When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...
"What is your goal for the next year?" a friend asks.
She is a life coach, so is essentially professionally obliged to think about this kind of thing. But it’s approaching New Year’s resolution season anyway, so we’re all at it.
Related: It's okay to go into hibernation
when things get too much
I start to answer in the way you do to that question when you don’t actually have any resolutions planned; making it up a fraction of a second before the words leave my mouth.
And then I stop
Stop the vague mutterings about possible plans. The frantic casting around for something concrete to land upon, some goal of betterment to offer up.
"Nothing," I declare, back straightening a little when she looks surprised. "Absolutely nothing. Unless you count 'peace of mind' as a goal."
Coming off a difficult year, you’re probably (in a strange way) more primed than ever to take on a new goal; learn a new skill, achieve a long-held aim. Because you’re used to operating at a more-demanding-than-is-normal level. Used to daily life being, at times (if not always), that bit more of a struggle. To requiring that bit more of a push to get there.
Night course? Pff. Nothing, to those who have carried the daily burden of grief.
Give your 'coping muscles' a rest
And yet that way lies also the possibility of breakdown. I’m speaking in extremes of course. But burnout.
For if you have fully exercised your coping muscles, then you have probably simultaneously been pushed to your limit (and quite possibly beyond); developing strength in the area of what you can manage. And those muscles need a rest. No need to exist at this heightened extreme at all times, on an endless basis.
Related: It's okay to talk about the bad stuff
And so, for the New Year, I will not be taking on anything new. Not pushing myself with a goal, or a new skill. I built a new life last year. That is enough newness for now.
Now there is no need to be doing. Taking on. There is time to rest, to hopefully relax into the newness.
It doesn't last forever
At times, through a crisis, it can be helpful to give your best impression of a gerbil on a wheel. Never stopping. Never pausing. Because it is sometimes easier to be almost, but not quite, overwhelmed with busyness than to stop and take in what has happened.
When you are too close to something, all you can do is keep moving on, moving away from the fault line, moving towards the new settled ground.
But crises, by their very nature, cannot last.
Related: I'm learning new ways to manage my stress
And acknowledging hard work – whether it is work on yourself, or even the work of moving through the grief and the rest of it – looking it in the eye at times, does pay off.
The burden lifts. Slowly, you pull yourself, limb by limb, out of the swamp. Life feels lighter. Forward moving. Joy bubbles up unannounced.
It is necessary to actively take oneself out of flight or flight mode, to clear the system of the adrenaline that once was necessary, but is not a permanent state within which to exist.
It is possible to get used to heightened stress levels being the norm. It's also possible to not realise what a heightened level of stress you're existing at.
When life begins to feel lighter, easier, why would you take on more? You could. You can cope, and more than that. But if you don’t have to shoulder extra, why would you?
Yes, you might be able, for all the goals, aims, targets, resolutions. But just because you are able, doesn’t mean you have to.
For now, it is time to sit back, and enjoy.