Comparative Suffering – How to Stop Denying Your Feelings

It’s been 9 weeks since quarantine began. That’s nine weeks that houses have been filled with family members who usually scatter in different directions.

We’ve stopped coming and going. Now we’re “sheltering in place.”

If you’re a parent, this means you’re homeschooling your children, making every single meal at home and trying to keep up your workload from the dining room table while spending all day in the same home as your kids and spouse.

That’s 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, with no evening escape to the yoga studio. No joyful breaks to run errands. No private phone calls. No glasses of wine with your girlfriend. And no stroll through Indigo, or inspiration shopping at HomeSense.

When your girlfriend (who you haven’t seen in over 3 months) calls you up at night and asks the most loaded question “how you doing with all this?”

You open your mouth to give an honest answer. You want to tell her you’re at your wit’s end, that you haven’t baked a single loaf of bread and it’s been weeks since you worked out. You want to tell her that you’re starting to question your sanity, and your relationship.

But just as you go to tell her your real, honest, raw truth, this tiny thought runs through your mind; I shouldn’t complain, so many people have it so much worse.

So, you gloss over your story and say something about it being tough, “but at least the dog’s getting more company these days” and finish up with, “we’re lucky we haven’t lost our jobs and will be ok. You?”

Deep down, you know you live in a neighbourhood of parents who, just like you, are trying to keep it all together while entertaining their kids and putting 3 healthy-ish meals per day on the table.

You know you’re not the only one who’s tired, a little scared, and a lot overwhelmed.

And you can’t help but wonder how long will this be your new normal? How long will you be cut off from friends and support from family? How long will I last in this version of reality that looks like your life, but doesn’t feel like it at all?

But you hesitate to say these thoughts out loud, even to your best friend, because you know how incredibly blessed you are to be healthy, and safe at home with your family, while people around the world are not.

This Covid-19 pandemic sure is bringing our “stuff” to the surface. One thing it’s dredged up in droves is this tiny toxic thought process called Comparative Suffering.

Comparative Suffering Explained

It’s not something that’s new or unique to this situation. I bet you can think of many conversations when you felt guilty sharing your feelings so you covered them up with “…but how can I complain when I know other people have it so much worse?”

This is comparative suffering.

We do it to save face, to relieve guilt, to sugar coat our unpleasant feelings because somehow, we think they’ll be easier to swallow if we remind ourselves that someone else has it much worse.

The thing about comparative suffering is that it doesn’t make us feel lighter, it just makes us feel more alone. There’s a powerful healing quality to being witnessed in our struggles, and letting someone else know when we’re in pain.

Like when your girlfriend calls you up and admits she feels like a bad Mom for yelling at her kids after she’d had a long day at work. It’s cathartic for both of you to hear because you both realize you’re not alone. We all struggle.

Brené Brown says this about comparative suffering:

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked. My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest. I’m not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer…”

Just as powerfully, she adds—

“The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce.”

We need to remember that empathy is not a limited resource. We heal more quickly together, partly because sharing removes the temptation to shame ourselves for being wounded in the first place.

Feelings are for Feeling

No one wants to go on about their problems. Yet, when we can’t even admit to having uncomfortable feelings, we’re denying parts of ourselves the healing of being seen, heard and loved.

Let’s get one thing out in the open – there’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, angry (or any other unpleasant emotion). Ever.

You’re not a bad person for having hard feelings… even if you have a great life. Especially if you have a great life, you can heal and let others heal by sharing that things are hard for you at times too.

So, instead of withholding love from ourselves and saving it for “the suffering” (a group of people we know are out there and have it way worse), what if we try compassion instead?

What if we agree not to evaluate, compare, and tally each other’s pain? What if we stop judging ourselves and our friends for their feelings because comparatively it could be worse?

Instead we could spread empathy. We could admit that the house feels like a zoo and we cry at night because hugs from our friends seem like distant memories. We could listen to a friend share about their loved one in the hospital and not feel like it diminishes our right to feel like things are hard in our own home.

We can keep our struggles in perspective and allow ourselves to express them.

Both are true and real.

Both are feelings to be felt.

And everyone deserves to feel their feelings.

The Secret to Having More Time and Happiness

Every woman I’ve talked to in the last 6 years of my coaching practice has said they want same thing… more time and to be happier.

