A few weeks ago, I found myself on the couch with my laptop, working at 9 o’clock at night, shoulders hunched, neck tight, lower back cramping and uncomfortable. I was clenching my jaw, and I could feel my eyebrows furrowing.
There’s a mountain of work to do.
Everything is piling up.
I’m not spending time in the right places.
There’s so much negativity and pain in the world.
How am I ever going to get through all of this?
Thoughts ping-ponged around my brain, assaulting me with a cascading list of concerns. It all felt so heavy.
As human beings, we have a natural inclination to move away from discomfort. We feel heaviness, and our instinct is to avoid it, numb it, block it out, go to sleep, make it feel better right away. However, sometimes doing this can actually add an extra layer of pressure to the entire experience. Moving away from that heaviness too quickly can also restrict or altogether prevent the deep learning that is possible during these times.
When things feel heavy, notice it, but don’t add the extra layer of pressure to make sure you feel better right away or resolve it to the nth degree. See if you can find a way for it to be what I call “productively heavy”. When we begin to allow heaviness to become a productive partner, we can lean into it instead of repressing it. This not only opens the gateway to processing that heaviness and all of its components, but it also allows us the space to ask, “What is this trying to teach me? What is this experience telling me about what I need?” The paradox of engaging this way is we feel the intensity first so it can lessen in its intensity.
One of the ways I like to get really present with my heaviness is by engaging in back and forth dialogue with it. I do this frequently, and it’s pretty interesting! I’ll open an electronic document on my computer and capture it that way. Here’s a sample of a recent exchange:
Dear heaviness, it’s Nicole. You’ve been pretty present the last few days, and I’m feeling the weight of you in my emotions, in some muscle tightness and pain in my body, and in my decreased energy levels. What’s going on? And then I’ll actually type out an answer as if I’m heaviness. The trick is not to edit what comes up, just go with the flow.
Hey Nicole, I’m trying to get your attention. You have a LOT going on right now. You’re not resting enough. I want you to slow down.
To which I responded:
Seriously?! How is that even going to be possible right now? These are insanely busy weeks with work commitments, and with Em’s school not being fully open, I’ve got added time for drop-off and pick-up every day. How the heck am I supposed to slow down? And heaviness replied:
It’s HOW you are approaching this busy schedule. You’re approaching it with a busy and sort of frantic mindset. You’re revved up from the moment you get out of bed. You don’t necessarily need to do less (although that would be nice if you can find a way to ratchet back in some areas), but could you do it a little more thoughtfully and deliberately?
Ahhhh…. Now we’re getting somewhere! As I wrote that, I realized it made perfect sense. I really can’t adjust my schedule a whole lot right now- it’s pretty hectic, and it’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. But I CAN adjust how I’m thinking about it.
That method may not feel right for you, so find whatever works for you- meditation, a mindful walk or hike, an intentional yoga session, focused kickboxing on your punching bag - whatever it is, and see what your heaviness has to teach you.
Once you’ve leaned into it, the trick is not to stay there. If you have trouble shifting back out, try setting a timer for the work of learning from your heaviness. Schedule a check-in with yourself on your calendar to make sure that you’re moving out of that heaviness intentionally. I have a certain space in my house where I do this work, and I have a special journal specifically for this type of reflection. It helps me keep it separate so I can learn from it but not get stuck there.
And now we get to my favorite part: taking action! Now you get to take the info you have gained and turn it into intentional actions. From my recent reflection, I dug back up one of my favorite power phrases, “Frantic is not my framework.” I wrote it on a sticky note and put it at the bottom of my computer monitor. It’s a great reminder that the workload may not be getting smaller, but my mindset can be calmer while I’m tackling it. Once we learn a bit of what our heaviness has to tell us, we can then transform it into positive actions that propel us forward.
Nicole Lance is a women’s leadership development expert, facilitator, executive coach, speaker, strategic planner, and promoter of self-care. She is passionately committed to helping organizations and individuals succeed in reaching - and reaching beyond - their goals.