Getting Off the Emotional Treadmill

Have you ever experienced the crushing weight of expectation? If you’re a woman, this is likely a common everyday occurrence for you. Your children have expectations for what you can provide and what you’ll do. Your boss has expectations of your performance and your friends have expectations of your ability to be there for them.

But woven into each of these groups is the expectation you’ll approach life with a smile and a positive attitude no matter what is happening in your personal life. No matter what you’ve experienced, no matter what loss you’re facing, no matter how overpoweringly sad or frightened you are, the expectation is you will smile and take it in stride.

I had a friend many years ago who was a single mom. She had adopted two children from Russia and in the process of the adoption her husband left her. Her mother had developed cancer and came to live with her as she died. She lost her job two months after the children came home. Life was coming down around their ears and she was holding herself up by her bootstraps. We had a conversation about depression and talked about what that meant and how she felt.

She commented to me that while she found her life circumstances challenging and it was a struggle to get through each day, depression was not a feeling she felt she had the opportunity to experience. If she allowed herself to become depressed, her entire family would fall apart and she would have nothing left in the end. Instead, she chose to see her circumstances as challenging. They were something she needed to get through but not something that would overcome her.

She made a choice and she followed through.

On the other hand, she didn’t feel it was necessary to be obsessively positive all day, every day. While it was essential that she address the challenges in her life in order to maintain the safety of her family, she also believed it was important that she felt her feelings and express them to her friends. She didn’t put on a brave front – she felt her feelings, dealt with them and moved on.

It was the last part that’s been so difficult for so many – to move on.

Society has certain expectations you will always smile, always be in a good mood and will always treat people well. No matter what’s going on in your life and no matter how much of a challenge each day brings, the expectation is you live in positivity.

While research demonstrates those who have a greater positive attitude will experience better achievement and greater success, it’s not always possible to keep that attitude of positivity rolling along each and every day. Oncologists recommend their cancer patients watch comedies and uplifting television because research shows those who stay positive experience better outcomes – but no one can be positive all day.

So, suddenly, you’re on an emotional treadmill.


On the outside you’re positive, upbeat and strong, while on the inside you’re wilting and unsure how you’re going to make it through the rest of the day. It’s tiring, tiresome and often overwhelming. It stresses you more than if you owned up to the feelings you had and acknowledged that you are not Superwoman!

Yes, you are wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain. And as the song continues, “If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman.”

BUT, no matter how many times you sing those lyrics, you likely can’t do anything (meant everything). You are not invincible – but you ARE woman.

It’s important to find that friend, that safe place, where you can let loose and let go. That person who doesn’t judge you for your feelings, what you think or say In the heat of the moment but lets you say it so that you can get it out and get it over with.

Whether that person is a therapist, a friend, counselor or your pastor – this is a crucial and vital person in your life. This is someone who may make the difference between becoming totally burned out with life or enjoying greater success than you ever dreamed possible.

A treadmill it is designed to strengthen your muscles. I treadmill is supposed to give you greater cardiovascular fitness, improve the large muscles in your legs and even help you strengthen your core.

But an emotional treadmill does not. In fact it has the exact opposite effect.

An emotional treadmill is a little like the hamster on the wheel going around and around and getting nowhere. The hamster enjoys greater physical fitness on the wheel but a human experiences chronic stress. The hamster needs his wheel in order to burn off his energy, but moms need to get off the wheel and find a different release that does not generate high levels of cortisol with the subsequent health-related damage.

I had this conversation with a friend recently. She took a long look at my life and didn’t understand where I was finding balance. In her mind, I spend the day, all day, on a hamster wheel, running from one thing to another without a break or without experiencing any balance in my life. But from my point of view, I spend several hours every day experiencing the release of working out, walking my dog and practicing with my daughter. For me, that was balance. For her, it is not.

That’s a long way of saying that you might find getting off an emotional treadmill looks different for you than it does for your friends or your family. The idea is to understand yourself and recognize what you need in order to achieve emotional health without putting on a constant face of positivity to a world that expects only positive women.

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