We all have inside of us a well of Self. This is a fluid well that is continuously being drained and refilled by how we spend our time, depleted and nourished by how we move through our inner and outer worlds. When the well is full, we are resourced and regulated, which means we’re more adept at handling life’s stressors, including the inevitable anxiety that frequently traipses through the door of the highly sensitives. With a full well, we can see the anxiety, meet it square in the eye and ask, “What do you need?” With an empty, dry well, the intrusive thoughts ping against the sides, sometimes striking like a match to flint and bursting without pause into flame.
Many things we do to maintain our modern lives deplete the well. This is not negative and it’s often unavoidable; it’s simply how life is. Counteracting the depletion depends on filling the well with nourishing actions that invite effervescent, warm, sparkling waters to rush back into the well. When the ratio tips toward nourishment, we experience more well-being. When the ratio errs on the side of depletion, we’re more prone to anxiety.
We can simplify this language by delineating between output and input:
- Householding (bills, cleaning, cooking, car, doctor’s appointments, taxes)
- Nourishing food
- Spiritual practice
The above is a partial list, and the delineations will differ for everyone and may change over time. For example, I don’t love to cook during this life stage, but I do it for the well-being of my family, which means that cooking is both depleting (for me) but nourishing for my kids. For someone else, cooking may be only be a nourishing act and a source of joy. Furthermore, what depletes and nourishes can change depending on your life stage. I can imagine that in a few years, when my boys are launched and I’m not juggling a dozen balls, I may love cooking. This is an individual list, and the only way to know what depletes or nourishes is to listen closely to your own rhythms and notice when the ratio needs attention.
We’re not seeking perfect balance here. Balance is a word that is thrown around frequently these days in the self-help world, but because we’re constantly shifting and asymmetrical beings in body and heart, balance is an impossibility. Like perfection, when we seek balance we’re chasing an ever-receding landscape. What we’re seeking, rather, is an awareness of our inner landscapes, an ability to look inward with eyes that see into invisible realms and chart what’s needed in a moment or a day. And more than arriving at a definite answer (for definitives also don’t exist in the paradoxical and nuanced world of psyche), simply sitting in the question, even basking in it as if on a sun-drenched day, can be enough to imitate a subtle shift that begins to tip the scales of the inner well in the direction of more nourishment.
It’s also important to know that there are stages of life where the output/input ratio naturally tips to the side of output. Essentially the years between 21-50 tend to incrementally edge into more and more output. Robert A. Johnson refers to this stage of life as “the householder” years, meaning it’s the time when we’re tending to house and all that comes with it. These can be stressful years, for not only are we figuring out who we are throughout our 20s, establishing ourselves in career and/or family in our 30s, and deepening relationships in our 40s, but we’re also piling on responsibilities in our practical lives with a mortgage, more and more bills, and the dozens of bits and pieces of tasks and to-dos that populate the modern life.
Again, this isn’t necessarily negative or avoidable; it’s simply the way it is. The more we can name “what is” and turn inward to become curious about how the vicissitudes of modern life are landing in us, the more attuned we can remain to what is needed. Like children, we need regular checkpoints to assess the variables that create an optimal environment for regulation. When we lose touch and fall into the habitual and default pace and expectations of the culture, anxiety is more likely to take hold.
Much more output in the 60s with elderly parents declining. Very intensive with few happy options.
I hear you. And there’s always time for input. It’s essential, especially when we’re caring for others.
Adding to this, being part of the sandwich generation as someone who had a child at 40. Caring for my young child (3.5 years old), while dealing with my parent’s ailing health. It makes life feel SO draining sometimes.
SO SO challenging.
Wow, such wisdom cans poetry wrapped into one
Thank you 😉
Wow, did you read my mind today? Ha. Thanks, this clarifies a lot for me. Lots of love.
Thank you for this thoughtful post, Sheryl. This resonates closely with my experience this weekend.
I’m so glad there was resonance, Cameron :).
This is so true. My anxiety has been overwhelming recently and I now realise my output and input are completely unbalanced. Finding the vital time to balance them is the hardest thing, which increases my anxiety. Your posts are always helpful and illuminating.
I’m so glad the post helped shine light, Kelly.
Wise words. For me, in my early 70s, retirement is an input, aging issues an output. I hear the clock ticking. But I don’t want that to obscure what’s still left! Existential angst can feel like the sword of Damocles for HSPs.
I completely hear you, Ceci. I recommend the work of Reb Zalman on conscious aging.
I needed these beautiful words today. You’ve improved my perspective tremendously. Thank you.
I’m glad they arrived at a good time ;).
As my family faces its next mountain to climb, this is a good reminder to consciously pursue inputs.
Thank you Sheryl. I know this is the truth but hearing it again helps validate trying to prioritize filling that inner well when it feels like there’s no time for it. Appreciate your writing.
We all need reminders so that we can prioritize the inner world. I’m glad the post helped :).
Well written, wonderful message. After 8 1/2 years as sole caregiver for my elderly mother (now 99+), the “output” has become too much with her dementia issues.
Thanks to my daughter (who lives a 2 hour flight away), I have decided to focus on my own situation and life. I need a strong inflow to rebalance, restore my health/serenity and move on with fulfilling my life. At 69, the future awaits.
Caring for mom has been a meaningful, full time endeavor- but moving her soon to an excellent, lovely, well staffed Adult Dementia Home is the path to follow.
Looking forward to input flow to rebalance my being.
This is so powerful to read, Peggy. Thank you for sharing. x
Hi Sheryl, I am just finding this now and it was validating to read the struggle and generational concern about house holding. At 30, not yet with kids, I do feel a sense of shame that I am so overwhelmed by house holding most of the time. Its been difficult and confusing because it’s also intertwined with sharing this with a partner. And as it relates to the journey of learning about boundaries I am wondering if there is anyone, or resources, that can really help guide me in how to develop more solid systems or infrastructure around house holding chores with a partner? I carry the mental load of getting things done. While carrying the mental load is partly my own responsibility, I do believe there is some lack of responsibility on my partners end. But I don’t understand how to set boundaries in this arena.