Of course, they might not come right out and say it. For one woman, it’s more time with her kids and to feel excitement about life like she used to. For another, it’s having her weekdays match up with her to-do list so she’s not exhausted and can find time to catch up with her girlfriends on the weekend.

I bet there’s a version of this for you too.

Time, or having enough of it, used to be a source of constant stress in my life. Afternoon appointments would mean anxiety in the morning because I was always worried I’d get into the creative flow of things and miss my meeting. I’ve had to dig deep into my relationship with time and learn some tools to help me better manage things.

One of the biggest changes I’ve made is how I think about time.

Have you ever heard the saying “don’t let the future steal your present?” This means that anticipation of what’s coming up can rob you of your ability to be present here and now.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. It’s one of the key components of meditation, which allows your mind and body to slow down and focus on the present.

You don’t have to sit still on a meditation cushion to be mindful though.

I’ve taught many of my clients how to be more mindful, which involves practicing how to be more present in the moment in anything you’re doing. Mindfulness is adopting a mental attitude of living in the now.

Two very important things happen when you live in the present – your perception of time changes and you feel happier and more at peace.

Let’s look at those two in more detail.

Your mind controls your perception of time

Imagine that you’re on vacation having an amazing dinner with your closest friends. Everyone is laughing and having a great time and then the thought comes into your mind “I don’t want this to end.” A little time passes and another thought pops in “our week is almost over and soon I’ll be heading back to work.”

This type of thinking steals your joy in the moment and it steals your time. You’re taking yourself out of the moment you’re enjoying and mentally projecting that you’re in the future.

It’s tempting to wish time away when you’re looking forward to something exciting. But any time you focus your attention on what’s to come, you miss out on what’s happening right now in front of you.

Mindfulness is a mental habit that you build through practice. If you don’t practice staying present before an exciting event, it will be harder for you to live in the present while the thing is happening.

That’s when you find your special event to be quickly over and done and you wonder where the time went.

You are in control of your experience of time. Whether you realize it or not, the way you think about your time has a lot to do with how time feels to you.

A hug from a loved one can seem like it’s over too soon, while an elevator ride can seem like an eternity when you’re in a rush – yet both lasted the same amount of time.

Future thoughts don’t allow you to be present and soak up as much as you can out of each moment. It’s true that your vacation will eventually end, or the thing you’re excited about will arrive, but you’ll find yourself better able to enjoy the good moments if you savor the time leading up to them.

Happiness lives in the present

The benefits of mindfulness are plentiful. People who live in the moment tend to be happier, more calm, relaxed and experience a deeper sense of gratitude.

When you bring your awareness into the present moment, you have greater access to awareness of your thoughts, emotions and sensations in your body. Tuning in on this level brings you in touch with yourself and increases the likelihood of having your needs met, because you’re aware of what they are.

Living in the moment allows you to mentally slow down. Just like minimalist design brings a greater sense of ease and peace to a room, a focus on what’s happening in the moment will bring you greater satisfaction in anything you do.

When you live in the moment, you participate fully in life and can make the most of what’s happening around you.

A deeper experience of life opens up when you stop mentally rushing or wishing time away – one that will give you more time and greater happiness.

How to Have More Time for Yourself

I used to do this thing where I’d go out of my way and sacrifice my needs to help my friends and family.

I wanted them to feel taken care of, supported and loved (still do!). But what I found after a while of putting everyone else first, was that my stuff was always on the back-burner…

I’d have hectic weeks because I said yes to something on the weekend and lost my meal prep time.

I’d stay on the phone during my workday for an hour with a friend in need, and end up having to work late.

I love my people, but something had to give because I was always left holding the bag – MY bag, with all the things I needed to do for myself in it.

Recently I did a Facebook Live where I talked about the 3 important realizations that I had about how to make more time for yourself. Check it out here….

Here are some things I learned about how to make more time for myself:

  1. When I’m clear on my priorities, it’s easier to say yes/no to other things because I know what I need to dedicate my time to.
  1. Efficiency saves the day – I’ve learned to double up on my time by taking walking meetings or planning my work tasks around the errands I need to run.
  1. Usually, things can be done faster. Rather than giving myself a whole Sunday to accomplish housework, if I condense the task into 2 hours in the evening I can usually get it all done in that time, leaving more time for something else.

