I had a confronting and enlightening conversation the other day, one that we could all benefit from working through together.
The person I was chatting with is a single parent, having tragically lost her husband five years ago. And she was looking for help.
She had been doing well, actually.
In fact, before COVID hit, she felt like she was *this close* to feeling like herself again.
But suddenly this woman has to be mother, father, entertainer, provider, disciplinarian, problem-solver, decision-maker, health advocate, and refuge for her kids...and now, their educator.
"The weight of the responsibility is crushing me," she confessed, tears shining in her eyes. "I know what I should do. I know I should be getting on my yoga mat. I should be meditating. I shouldn't look at my phone before bed. I know all of these strategies, but I just can't."
Can you relate?
Have you found yourself in a place where everything feels out of control, out of balance, and out of your hands?
Have you shouldered the burden of extra responsibilities - not because you want to - but because you have no choice?
Maybe you're taking one step forward, only to take two steps back?
Or you find yourself constantly in survival-mode?
Listen...it's not your fault.
And it's not helpful to shoulder that self-blame, nor is it healthy.
Hear me out on this one for a second.
I was raised in the Midwest, a culture known for it's "bootstraps" mentality, hard-working values, and emphasis on personal agency.
Plus, I'm a woman, which means I've been conditioned to be everything to everyone.
A tireless servant, a nurturing mother, an attentive wife, a housekeeper, cook, volunteer, coupon-clipper, peacemaker, makeup artist, hair stylist...you get the picture, right?
I've had constant a list of "shoulds" in my head since childhood, and I bet you have, too.
Even if circumstances were ideal, there's no way we could accomplish all of those "shoulds."
There's ZERO CHANCE that my friend, the single mom, can fill the roles of father, mother, educator, and provider AND THEN ALSO practice yoga for 30 minutes each day, chew each bite of food 20 times, do deep breathing exercises at each stoplight, cook whole-food meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, get no less than 7 hours of sleep every night, and Marie Kondo her house to maintain a peaceful, calming environment.
And that's not her fault. And it's not yours either.
Do we all make decisions in life that influence our circumstances? Sure.
Does personal agency have a role to play in our health & wellness? Yeah.
Do we sometimes have to muster our "choice-making muscles" and embrace a willingness to make changes in order to get where we want? You know it.
Is wallowing in a victim mentality harmful, damaging, and self-defeating? Absolutely.
But I'd argue that expecting yourself (or someone else, for that matter) to simply "have a better attitude" or "just say no" or "practice better habits" isn't the answer.
Especially if you've been slogging through the mud of chronic stress, trauma, systemic oppression, or hardship.
I'll say it again, It's not your fault.
Accepting that truth can be a gateway to real, lasting, whole-person transformation...and a lot less stress.
Dr. Kate Lyzenga-Dean is a Functional Medicine, health, and stress-relief practitioner based in Grand Rapids, Mi.
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