Taking a break from health coaching: Part 2 “Anticipation and Empathy”

For the past seven days, I have been on vacation from coaching and training my 1:1 clients. For the the past three days, I have been on vacation from my other full-time health coaching job.

I realized some things about me, and that post will be next, but first – what I realized about others.

If I had to break this week into two categories, it would have been things I had anticipated and things that I should’ve anticipated.

Things that I had anticipated: sleeping in later, decreased panic attacks, feeling weird about having flexible time, going on hikes, lifting, finding space in me to write, feeling tired.

Things that I should’ve anticipated: lack of empathy during a pandemic.

Taking vacation is a hard concept for me.

I think some of it comes from years of working without much of a break – so I’m just used to it. I think some of it comes from what my expectations are of a real vacation – it’s not doing laundry and laying around the house, which is often what taking a vacation usually means.

I do get anxiety about taking a break. I feel like something is missing when I have that flexible time. The disruption in routine is something I want to plan for even though I also want to give myself a chance to be spontaneous. So, I sometimes compromise – plan to have free time so I can be spontaneous.

Knowing this about myself made it easier to have an honest talk with my clients when deciding to take the week off.

I told them that I was concerned that I wouldn’t be there if they needed me. However, I know this thought is exaggerated because being a health coach isn’t about being there when a client needs you, but instead collaborating with them to figure out strategies and creating action plans that support their goals that they can execute without you. And yes, there is a sprinkling of texting in between to “troubleshoot” or problem solve as things happen. But ultimately health coaching isn’t about hand holding, even though it can sometimes feel that way.

Our discussion helped ease my anxiety and helped me give myself permission to take the break that I tell everyone they should be taking for themselves.

It helped me feel less selfish even though I know this break was anything but selfish.

Wantastiquet Mountain, Chesterfield, NH

Here’s where it sadly gets tricky. Empathy. This is a hard concept for a lot of people.

For a refresher, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person without having had the same experience as them.

It’s easy to judge others and then force comparison, which often leads to frustration. I’ve done this before and it’s something I’ve been working on a lot the past few years.

I guess flexing the empathy muscle has helped me let go of some of the negative talk around me and let go of the negative talk I had adopted and sometimes, sadly, still use. It’s helped me have better conversations and understand how people arrive at their perspective.

This has been a hard year – there is no one word that can describe it for anyone in the world. We have all be affected differently, and it’s ok if you struggle with empathy, but if you start comparing your struggles to those you see around you – either in person or online, you’re going to end up in a cycle of never finding something that is “deserving enough” of having a break or a vacation or understanding or compassion or fill in the blank.

You are allowed to be grateful and lucky to still have a job, but also feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities that may have shifted or have been acquierd as you work remotely.

You’re allowed to feel angry when you see some responding to the pandemic in a way that is different than you because you are also feeling terrified.

You’re allowed to feel excited about being home with your children while you work, but also feel frustrated that you’re being pulled in two or three different directions.

You’re allowed to feel angry and sad about losing your job, but grateful for state support as well as feeling the rollercoaster that comes with that support and knowing how flawed the system is.

You’re allowed to be upset that you’re not getting a break when you recognize that you deeply need a moment to pause, but it’s the next step that matters.

The next step in many of these situations – always matters. What are you doing with your energy?

There may be nothing that can do to change your situation. You may not have direct control over a lot of things happening around you, but the reaction matters. It’s not just about protecting your energy by not investing it in someone else, but also how you can redirect it so that you don’t unintentionally drain yourself – which is also a way to protect yourself.

It’s ok if you recognize that you struggle with empathy, but consider how you can actively listen to those around you to learn about their perspective. Maybe you can meet in the middle, maybe you will still not understand, but maybe the pause will help you from comparing each other.

It’s also ok if you don’t think you’re in a place to have these interactions, that’s a boundary you have to set with yourself and those around you.

Sometimes I just want to say, damn, that sucks, I’m sorry. I know those words aren’t enough, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right words and often, people don’t need to hear perfect words, they just need to be validated.

Your perspective is valid, even if it doesn’t agree with mine. We can co-exist.