A few weeks ago I was working with a client who had slipped back into some of her bad habits. Since she is brilliant and hard-working she noticed her actions right away but was confused, frustrated, and upset about why she had fallen back into the habits we had worked so hard to break. As we spoke, we determined it was the switch from summer vacation to the school year. This transition changed the routine and dynamics of the family. Our discussion reminded me how when we are faced with new challenges, we tend to go back to where we feel safe. Many times this safe place is in the habits and attitudes that protected us in our younger years – even if they do not serve us now. But my client is not the only one subject to this fear-based return to bad habits. Recently I noticed that some of my bad habits were also resurfacing.
I was anxious about time; being on time and having enough time. I found myself trying to control things beyond my control. I was just on edge. Then I noticed that I hadn’t been eating as well as I had been and I had fallen off my routine of yoga and exercise. At first I thought that falling out of my diet and exercise routine led to my bad habits resurfacing. Yet every time I tried to get back into my routine, I had difficulty. Through my foggy mind, I could not see the reason why I felt like I did nor find the way out of this malaise.
As I was discussing my dilemma with my husband he posed the question, “Could it be that your father’s cancer is back?” His statement rang with clarity. I had known that his diagnosis was a disappointment, but I did not think it had affected me that much. We knew last year that this could be a possibility and I am very confident that this time the treatment will be successful. But my husband was right. The news broke me out of my routine and status quo. It hit me on an unconscious emotional level.
The unconscious, primitive reaction I had to the news was fear. This fear sent me back to my safe place; back to those habits that I had in my youth. Habits that served a purpose when I was younger, but which are now deterimental to my happiness. It was amazing how these habits jumped back into my life and burst out as knee-jerk reactions. I would catch myself doing or saying something out of character amazed at my own unconscious actions.
These old habits surfaced due to the fear I felt; a fear that worked on an unconscious level. What I did not realize was that even though my rational mind was capable of seeing the situation and moving on, my emotional mind needed time to grieve, to release, to mourn. No matter how rationally we may see an event; our emotions can have stronger, unconscious reactions. In not taking the time needed to release my emotions, the pent up emotions started to take a toll on my life. There are no short cuts. It is necessary to release the emotions. If the time is not taken consciously, our bodies will take the time for us.
Even though the impact of my father’s news may be apparent in hindsight, at the time I had no visibility to it. This incident reminded me how important it is to have an outside perspective; an objective eye that can see through the emotional fog. I needed my insightful husband to see what I couldn’t see.
Next time you notice some bad habits rising up, go to a trusted friend and discuss recent changes or issues. See if you can identify the cause of your fear or the shift in the stability of your life. Just recognizing that you have hit a bump on your life’s road can help you regain your focus.
Second, take the time you need to work through any of the emotions that have surfaced. Give yourself some space, plenty of sleep, and relaxation. Cry, scream, or hit some pillows. Release the emotions so they do not get caught in your body.
Finally, be patient. You know the good habits you want to have, but it will take some time to overcome the shock and the fear so you are free to once again regain your good habits. Take all the time you need. You will get back there. I promise. I did.