A note on perfectionism – in learning to make myself a priority I’ve had to let go of some perfectionist tendencies. To be honest, I don’t think I realized I was being a “perfectionist” about things, I just lived by this internal set of rules that I held myself accountable to. It wasn’t until I started feeling overwhelmed by the amount I’d need to do to keep up with all my personal expectations that I realized it was a bit much. So, I slowly started to loosen the grip on some things…

For example, I used to pressure myself to show up “professionally” at all my meetings. It became overwhelming to try to balance a full meeting schedule and get my daily workouts in, or teach yoga. Considering I live my life in yoga clothes (I’m either coming from or on my way to the studio) I’ve decided it’s ok to take business meetings in my yoga clothes.

Now I book my meetings right after a yoga class at the cafe next door. My colleagues understand that I’m prioritizing my wellness and respect me for it. I’ve come to respect myself for it too because it’s one way I prioritize my health vs stressing over superficial details.

So, if you find yourself suffocating underneath the expectations you’ve set for yourself, try loosening the grip a bit. If you do this and put the three tips above into practice, you might just find you have more time for yourself.

Adaptogens 101: Part of Natural Stress Management

If you haven’t heard of adaptoens, you’re in for a treat! This is one group of supplements that anyone can benefit from. Their name says it all – they help your body adapt to stress. Adaptogens work in a unique way, by helping you perk up or calm down, depending on what your body needs. They’re like the chameleons of the supplement world.

Read on to discover the different types of adaptogens and how they can support you.

You may hear the word ‘STRESS’ and immediately think of the mental and emotional aspects along the lines of feeling overwhelmed, overly busy, and/or anxious.

In reality, the body actually encounters different forms of stress every day and is always working to restore homeostasis (the body’s happy place, or natural equilibrium).

Your body is constantly being bombarded by stressors – even when you don’t feel stressed. In fact, you probably won’t feel stressed day-to-day from some of these ongoing sources of stress because your body is adept at dealing with them.

Here are some examples of common, daily stressors:

  • Exercise – yep, it’s good for you, but it’s a form of stress the body has to deal with!
  • Lack of sleep
  • Toxins – like exposure to environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and chemicals in personal care and cleaning products
  • Viruses/Colds
  • Anxiety – which can be caused by stress or exacerbates existing stress
  • Stimulation – in the form of light, screens, loud or constant noise and bombarding visuals
  • Negative thoughts – patterns of thinking that affect your emotions and body’s hormonal response

Decreasing stress is critical for good health. There are many effects of ongoing stress including: weight gain, poor digestion, increased inflammation, accelerated cellular aging, hormonal imbalances, including adrenal dysfunction – your adrenals are responsible for your body’s response to stress.

Good news – there are plenty of ways to reduce the impact of stress in your life, including:

  • Getting to bed before 10:30 pm and getting enough sleep
  • Keep up with a regular exercise routine
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of whole foods
  • Consuming enough healthy fats to support your hormones
  • Practicing tried ‘n true stress relief techniques
  • Processing your emotions (through talking, journaling and personal reflection)
  • Yoga, meditation and other practices that calm your nervous system

But, if you’re looking for something to naturally supplement your diet with, in a way that can minimize the impact that daily stressors have on your body, you might want to consider adding an adaptogen (or two) to your health plan.

What are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens – or Adaptogenic Herbs – are plant-based supplements (usually in pill or powder form) that do just what they sound like: they can help your body adapt to the stressors of your personal environment.

Adaptogens have a long history of use in ancient medical practices, like TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practices.

Current research has found that Adaptogens boost mental function, attention span, and energy during times of stress and reduce the overall production of inflammatory stress hormones, like cortisol.

Here are 5 common adaptogens:

  • ASHWAGANDHA – decreases anxiety, calming effect
  • ASIAN GINSENG – decreases fatigue, calming effect
  • MACA – boosts energy levels, balances hormones
  • RHODIOLA ROSEA – boosts energy and immune system function
  • SCHISANDRA FRUIT – enhances energy and cognitive function

How do Adaptogens work?

The molecular pathways involved in the body’s stress response are complex.

The 3 glands responsible for regulating stress hormones:

  • Hypothalamus
  • Pituitary
  • Adrenals

These glands function in your body’s stress response. This is called the HPA axis which refers to the cascade of hormone secretion and effects that your body launches to cope with stress in your body.

Contrary to what you might think, your body’s stress response isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a helpful, adaptive mechanism that supports you in living your best live. When you’re experiencing prolonged stress this healthy sequence of events can be disrupted (something called HPA Axis Dysfunction) which is when you’ll start seeing negative symptoms (like hormonal imbalance) resulting from stress.

