Favorite book: When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams
Favorite Movie: Twister or Dante’s Peak, hands down
Least Favorite Food: I have tried for my entire life to appreciate tomatoes and and I just cannot do it, so help me
The other day while working from home, I was lamenting to my boss that I really wanted to be more productive, I mean I genuinely day dream about my work, but it was so difficult to keep my head on straight.
With a 9-month old baby who wants to constantly explore, and a new kindergartner who somehow has more devices and books than I do to do his job, I often feel like I’m in one of those dreams where I try to scream and run, but instead am silent and in slow motion.
My brain, usually so sharp and eager, is being swallowed in emotional quicksand. Similarly a mom of small kids while teleworking – she sent me this article: Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful. Talk about a weight lifted – you mean I’m not just lazy and incompetent??
“Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.”
In the article, author Tara Haelle, references work by Ann Masten, PhD, writing that “Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.”
Haelle explains that while many of us thrive in emergency situations, for instance putting our training and public servant hearts to the test, we weren’t physically built to withstand, in this way, a long term, chronic emergency like a pandemic.
And, like some sort of sick, cosmic game of 52 Pick Up we have been forced, especially as public servants, to get creative again and again as we layer natural and social emergencies on one another.
Moms: We are drowning. Help.
Everyone: Wow you’re superhuman!
Moms: What? No. Can you just hel—
Everyone: I don’t know how you do it!
Moms: We’re not. Help us.
Everyone: OMG you’re amazing tho ???
— Ramblin Mama (@ramblinma) September 16, 2020
It is no wonder why many of us feel what Haelle describes as lacking motivation and focus, being tired and listless, feeling just sort of…off. Here I’d struggled for weeks feeling like something was wrong with me. That I just needed to muster the oomph. That I still had to account for every hour. That I just had to try a little harder. That I was the problem.
But maybe that’s not the case for me – or for you. Maybe we’re just tired. Maybe our adrenal glands are depleted and our amygdalae exhausted. Maybe we just need rest.
So this weekend, I hope you get a chance to kick up your feet and practice what Haelle suggests to restore your surge capacity:
- Accept that life is different right now – it is what it is.
- Expect less from yourself – you simply can’t produce at the same rate you could in December 2019.
- Recognize the different aspects of grief – and that it’s not linear.
- Experiment with “both-and” thinking – the world is all shades of gray.
- Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfill you – even if that’s reruns of The Office.
- Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships – Or equally, refining those that don’t support you.
- Begin slowly building your resilience bank account – recognize this is a marathon, not a sprint.
I wish I could wrap this with a bow and say things are going to get better soon but the reality is they may not. In the meantime, I’m thankful for brilliant folks like Tara Haelle who share this wisdom and prepare us for resiliency over the long haul.
Take care of yourself, friend. We need you.