5 Ways to Boost Your Surge Capacity Here and Now
Happy Wednesday! Last week’s blog explored the concept of surge capacity as it relates to our mental wellbeing and the cumulative impact of the pandemic – if you missed it, catch up HERE for context. As promised, today we’ll dive in to practical strategies for restoring your surge capacity if/when needed. If your reserves are depleted or you’re being proactive and aiming to expand your already healthy surge capacity, start with these five tips.
1. Make time for regular check-ins
One of the tricky things about mental health problems is that they usually sneak up on us. Unless we’re being intentional about tuning in with what we’re feeling and where our stress level is on a consistent basis we have no baseline if things worsen and may have a hard time defining where on the spectrum our wellbeing falls at a given time. Make it a habit to pause, take a few deep breaths and take note of where you’re at mentally as well as any physical ways you might be experiencing stress. Unclench your jaw, un-shrug your shoulders, relax the muscles in your forehead and face. Because humans are so adaptive you might not realize you’re feeling stressed until or unless you notice the ways it’s manifested in your body. Notice any trends with respect to your health, both mental and physical. It’s natural to see fluctuations but if you’re feeling like there’s an overall decline over time, address it right away.
2. Take note of your regular “surge capacity boosters”
Of course you’ve never endured a global pandemic but reflecting on other stressful experiences from the past can serve you well in stocking your toolkit. There’s a lot that’s beyond our control right now so focusing on concrete measures that have previously supported your mental wellbeing can be grounding in addition to the practical benefits. Who and what have given you a boost when you’ve needed it? What changes to your schedule can you make to allow for time to “fill your tank”? Take time to nurture important personal relationships and engage in meaningful hobbies. Because life so often throws curveballs at our best laid plans, I like to keep a running list of mental health boosters that are normally effective me when I have just a few minutes to spare, a half hour, a couple hours and no set time frame (like a wide-open Saturday).
3. …And try some new ones!
We heard a lot about the importance of establishing and maintaining a routine in the earlier stages of the pandemic. This made sense given how unpredictable our circumstances were at the time. It’s true that life is never truly predictable, but an element of this long-lasting exhaustion, for many of us, is a sense of frustrating repetition that can leave us feeling purposeless. Try shaking up your routine or push yourself a little outside your comfort zone to try something new. Take up a hobby that’s always interested you but you’ve never found the time to try. Ask a friend to swing by that cool new coffee shop you heard about on social media. Try your hand at a crossword puzzle or embrace some form of cognitive stimulation not presently part of your regular day-to-day. Something different might be just what the doctor ordered.
4. Practice self compassion
If we spoke to our friends the way we often speak to ourselves, none of us would have many friends. Over the past handful of months perhaps you’ve heard a voice in your head telling you to “suck it up,” or maybe you’ve wondered, “What’s wrong with me? Everyone else is coping just fine… so why can’t I get it together?” Comparisons with others are rarely helpful, in part because they’re usually inaccurate and partly because we’re all individuals with different coping styles. Make a point of toning down your harsh inner voice. If a close friend was describing to you that they were feeling overwhelmed, you probably wouldn’t respond with a snarky recommendation that they “get it together”, right? Speak to yourself with the same compassion, kindness and patience you’d extend to a loved one who needed a bit of extra support.
5. Keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel
Although you may feel like you’re starring in the movie Groundhog Day, take pause to appreciate that we have actually been making progress. Researchers have identified that a sense of hope is one of the cornerstones of recovery from mental illness, and the concept holds true for what we’re collectively feeling now, too. It hasn’t been a straight, simple road but overall we’re moving forward bit by bit. It’s easy to get bogged down especially with constant reminders on the news, social media and it conversations with others. Remind yourself that you won’t always feel the way you’re feeling now and the world won’t remain the way it is right now indefinitely. Things will get easier.
Burnout, exhaustion, pandemic fatigue, surge capacity depletion… whatever you call it, the struggle for many is very real right now. Failing to take the early signs seriously and address them at the time can lead to more serious mental health problems. Take a breath. Fill your bucket. Your surge capacity will expand and be ready for action again in no time.
Thanks for reading, everyone! See you next time.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.