By Alexandra Wilson (AMHSW; CSW; MAASW; BSW Usyd)
The new year is a time many people reflect on their goals, and identify areas they want to grow or improve. Reflection of this kind is great at regular intervals, however I want to offer a word of caution. If we’re not mindful, we can get caught in extremes of ‘change’ and ‘acceptance’.
For example, some people may come into the new year with a long list of resolutions and things they want to change. It could be to read, sleep or meditate more. Or perhaps to eat better, exercise more or lose weight…New Years health kick anyone?!?
Some of these could be great behaviours to improve for our physical and mental wellbeing, however, what can happen is that we go gung–ho into a ‘change’ extreme at this time of year, and try to change everything at once!
Not only is that very stressful, it’s also unlikely to be successful in the long term. We actually set ourselves up for failure when we charge into change intently, and that often leads to feelings of guilt which is totally unfair!
Acceptance vs Change: The problem with extremes Acceptance and change are opposites. Think about ‘extreme acceptance’ down one end of a continuum, and ‘extreme change’ down the other end:
When we are in a change extreme, we are hyper–focused on trying to change something we are unhappy about. In the case of a health kick, we may be unhappy about our fitness, weight, or body. However, when we are in a change extreme, we are setting ourselves up for burn–out (and in the case of a health kick, hunger, fatigue and injury).
When this burn–out inevitably occurs, we often then swing to the other extreme which is extreme acceptance.
When in extreme acceptance we lie down and give up (literally or figuratively!). We tell ourselves there’s no point trying and maybe eat all the ice cream whilst lying in bed for a solid 72 hrs. See the problem? By going into the change extreme, we set ourselves up for the acceptance extreme. Often we can end up swinging wildly between these two states, never spending time in middle ground!
When we’re near middle ground, we are in a state of homeostasis. Our body is functioning well, and still has something in reserve in case we hit a time of high stress, illness or injury. We feel content and fulfilled in middle ground.
However, middle ground is not always a perfect 50/50 balance. Think about middle ground as anywhere on the continuum that is not in either extreme. Taking small steps to get out of either extreme towards middle ground can be very helpful, even if it’s just small steps.
How can we start to get out of extremes, and move closer to middle ground? Here are the steps:
Identify when I am in an extreme: What do I do/ say to myself/ feel that indicates an extreme? Statements to ourselves like, ‘I must achieve this asap’; obsessive thoughts about change, or chronic feelings of fatigue can all be signs we are in a change extreme.
Once I’ve identified I am in an extreme, consider what would be a small step towards middle ground, eg. If I’m suddenly going to the gym 5 days/ week and on a strict diet, a step towards middle ground could be easing the diet and/or reducing the gym days. Identify just 1 way initially to move towards middle ground, and start there.
Take that step towards middle ground and notice what happens, Feel less stressed? Body feeling better? Good – you’re on to something! Rinse and repeat!!!
If you’re struggling with feelings of fatigue, burn–out or overwhelm, please reach out to us, we’d love to help.
Mental Health Access Line (Central Coast): 1800 011 511 – Lifeline: 13 11 14 – Mindful Recovery Services: mindfulrecovery.com.au or (02) 4660 0100
Alexandra (Alex) Wilson holds a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Sydney (2003) and is the owner of Mindful Recovery Services. Mindful Recovery Services is a private practice providing psychological treatment and support for adolescents and adults. Alex is passionate about dispelling myths about mental illness,and is highly skilled in dialectical behavioural therapy. She is an experienced public speaker and provides consultation to other professionals on managing difficult behaviours in teens. Alex lives on the NSW Central Coast with her partner, 2 young boys, and a cheeky puppy named Axel.