I feel Obliged! Living with Energy Debt
How often do you say: I have to do this, I have to go there, I can’t not do this, or what will people think?
Have you ever stopped to question the society we live in today and what it does to our mind, body, and soul? When you think about it, we live in a society that’s made to tire us out by making us think we are weak if we can’t keep up with the “go, go, go” mindset. As a result, we are set up to live lives that deplete our energy by causing us to be in a constant state of stress. When living with long term stress we are using up stored energy (the energy of tomorrow if you will), and if we do not properly rest and take care of ourselves then we end up creating mental debt because we are using up more energy than we are able to replenish for the wellbeing of our mind, body, and soul.
The reason we often find ourselves in a position of constant stress, creating mental debt or see so many people experience burnout is tied in part to obligation. We feel obliged to keep up with the “go, go, go” mindset, and to meet certain standards because that’s what is praised and normalized. For example, if you’re a working mom you’re expected to excel at your job, to be even more “present” than people without children to show that nothing is holding you back; however, you might also have meals to cook, need to clean, run errands, provide help with homework, drive the kids to extra-curricular activities, and attend PTA meetings to be active in your kids’ education. Being able to do all those things and more puts a great deal of stress on the mind as it necessitates a lot of non-stop energy; the long-term effects of constant stress on the body is what can be dangerous. Since this is the reality for many, we most likely can all relate and sympathize with the need for change.
We need to change the narrative in society to stop normalizing the idea that we are supposed to always be on the go, to be agile and to multitask. In reality, multitasking spreads your energy which makes it even more demanding to complete one task and not affect the quality. I think we need to normalize having off days and saying no; there’s a difference between pushing yourself to work hard and learn something new compared to pushing yourself to exhaustion because you feel like you always need to be doing something to show you’re a successful person. A failure, whether it be at work, school or in a relationship will not be the end of the world, it’s the pressure we place on ourselves because we feel obligated to maintain a certain standard that makes it seem like it is. Instead, the real focus should be on wellbeing, but how do we tame the nagging feeling of obligation? Maybe it’s by sharing more and actually seeing the people around us—recognizing commonality leads to compassion.
Rising cortisol levels for short intense moments is our body’s natural defendant against perceived danger. However, today we often fail to snap out of what is meant to be a momentary response to stressors because we can’t shake the feeling of obligation to look a certain way, to meet specific requirements for success, to have a high paying job, to own a house, a car, have a family, perform at work, workout, look fit, and always look presentable. When we feel like we must strive for perfection, it’s hidden obligation, it’s the reason we feel we must pay a price to make others happy to be happy ourselves. However, to pay that price we are stomping on our own wellbeing and consequently setting ourselves up for burnout. Hence, develop a strong sense of self-awareness to know what triggers you, how you react to stress and stressors, and know when you need to stop before you break.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for self-improvement and practicing discipline, we need that, it’s part of what drives progress, but haven’t we taken it too far? Is there really something wrong with saying you have too much on your plate and re-prioritizing or saying no to something you don’t want to do?
It’s okay to take on a lot, but we are all built differently and have different capacities to handle stress for varied lengths of time, which is why self-awareness and compassion for ourselves, and others, is essential. What I’m emphasizing is taking care of yourself along the way so that the stress you experience doesn’t constantly deplete your energy.
Put differently, you need time for wellness, which means slowing down to listen to your body and finding a balance between being and doing. Often times we need to set boundaries so that we can keep doing while setting aside time to just be and give our bodies time to recuperate and process before we task them with more. It can be comforting to know that we all have power, the kind that comes from knowing what we can control, which is what we do and how we react to what’s happening to/around us.
Next time you feel pressured or stressed try being YOU unapologetically. It is definitely easier said than done but shifting your focus to yourself really changes the pressure you will feel from obligations.