6 Steps to Get Back Your Mojo: What to Do When “Self Care” Isn’t Enough
The soup hit the fan last week with the Kavanaugh hearings, and it’s scheduled to keep flying for a couple more weeks. Today is Monday, so we’ve had some collective downtime over the weekend and a minute to get our feet back under us, but we know there’s a LOT more to come.
If you’re feeling powerful right now, congratulations. Your mojo is present and accounted for.
In my social media feed that’s not the case for many. Overwhelmingly, I’ve got reports that people are feeling disappointed, demoralized, discouraged, and retraumatized, and they’re definitely *not* feeling primed for action. Instead, the digital air is thick with fatigue and despair.
It’s a lot of stress, and one thing we know is that stress can make you stronger. In part, it’s how you think about stress that really counts. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal notes, “stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values.” What’s required, says McGonigal, is for us to know — and believe — that we can use the stress in our lives as fuel for growth and forward movement.
But when stress overcomes our sense of support, then a weekend of downtime isn’t enough and the knowledge of “more to come” really does not inspire. Instead, it can put us in touch with deep feelings of exhaustion, possibly even trauma, and make us feel even weaker.
My Facebook friend Janine Dunmyre reports, “I feel like withdrawing, honestly. I want isolation. I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t want to know anymore.”
Downtime is the “self care” we’ve been preached, and it’s necessary but not sufficient. To be clear: you can’t skip over this part. You need moments of rest and recovery to be at your best — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you are working through trauma, you may need the support of a therapist. When you’re going to take a running leap over a fast-moving stream, you have to make sure the creek-side is stable. Basic self care is what stabilizes your system.
But when you’ve done your best with what you’ve got — you’re working the program and you’ve taken some time to recover — and it isn’t enough, how do you pull out of the tailspin?
There is no single perfect approach to handling — and even leveraging — stress. You have your own personality, background, and experience to work with. However there is at least one wrong way, and that is to give up completely.
What will keep you going is your sense of mission.
We get discouraged in part because we feel like our efforts aren’t working, and it’s true that there is a cycle at play. In some sense we’ve been here before. But maybe we can reframe the cycle in a way that will actually encourage you.
You won’t feel this bad forever — you already know this. That’s how life works. Beyond that, how can you feel better, faster? And how can you not just feel better, but put yourself into a position to be an effective part of the change?
Here are my six steps to move beyond self care and into your sense of mission, so you can feel better, level up, and stay in the game:
- Slow down — again — and get present to your physical sensations. Take a moment to make contact with yourself, if you’re willing. Don’t just think about things. Take a minute to feel your feelings — because that’s where the action is. Rage, despair, desperation, frustration, numbness, disconnection — can you sit with it for a minute and actually feel the sensation (or lack thereof) in your body? Feel the tension or the energy buzzing, moving through your tissues. Keep breathing. Feel the sensation of your breath. Sit long enough that you feel that energy start to move through you, and then…
- Consider what you need to feel stable. Start with healthy food, plenty of water, some feel-good movement, and positive human connection. Put up some boundaries and give yourself some space from the drama. Let your body, your mind, and your nervous system find a moment of balance. Take a walk. Drink a cup of tea. Notice any small change in sensation. And by all means — if you’re in distress or having panic attacks, reach out for expert support.
- Get back in touch with your values. What’s missing that has you feeling bad? In response to the Kavanaugh hearings, Janine says she feels surrounded by a lack of “decency.” Others are missing “civic engagement,” and “respect for the truth.” Guess what — we’re nailing down our core values right here, and values are what support your mission. As you get in touch with your values, notice what happens in your body. More stable? Stronger? That embodied shift is you moving back into your sense of personal power.
- Deepen your sense of mission. Your mission is about going for what you desire — for yourself, your family, your work, the world, etc. McGonigal reminds us that if you’re feeling frustrated or disappointed, then part of that frustration comes from the fact that something you really care about is at stake. Take a moment, and take note of what that is. Think about what’s possible. Think about where you *do* have power.
- Gather your support. Psychologists have identified a primary stress response in women known as “tend and befriend,” and evidence shows that many men experience this, too. We feel better when we take care of each other and create community, so call a friend and talk things through, but here’s the key. When you’ve had your minute to vent and connect and empathize, then make sure you move on to talk about what matters to you: your values, your mission, your inspired actions. You don’t have to use those words — just talk about those things. Ask your friend how she envisions a change happening. Invite her to join you in next steps. “I don’t know” is a perfectly legit answer to start with all of this, but don’t stop there. Keep connecting. Keep building each other up. Keep supporting each other until you’re back in touch with what you DO know. You’ll feel your energy improve, and when it does...
- Emerge again. Come out roaring, come out swinging, come out asking questions, or come out with rational facts and opinions. We need all sorts and we’ll work out the details as we go. The truth is, change happens over time and it’s all hands on deck. We are in one moment, and while a moment of discouragement is completely normal, we won’t let it become us.
This cycle repeats, and each time it repeats you have the chance to learn something new.
My student and colleague, Jennifer Sconyers, has traveled the pathway for decades. After years as a community organizer and trainer, she found herself burned out in a fight against social injustice and racism that was so much bigger than herself. Diving deep into self care she found herself again, emerging to create Culture Shift, a successful consultancy with a mission to create safe, diverse, and inclusive spaces.
Another one of my students, Brooke Wojdynski of Verve Creative, is on a mission to help women gain access to opportunity. In touch with her core values she says,
“I am feeling proud of the two women who convinced Sen. Flake to leverage his power to get an investigation.”
It’s Monday, she’s got her energy, and she’s already back on track.
“Self care” is trending, and most of us know enough to step back, take a break and take a breath. Once we start to feel better, we don’t need to be poking at the wound. But we have limits to how much we can withdraw, and when that’s the extent of our self care skillset we shortchange ourselves and our communities. There is creative power in our feelings — both positive and negative — and we can serve not only the world, but also our own wellbeing when we harness that energy and take action.
The whole point is that change takes time and it’s a process we can optimize. If we let our sense of time, and our sense of mission, expand out beyond this small, discouraging moment we will feel our energy begin to return.
“I believe in the internet. By this, I believe our constant communication will bring them down. This is not ancient Egypt, this is not Rome. They cannot destroy our civilization by burning down one library, by breaking up one central government. We talk and we remember and we are writing it all down.”
We may lick our wounds and bide our time, but something is alive within us. We are already more awake, we are talking, and we can make ourselves visible. In both the small ways and the big ones, we connect, we expand, and we keep moving together toward something greater.
The first step is re-establishing balance and stability — nurture yourself and each other. And when once again you’ve got your feet on the ground and your head in the game, look at where you’re going.
Adversity shows you your mission, and once you have your mission, there’s no going back.
To get daily inspiration and support for high performing women, join Christina’s Facebook group, the Rainmakers Hivemind.