Research has found Adaptogens help support these glands in achieving equilibrium or homeostasis – a fancy way of saying that they help stress hormones get back into balance.

Unlike caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs, Adaptogens can gently help reduce stress hormones, decrease anxiety levels, and prevent fatigue without any crazy spikes or crashes in energy.

How do you take Adaptogens – and are they safe?

Adaptogens are available in pill or powdered form, of which powders can easily be added to teas, smoothies, soups, and other recipes – see our recipe at the end!

The best part about these herbal supplements is that it’s not necessary to take every Adaptogen every day, and choosing just one to add to your routine can still provide health benefits.

It’s recommended to rotate between Adaptogens, using one at a time for several weeks and then switching to another, if desired, to reap the benefits of several varieties.

You should follow the dosing instructions on the product label or consult with a Natural Health Practitioner for specific Adaptogen recommendations related to the health conditions that you may be experiencing.

It’s important to note, though, that while most adaptogens are generally safe for nearly everyone, please supplement with awareness.

RECIPE

Maca Mocha Smoothie

Ingredients

¾ cup coconut or other dairy-free milk
¼ cup brewed coffee, cooled
1 banana, frozen in chunks
1 tsp maca powder (can work up to 2 tsp per day)
1 tsp – 1 Tb cacao powder, raw & unprocessed (non-Dutch)
Optional: 2 tsp raw cacao nibs

Preparation

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender.

Blend until frothy and desired consistency.

Add in cacao nibs for last 10 seconds of blending for added texture. Crunch with benefits!

REFERENCES

Healthline: Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits

Healthline: Smart Girl’s Guide to Adaptogens for Hormonal Balance and Stress

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2017: Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals

Pharmaceuticals, 2010: Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity

3 BIG Mistakes When Trying to CALM a Racing Mind and What to Do instead (hint: it’s NOT meditation)

You’ve had a long day and you finally climb into bed. Just as you take a few deep breaths and your body starts to relax, your mind revs up with a long list of all the things you forgot to do.

Does this sound familiar?

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from my clients is that they can’t seem to shut their brain off when it’s time.

I know for myself when I tried to calm my racing thoughts I made some big mistakes that led me in the wrong direction and resulted in more frustration and wasted time. So, I’m going to save you all that and tell you what I do now instead.

I went through this myself and the first mistake I made, is I thought that having a busy and out of control mind was normal. I thought that this was just how it was for busy entrepreneurs and that this is something I’d have to deal with for the rest of my career.

Which led me to make a 2nd big mistake which was pushing through. Because I thought that having racing thoughts and a hard time concentrating was normal, I’d resolved to push on and grind through my work, even when I wasn’t feeling well mentally.

I thought that if I could just focus more, maybe block out some distractions that I’d be able to get my work done anyway. I’d will myself to sit at my desk and get my work done. But if you’ve ever tried to problem solve when you’re feeling scatter brained you know that’s just an exercise in frustration.

Pushing through when you really do need a break only increases the amount of stress on your body. It keeps you in the fight or flight side of your nervous system and makes your body more acidic and prone to disease and infection. This is not a good solution over time, and it doesn’t feel good in the moment either.

My 3rd mistake came when I decided to try to do something about my racing thoughts. This is where meditation came in. When I’d be feeling flustered and scatter brained on a busy day, I’d set a timer for 10 minutes and try to get myself to sit still and be quiet, thinking this would calm my mind.

If you’ve ever tried to go from 100 miles an hour down to 0, you know this is not easily done. I would end up fidgeting, focusing back on my to-do list and the mental spirals would start again. Only this time they’d feel worse because I tried to do something about it and failed.

Finally I realized I wasn’t honouring what my body needed in those moments. I realized that I had so much energy coursing through me and my mind was so active, I needed an outlet for that energy, rather than to try to settle it down. I needed to MOVE. So that’s what I’ve learned to do now instead.

When you’re having a day where you feel like your mind is going in a million different directions, give yourself permission to get up from your desk and move. It doesn’t have to be much, but taking a walk, stretching, or doing a few yoga poses would help.

Here’s why this works… mental energy is similar to pent up physical energy. When you keep it contained it’s going to feel like a lot of pressure. But when you allow that energy to release through movement you relieve that pressure and change your mental and emotional state.

Try getting up and moving your body the next time you’re feeling mentally overwhelmed and let me know how it works for you.