Today is the final post in my series about stress and self-care. Earlier this week, I shared with you a tool that was instrumental in helping me understand the stress load I was carrying. In Part II, I shared my own personal battle with health-issues that are, at least in part, impacted by stress. And finally, today I want to share some realizations I’ve gained that have helped me far more than pampering or treating myself, which I once considered self-care. Now I think of self-care as something much bigger and more encompassing.
According to physician Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., author of Sacred Rest, there are several different types of rest that people actually need. Most of us are familiar with physical rest, but there are other types of rest that we require just as much. You may be getting 8 hours of sleep each night, and yet you still feel tired, worn down, and depleted. If so, it’s probably one (or more) of the other types of rest that you are deficient in. Dalton-Smith’s podcast, “Broken Brain”, is a great listen to help you understand the 7 different types of rest.
Besides sleep, what else can you do to rest?
Once I came to realize that just sleep alone wasn’t going to give me the rest I required, I started making several little (and a few bigger) life changes that are helping. I’m going to be honest, this is still a work in progress for me. It’s hard to dial back from Type A perfectionist tendencies. Plus, I’m not saying you should (or even can) completely change your natural disposition, personality, or way of “doing life”. What I am saying, is that when I make a conscious effort to do at least some of the things below, it makes a difference.
1. Taking Time Away
For me, time away means a break from life’s daily routines. And because of the busy life we lead, it usually means we need to “get out of Dodge” in order for that to happen. Going away on a full-fledged vacation, or even a short weekend getaway is really the only way to leave everything else behind and allow your mind to totally disengage from life’s responsibilities.
Staycations are nice too, but they don’t have the full restorative value that getting away from it all does, because let’s face it, life has a way of creeping in. There’s always that load of laundry that needs to be tossed in, or someone calls and wants to stop by, or you look out the window and notice the grass is getting tall and maybe you should squeeze in some time to mow. When you’re out of town, you can’t do any of those things!
When you plan a trip that takes you away for a few days, you wake up each day asking, “What do we want to do today?” rather than “What do we need to get done today?” Just that change in mindset is totally refreshing for me.
Even the planning stages of a trip or vacation allow me to give my brain a break from all of life’s normal happenings for just a little bit, and get absorbed in planning. One of my favorite things to do is get cozy with my husband, pour some wine, and plan our next adventure! Occasionally it’s a big vacation–we went to Hawaii two years ago and we have France in our sites for next year. Often, it’s a short getaway–this past summer we went antique shopping in Kansas City for a weekend, and spent a couple of days later in the summer at a B&B in Minnesota.
For us, the important part of “time away” is understanding what we need at the moment. For example, my husband and I uncharacteristically have a big chunk of time off from work at the same time next month. This rarely happens. We talked about taking a cruise, or a beachy vacation someplace warm, but then we quickly realized that is not what we need right now. Instead, we are craving something less structured and casual.
After a year and a half of getting settled in our new home, a job change, graduate classes, wedding planning with my oldest daughter to name a few, we are tired. The wedding has now come and gone, just in time for Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The holidays are complicated these days with so many people in our blended family, all with their own obligations and plans. As soon as the wedding was over, we immediately had to jump into holiday planning, gift shopping, decorating….
The last thing either of us wanted to do was mess with booking flights (not to mention actually flying during the craziness of the holiday travel season), or plan excursions, or even be on a tight schedule. What we need is low-key and unstructured. We want to be on our time-line, with freedom to meander at our own pace, stop when we want, go when we want, sleep when we want.
So what we decided on was a road trip to Nashville and Memphis instead. With our own car, we can travel at our own pace. No timeline. We loosely planned out which days we’d spend where, but we can adjust as we go. We can stroll around, listen to music, sample good food, sip drinks, explore. THAT is what we need after the busyness of the past few months.
You have permission to take time away as you need it. Build in these breaks from life as often as you can. I’m not saying shirk your responsibilities or run from your obligations. But when you take time away in an entirely different environment than your norm, you often come back with a renewed sense of energy. I love, love, love to travel. But I’m almost always ready to come home at the end of the trip, too. And when I do, I feel ready to take on the day-to-day tasks again with new enthusiasm.
2. Permission to Not Be Helpful
You are not responsible for fixing everything and everybody. Let me say that again. YOU are not responsible for fixing everything, and certainly not everybody. When people we care about struggle, it’s natural to want to help them, to make everything better, to fix it for them. Sometimes we even get so caught up that we take on all their problems as our own burdens. Maybe, we even get a small sense of personal satisfaction by being a “fixer”. But this isn’t healthy for you OR them.
Now, please don’t misinterpret me. I’m not saying you should become a cold, uncaring and unfeeling person. I’m saying you should remember that you can’t fix everyone else’s problems for them. And even more importantly, you shouldn’t try to, because that comes at a cost for both you and the other person. You end up emotionally drained, and they end up emotionally handicapped.
What if you took a step back, and gave that other person time to figure things out on their own? Does giving someone space to work through some of their own struggles mean you don’t love them? Of course not. In fact, sometimes you may be making things worse by trying to coach, counsel, cajole, and communicate. Let me say it one more time… you cannot fix someone else. You can love someone, and yet still let go and let them work things out for themselves.
