Stress Hormone Hangover Leaves Door Open for Mental Mayhem
I recently presented at a workshop which went well. At least, I am pretty sure it went well. I received positive feedback from people who attended. I was excited to be there. The majority of my work is done in my small home office with my cute little rescue dog for company; so, it was
nice to be with people. I knew the material because I'd been talking about it with clients for years. I didn't feel the need to over-prepare or over-design. I developed my game plan around the energy I wanted to bring and I set intentions about how I wanted people to feel at the end of the workshop. It was super cool.
I scheduled some downtime for myself rather than flying home right away after the workshop. I checked into my hotel and availed myself of a seat at a lovely outdoor eatery. As I sat enjoying a very delicious salad, I felt the adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones rapidly subsiding. I began to feel a little light-headed. I drank some water. I took some deep breaths. I felt so tired all of a sudden. All the energy of being "on" was gone.
Because nature (and our brains) abhor a vacuum, a horrifically mean voice rushed into my conscious mind and focused on a couple of moments from the workshop. The scenario went something like this:
"Are you KIDDING me right now??? What the hell were you thinking when you did that?!?!? You are such a freaking idiot. What WAS that?!?! THAT was NOT good coach behavior. You were completely inappropriate and the attendees saw you for the fraud you clearly are."
"Yep. You thought you could just show up; but you should have practiced this a little bit. Look at all the places you screwed up. You went about this all wrong. You could have and should have done better. You put yourself out there as the expert when you really have no idea about any of this stuff. Next time practice more, you idiot."
Most of the time internal negative self-talk (gremlins, saboteurs, inner critics, etc.) show up before a workshop. I wasn't prepared for the attack afterwards. I recognized the voices for what they were. Intellectually, I knew they were the voices of self-doubt. I knew all the tools to use. And I tried to use them. But, I was unsuccessful in quieting them or sending them packing. I paid my restaurant bill and went to my room. I curled up on the bed in the middle of the afternoon and bawled.
Of course, more voices showed up to point out that I should be able to quiet all this raging meanness since, after all, I coach women how to do this every day. What's wrong with me that I can't do it myself?? Fraud. Hypocrite.
Oh, yeah, they were nasty little buggers.
I tried to access my internal wisdom, my loving, compassionate self. I couldn't even do that in an effort to feel better, to counter the rude, harsh voices in my head.
I finally went to sleep.
The next morning, they were back. But, I got up and went to the gym and worked out anyway. As I walked on the treadmill at the hotel, I acknowledged the voices were there and that they weren't going away any time soon. So, I got curious. I asked myself, "What can I learn from this experience?" I smiled at the gentle answer that popped into my head: what a good reminder for me to experience what my clients experience.
I asked myself, when I get my equilibrium back, how can I use this experience to help others? I can share the story so clients and readers know that, even when someone appears to have this stuff down, they can still get taken out at the knees by self-doubt and internal negative self-talk. None of us are immune.
What can I do to be nice to myself even as the voices keep harping on at me? I can make a couple of healthy choices like drink a little more water, move my body (on a layover, I walked up and down the concourse 5 times before my flight). I also shared with my husband what I was feeling and going through and he was supportive.
I used my 9-1-1 with my own coach. She got on the phone with me for a laser-focused 15 minutes and reminded me what she knows about who I am as a person and as a coach. And then she said, "Sometimes when I can't shake those wrong voices, I just keep moving forward, trusting that they will get tired and go away." So I did that, too. I kept moving.
I didn't force myself back into my usual habit of waking early, working out, meditating, and writing in my journal. I kept working and coaching, even as I continued to be plagued by those voices. I stayed curious. After several days, I was able to use some of the usual tools (acknowledging, affirming and re-assuring) to quiet those voices. I kept being kind to myself in all other areas of my life. I did my best not to "should" on myself no matter what. It was challenging and eye-opening. In the midst of the mental tumult, I kept telling myself, "It's going to be ok. Not sure how or when, but it WILL be ok. I promise."
I thought about my clients and people who aren't my clients. Wow. If we are all running around talking to ourselves like this, it's no wonder that we feel haggard and burned out. It's understandable that we are exhausted just from battling the inner demons and feeling like we have little to give to anyone else in our lives.
The tool that helped me most, in addition to everything else I did, was to push the mute button when the voices started in on me. I had work to do. I had bills to pay, a kiddo to
chauffeur, clients to coach, and a team to manage. My own coach talked about 'moving through it anyway'. When the inner mean-girl in my head revisited the workshop faux pas, wanting to relive it and shame me some more, I closed my eyes and said to her, "I know you're there and I don't have time for this." Then, I envisioned myself pressing the mute button on the imaginary audio player. Mean-girl was still there flapping her lips but I couldn't hear her.
My next step after that was to remind myself that my number one character strength is love. I asked myself, "What loving thing can I do next?"
It took two weeks to get on solid ground again. Two weeks. I still hear a mean-girl echo now and then. But, I can bat it away like it's a gnat. I am grateful. So. Grateful. I am grateful for what the experience taught me. I am grateful that I had support from loved ones. I am grateful my coach was there. I am grateful I asked for help instead of trying to muscle through it all on my own.
It's scary to admit that I, too, battle those inner voices. When clients feel frustrated, when their own inner critics win the day, I tell them it takes practice; and, I have to practice, too. Sometimes the practice takes longer. Sometimes we have to call in back-up. Ultimately, my kinder, wiser self was right. Everything really did end up being ok.