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How to Pace Yourself

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

There are a few common themes behind most aspects of therapy and mental health. Generally, a few of these themes are intention, attention, space, and pace. The last one, pace, is in some ways the trickiest of these areas to pin down. Below are a few key considerations about what pacing is and how to manage it well.

Pace here refers to monitoring the speed at which you are experiencing or navigating a given situation. This can look something like knowing when you have given your partner enough time and information about what you need before deciding to end the relationship, or knowing if this week is the best week to cut down on your drinking, is it too soon, is the timing right? It can also take the form of knowing how much to push thinking about difficult traumas and when to push. As you can see pace can take many different forms and can be difficult to get your hands on not only what it is, but how to get the pace right. Generally, pace is about getting the timing right on how to address our mental health needs. 

The next piece to look at is how to monitor the pace. One helpful way to monitor this is to hold your reactions and feelings up to your values. Let’s use the first example above, how do you know when you have put in enough work with your partner to help them understand your needs and how to meet them in a fair way? You can find all of the answers to these questions in your values, and of course all of our values are different from person to person. Your values often tell you when things feel off so it’s important you understand your values and how they help you navigate life. What do your values say about your drinking? If they say you need to cut down, then ask what pace feels right? Do your values say now that you recognize you are struggling you need to make the change immediately? Maybe they say take time to plan and prepare. Your values will help you monitor if you are moving at he appropriate speed.

A final key area to monitor to know if you are pacing things correctly is to look at the reasons for why you decided to act when you did, and why you decided not to act when you didn’t. Did you give the relationship more time because you were afraid of being alone on your birthday, or because you just didn’t have the energy to make a big change? Did you end it early because you were afraid that the relationship would be too deeply entrenched once it hit the two-year mark? Are you not looking at the effects a traumatic event had on you because it’s scary, or overwhelming, or is it because you can feel it would be retraumatizing to talk about it at this point? While we always have reasons for why we do what we do, it is important to monitor whether they are tending toward excuses or legitimate barriers. Understanding why we do what we do is a key step to understanding why we are pacing things the way we are.

Pace is crucial to getting to the right place on the spectrum of what is healthy and what is not in regard to our mental health. It is easy to go too fast or too slow with our needs and actions in regard to our mental health. It is internally motivated and monitored and it is deeply individualized, and sometimes hard to even pinpoint, but understanding that pacing can contribute to poor mental health and monitoring it is a direct line to better mental health.

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