Now that we’ve passed Labor Day, there’s all sorts of advice out there about how to beat the post-vacation blues. Tips range from immediately unpacking your suitcases to going for a run to taking stock of your life and your work. All good ideas.
But in a culture obsessed with the quick fix — things you can do, buy, eat or drink to make you happy — there’s one bit of advice you rarely hear: let yourself feel lousy.
You’ve left your idyllic vacation spot, returned to a noisy city, a boring or stressful job, and re-immersed yourself in all the day’s bad news. It’s not surprising you don’t feel great.
After a recent week of traveling and being completely checked out, I made a huge effort to appreciate my return to home and work, ease back into my life, etc.. And I still felt crappy for a while. That’s okay. In fact, it can be a good thing to let yourself actually experience your emotions rather than pushing them away. One surprising thing I’ve learned through coaching is that really sitting with my emotions for a while allows them to slowly transform — and can lead to some pretty amazing insights.
Left alone, emotions themselves last only about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. It’s the story we tell ourselves about them – that my life sucks, my job sucks, I’m stuck in this place I hate, etc. – that tends to drag out that emotion, and cause us to have it over and over again and feel stuck. Pema Chodron talks about this beautifully in her books, and suggests people “lean in” to the emotion rather than run from it. (This is a very different concept of leaning in from Sheryl Sandberg‘s.)
When I was feeling particularly lousy one evening, I called up my copy of Jon Kabat Zinn’s book, Coming to Our Senses. A professor of Medicine at University of Massachuseetts medical school and creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Zinn talks about the healing power of just focusing on the present and experiencing your emotions, without the overlay of thoughts.
As Zinn explains:
Enthralled once again, even when in great pain, with the story of me that I am busy creating, unwittingly, merely out of habit, I have an opportunity, countless opportunities, to see its unfolding and to cease and desist from feeding it, to issue a restraining order if necessary, to turn the key which has been sitting in the lock all along, to step out of jail, and therefore meet the world in new and more expansive and appropriate ways by embracing it fully rather than contracting, recoiling, or turning away.
So when you’re hit with that defeated or sad feeling, try just letting it be. Notice it, check in with yourself, with your body, and really feel it. Where do you feel it? What does it feel like? Drop the story line that’s feeding it, and see what else comes up. Does it begin to shift? What I’ve found particularly amazing about doing this is that by sitting with it, the pain not only goes away, but turns into something else — something new — that moves me forward.