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Tolerance and Expectations in Difficult Times

Written by Sue Fuller-Good (MSc Physio WITS) Physiotherapist with a special interest in the mind-body connection.


What are expectations?

Expectations are a definite belief that something will transpire or be the case.

What is tolerance?

In this case, tolerance is the ability to endure continued experiences without a negative reaction.

I was jogging a while ago in the very early morning in Winter in Johannesburg. It was exhilarating running in the cold morning air and I could feel my head starting to clear. I was just relaxing into this familiar, induced clear-headedness when waves of emotion that had been sitting in my heart started to bubble upwards. I saw, as I always do the brave and determined recycled waste collectors gathering what they could find out of the rubbish left outside people’s houses and a huge wave of sadness came up inside me that still hasn’t left. I felt the usual complex array of feelings these people bring up for me.

* Guilt at my relatively easy life

* Shame that I can’t do anything about the broken system that leaves people doing such a horrible job in order to eke out an existence.

* Awe at the courage it must take to get out there before dawn in the freezing cold and do that job in order to earn a few pennies to stay alive.

* Wonder at the way so many of them ride their trolleys down the hills, enjoying the pleasures that are available and chat and laugh among themselves, supporting themselves with community and friendship and shared laughter despite the hardships they face.

I stopped to deal with the emotion. I bent forward and gasped for breath as sobs racked my body and friends stopped to see if I was okay. I didn’t share much, but had to explain my tear stained face to some degree. The friend who stopped is the CEO of a big business here in SA and he shared that the people in his business had blown his mind by rallying together to get shops and warehouses open again after the riots that took place a few months ago in South Africa. We talked for a while about the incredible spirit of South African people and the hope that had been rekindled by this inspiring behaviour. I felt better when they left and I recognized that I, like the recycled rubbish collectors needed my fellow humans to support my existence and keep me happy and thriving.

It didn’t take long, I have to be honest, for the next wave of powerlessness and despair to come over me and so the day rolled out, thinking about injustice, poverty, war and corruption, greed and brutality. It was from this state of emotional turmoil that I am writing this blog. I know that all fellow South Africans feel some form of what I am feeling at some time and friends from around the world have their own emotional rollercoaster rides to take, especially at this time.

When I came home, I filled the kettle to make some hot tea and it came to me that right now we have to manage the kettles of our lives and in so doing, manage our own expectations of what our outputs can look like. We can’t get boiling water out of an empty kettle. It’s a management situation that this moment demands of us. We need to figure out what fills the kettle and what drains it right now. We need to acknowledge that the kettle is not operating at an optimal level and we need to be reasonable about the output we demand from it.

I was explaining about tissue tolerance, yesterday to a young patient who is suffering back pain due to over-training. I drew him a bell curve and showed him the line, which is a hair’s breadth in width, beyond which tissue tolerance is exceeded and performance drops and injury sets in.

This picture popped into my mind and I recognized that right now with all the multitudes of challenges that are going on for us all and the strain we are under, our stress curves have been shifted. There is so much pressure on us all that we must guard against getting into the zone of strain or worse still, burnout. We also have to reduce the pressure we are putting on ourselves. This may mean lowering the bar of expectation and delivery for a time, accepting less performance. This is where the kettle analogy comes in. If we want boiling water; delivery and performance, then we must not drain the kettle. It’s using much more power and water to make boiling water right now. The water is leaking out at every turn, so we need to expect less and pay more attention to keeping the kettle full.

I suggest when times get rough, that we all sit down and work out what we can reasonably expect from ourselves at any one time. Maybe it’s wise to postpone or delete any plans that aren’t absolutely necessary in a week or a day where things get on top of you. At difficult times, average is excellent and showing up and trying is worthy of respect. Performance can’t be optimal all of the time and we have to accept that, we must give ourselves permission to take our foot off the accelerator when we need to. Sometimes we need compassion, empathy and tolerance. That’s what will help keep the boiling water pouring, albeit at a reduced rate.

I wish you comfort and tolerance and reasonable expectations of yourself and your performance and of course of your teams and families when you need it most.

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