Tracking loss, the extremes, always serving people, our communities, our land, our families, and after all that, we may serve ourselves.
As women, why do we put ourselves last?
Towards the end of the third day of Gathering Fire, the conversation shifted as we explored power, safety, and difficult conversation. We were asking to provide topics for open space discussions for the last day. That’s when the flood gates opened.
Based on what I’d been hearing during the previous days, to me, the topic of managing your mental health was something that many of the women wanted to explore.
I offered that as a discussion point, but in conversation that came up, burn out, nervous system regulation, and navigating introversion came out.
To me, all of these fell under mental health, and I wanted to listen and hear what women needed in this respect. Nikki lovingly called it “energy management”, and shared her personal story of how she managed her energy.
To hear women in my ranching and food communities ask about how they can start, was catalyzing to me. So here’s what I have to say in this regard:
The ability to balance the emotional load comes with starting with these four deceptively simple steps. They are as follows:
- You have to give yourself radical permission to rest.
- You must learn to ground.
- You want to learn to become present.
- Letting go of the idea that others come before yourself.
So now, let me break each of these down a bit further.
Give yourself permission to rest
Nervous system regulation, avoiding burn out, building emotional resilience, it starts with giving yourself permission to rest.
Rest in the literal sense may be going to bed for a few days. If that’s where you are, then go to bed. Sleep.
When I first began this journey, the first thing I did was give into the exhaustion that my body was experiencing due to the state of my mind.
You may not even be aware of how much you need to rest.
Rest also means stopping, saying no, and even letting go. Women today are overcommitted, over expected, and overdrawn in just about every area of their life. Family obligation, school commitments, extracurricular activities, community involvement, on-farm work and off-farm work.
There is no better example of “superwoman” today than a woman who works in agriculture. She is “all the things” and does “all the things.” And guess what, she’s tired as hell.
And as a woman in Ag, it’s probably very hard to stop, let go and say no. But do you want to be one of those women that at her funeral people say, “She always did so much for others, and so little for herself!” I think not.
To start to manage your mental health, start with rest.
How and why to ground
Learning to ground is a big thing, we started with grounding when we held the first sessions of our mindfulness program.
Your body is often the first to react when you move into stress. The first step you can do to take care of yourself is to ground into your physical body.
To ground means to calm your nervous system so that your physical body can feel safe for you to stay rooted to who you are without prematurely reacting to what’s happening around you.
Grounding can be done in a number of ways. It can be done through your senses, visualization, and open awareness of what’s happening in your body.
If grounding is new to you, try it one day per week when you are in a calm, less stressed state (such as when you wake up in the morning).
Grounding takes your nervous system from sympathetic (flight) to a parasympathetic (rest) state. No modality - therapy, coaching, meditation, breathwork, yoga - will be effective if you don’t first learn to ground.
Build presence through your breath
Grounding brings you into the present moment. That means, you are mentally focused on the real-time. You’re not thinking about the past, thinking about the far off future, or what you’re going to do 30 minutes from now.
Your focus is on where you are physically now, and what’s happening around you. Most often, you not present due to
Grounding brings presence. And in my experience, there’s nothing better than simply using your breath for as little as two minutes to center yourself in the here and now. Breathwork helps you interrupt most thought loops you may be stuck in.
One of the best breathwork techniques to do this is the 4-4-4-4 or Box Breathing. Box breathing is a technique that helps to focus on taking slow, deep breaths. It’s a technique most often used to help you stop panic or anxiety attacks. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit up straight and attempt to push the oxygen out of your lungs by breathing slowly out your mouth.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
- Focus on the air filling your lungs, drawing it into your lower belly.
- Hold your breath for another count of 4.
- Breathe out through your mouth for a third count of 4.
- Pay attention to the sensation of the air leaving your body.
- Hold your breath again for a final count of 4.
Repeat this 5 to 15 times.
A note about breathing properly: Proper breathing starts in the nose, then moves through the diaphragm to the stomach. As our diaphragm contracts, the belly expands and our lungs fill with air.
This is the type of breathing that properly triggers that relaxation response and begets all those benefits. But in today's world, most people instead breathe with their mouths and their breath stays in their chests due to stress, sitting for too long, or environmental factors (like air pollution).
If you want more breathwork practices and techniques, you can find them here.
Don’t feel ashamed to put yourself first
Now you’ve reached the starting point of being able to regulate your nervous system, avoid burnout, build resilience, and ALL THE THINGS.
But there’s more work to be done. You just built your set of tools to regain some emotional balance.
Now it’s time to claim time for yourself, this mindset work. This is belief work. And it can be hard. Remember, in order to take care of others, you have to first take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Here’s what I would like you to do:
Find a quiet place where you can be undisturbed and have time to reflect.
- Where did the story that I have put people and commitments before myself come from?
- How long have I believed this story?
- How has believing others come first led me to how I’m feeling now?
After you’ve written the answers to these questions down, I then want you to write down a list of all the things you put before yourself. People, commitments, everything.
Once you’ve written that list, can you circle one or two things you could deprioritze in order to find more time for yourself?
- This could be one project that drains your energy and you find no joy in.
- It could be saying no when you receive a new request for your involvement.
- It could be as simple as teaching your kids to do their own laundry.
- Find 1-2 places in your life that you can remove or lessen your involvement.
Once you identify the 1-2 things that can be deprioritized, what or who do you need to ask for help in implementing some time for you (if this is necessary)?
Get started on that right away. Bonus points if you found something you can stop all together (even if it’s a story you’ve been telling yourself about having to do all the things).
The journey begins with a single action
The journey of inner well-being begins with a simple action. Whether it’s you giving yourself radical permission to spend 15 minutes with yourself each morning, finally deciding to let go of that one community commitment, or asking your family to support you in one task.
A single action causes ripple effects. It makes the next action easier. And what you’ve done here is laid the foundation to own your mental health.
This is how you regulate your nervous system, manage anxiety, and avoid burnout. These are symptoms of a larger issue, often that’s related to your emotional well-being. Here’s to putting yourself first.