I noticed something recently. In the last week or two it seems like people are angrier, less patient, more frustrated. I think the “novelty” (if you can call it that) of lockdown/quarantine finally wore off and people suddenly realized that this is life right now… and, more importantly, this is life for the foreseeable future. (The Atlantic has an interesting article on “Quarantine Fatigue.”)
What’s happened is that as we get overextended (hello to everyone trying to maintain a full-time job AND run a home school), or frustrated (hello to everyone who feels caged and stifled from not being able to go out), or despairing (hello to everyone who has lost their income and stability), we lose more than just our time, our freedom, and our security. What we lose is our emotional bandwidth… our emotional “fuse” shrinks.
You see, we all have “fuses” inside us that dictate how much space we have before we get triggered into an emotional reaction. The longer your fuse, the more easily you can choose to respond from a neutral place to anything that comes your way. Conversely, the shorter your fuse, the more prone you are to reacting to every little thing.
A lot of things impact the length of our fuses. External things like alcohol, drugs, stress, physical health, to name a few, can consistently shorten our fuse over time through erosion. Internal things like faulty belief systems or thought patterns, low self-esteem, or even codependency can also shorten our emotional fuse over time. All of these things combined can lead to a highly reactive life.
So, how do we lengthen our emotional fuse?
The first step is to acknowledge that you have one and then assess how healthy or “long” it is. If you find yourself being more reactionary than not, then your fuse is probably shorter than what you would need to feel healthy. If your life feels fairly balanced, and you feel neutral or proactive about many things (this does not mean you are devoid of stress, but that you can deal with it effectively), then your fuse is probably healthier.
Importantly, our fuses can always be lengthened. The longer your emotional fuse, the better quality of life you will have. Why? Because you will have the emotional space to deal with practically anything that crosses your path, both the expected and the unexpected, in a healthy manner. A longer fuse increases your resilience.
To lengthen your fuse, you must engage in behaviors that make you feel alive. I call them the behaviors that “give you breath and make your heart smile.” (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to do more of that?) The behaviors should almost always be solitary endeavors, because your emotional fuse is never dependent on another person. Some examples of behaviors that can lengthen your fuse include:
- playing music
- walking/running/biking for fun
- playing with a pet
- Watching a favorite video (this is my current fave: The Great Realisation by @ProbablyTomFoolery)
You get the idea. Lengthening your fuse involves regular engagement with the things that make you happy, but that are not tied to some level of productivity. That’s why I didn’t use the word “exercise” in the list above, because it’s too often tied to a goal or an achievement.
When choosing your activity, what matters most is the intention behind it.
If, for example, you are going biking because you “should” (ie: in order to check something off your list or because you fear gaining weight in quarantine), you’re not lengthening your fuse. In fact, If you look at lengthening your fuse as a “to do” item, you’re missing the point.
Lengthening your emotional fuse is about engaging in the activities that make you happy, give you life, and bring space back into your heart, mind, and body. They are the things you do that make all the rest of life worthwhile, or at least tolerable and easier.
So, the next time you feel short, curt, or snippy, because you “just can’t,” ask yourself how long your fuse is. If it’s really short, it might be time to reprioritize your life a bit and move yourself higher up the ladder. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.