on fear and worry and continue to trigger the biochemistry of maintaining stress. Just like a fast food addict needs to adjust their behavior to find better health, our nervous systems need an adjustment to cope with our fast paced world. When tension starts to escalate, implementing a sensory diet can help reset the protective system in the brain that responds to heightened senses with alarm. As your brain switches from alarm and avoidance to calm observation and approach, you start to feel more in control of your mind, body and emotions.
How do I hit pause? Sensory snacks are a way to get the overload to a more manageable level. Here are 3 quick and effective ways for the nervous system to get the nourishment it needs:
We are interrupted almost constantly by buzzes, rings, vibrations and alarms. Staying plugged in is part of our world today and it is a way to connect with others but our senses aren’t wired for the waves of notifications. Turn everything off for a few minutes. Go for a walk outside. Find a quiet place to rest your senses and regroup.
I used to believe that by practicing yoga I was efficiently getting both meditation and a deep stretch. This is accurate, depending on your mindset while you move, but I’ve found that there is really no replacement for sitting meditation. Even one minute helps! (aim for 5-10) Get comfortable and focus on your breath. Feel your breath flow in and expand your body, then feel your whole body release the breath as you exhale.
When sensory defensiveness is present, muscles never get a chance to relax. The body is frozen in a survival mode, muscles tight and tangled. Energy in your body flows like water through a hose. Tension can be so intense that it pulls the body out of alignment and simple neck stretch can help loosen up the whole body. Sit up and feel your spine stretch upwards. Place your hands on the floor or around the edge of your chair. Create space gently between your shoulders and head by lifting, leaning, rotating…whatever feels good to you. Pull the shoulders down and away from the ears.
What does hitting pause accomplish? We need time to slow down and reflect, think and adapt. Calm the chaos to let you senses adjust.
Many of us have been taught the importance of caring and kindness in terms of self interest. Ideas like treating others the way you would like to be treated and taking care of others first are common. Use all of your senses to feel what is happening inside and outside of you. Reflecting on this can help you to take a look at the kindness and caring you are expressing towards yourself, and this is the light and wholehearted love that we are made to bring to the world. People that are truly kind aren’t caring for others so they will be cared for, it is a deep expression of who they are. Feed the senses to keep your light burning without burning out. Fuel yourself well and your light becomes a beacon for others.