Often times, taking a “rest” from the conflict lets everyone take a breath, settle their emotions, and look at things with a new perspective.
3. Doing Something “Unproductive”
When life gets busy, the first things that have a tendency to get cut out are the things that we enjoy doing the most, the things that recharge and refresh us, like our hobbies, our passions, or interests. We get busy and we tell ourselves we don’t have time for these “fun” activities because other things are more important.
Often, this ends up having a negative affect. Sure, it may buy us some time in the immediate, but we pay a high price for it in the end. I encourage you to not let these things get cut from the list so easily when you feel like you have “more important” things to do. In fact, it’s these very “unproductive” things that feed our spirit and give us renewed energy to tackle the other things, and ultimately be more productive in the long run. So hold on tightly to the things that you enjoy and instead cut out some of the things that your self-talk tells you that you “should” be doing.
Read a book. Decorate the house. Set a pretty table. Plan a party. Garden. Stroll leisurely through the aisles of Home Goods with a latte in hand. None of these things are life-changing or critically important activities, but they do serve a very valuable purpose. When I’m doing them, I’m in a different place in my head. I’m not checking off a mental “to-do” list or problem-solving a work dilemma. I’m just enjoying the moment and resting mentally, which is just as important as physical rest.
4. Connecting to Art & Nature
Nature is one of the biggest ways that I recharge my batteries. I’m so lucky that I have a husband who feels the same way. We both work inside all day– he in a hospital and me in a windowless classroom. So by the time we get home from work, we both crave fresh air and sunshine.
When we built our dream home last year, location was one of our most important requirements. We wanted a little bit more space from our neighbors than the typical suburban neighborhood allows. We wanted a view, preferably a water view. We wanted peace. Quiet. Nature.
We looked at a lot of properties before we found the one we built on. And when we finally found it, we knew it was the one. Behind our property, sits acres and acres of open pasture, woods, a stream, and a pond.
We specifically designed our house to maximize this view and our love of outdoors. We loaded the house with windows in the back to take in the view, added on as much outdoor living space as we could with open deck, covered deck, a 3-season porch, and even a front porch with an old-fashioned porch swing. We truly spend more time in these spaces than we do inside our house.
When I come home from work in the afternoon, I’m drawn to the outside like a magnet. As soon as I change my clothes, I head straight to one of these spaces. If it’s warm out, I’m usually on the back deck in the sun, if it’s too hot, I choose the shady porch swing, and if it’s cold, windy or wet, I’m on the enclosed screen porch under a heated blanket with the fireplace on.
I can literally feel my mood improve, my shoulders loosen up. The outdoors is nature and art at the same time. We have incredible unobstructed sunsets almost every night. We watch eagles, falcons, horses, deer, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and more.
For as long as I can remember, planting flowers, gardening, working in my yard has been a soul-soother for me. On summer mornings, I like to get my cup of coffee, and get outside as soon as I’m awake. Taking a stroll around the yard to check on my flowers and veggies, pluck a stray weed, water the plants is so relaxing, especially in the morning when the world is still quiet.
Friends, nature is almost like a miracle cure. People aren’t meant to spend every minute inside, in front of a computer screen or TV screen or video game, or phone. Even if I have a busy evening, just 15 minutes outside before I have to start dinner can totally re-energize me.
Make a point to unplug, look up and notice the beauty that surrounds you. Leave the TV off, put your phone on silent, let those work emails wait a little while. Take a walk, find a place in the sun to relax, breath in some fresh air. It’s a game-changer.
5. Stillness to Decompress
My husband and I both spend our days in busy, fast-paced environments. I work in a middle-school with 1000 eleven and twelve year-olds. He works in the ICU of a local hospital. By the time we come home, we are often on sensory overload. We need to quiet our brains, or “close some tabs” as I like to call it.
When I come home in the afternoon, and often even on weekends, I prefer to have the TV OFF. I’m not one of those people who likes the background noise. I have background noise all day, every day. Over-stimulated senses can be just as exhausting as being tired physically.
It’s important to give yourself time to just “be” instead of “do”. Let your body be still, let your mind be still. Let your senses recharge without noise and chaos. Find the place or activity that lets you unplug and disconnect. That might be nature, or yoga, or prayer, or a good book…. Find what works for you.
6. Solitude to Recharge
I often label myself as an “extroverted introvert”. 😃I really enjoy being around people and socializing, but I’ve also learned that after too much “peopling” I need some alone time. My husband and I affectionately call in “time in the bubble”, meaning just the two of us. Your personal “bubble” may include your spouse/partner or even a few select people. For some of us, we need time completely alone.
Figuring out what ratio of people vs. alone time works for you is important. And then building in opportunities for you to find that solitude and and recharge is critical.
7. A Break from Responsibility
You can’t be 100 percent every single day.
This is a conversation I had with a work friend not long ago. We were talking about the way we pressure ourselves to give our students our best every single day, and how guilty we feel if there are days when we are exhausted, sick, struggling with some things in our own lives, and as a result we have a “mediocre” day teaching.
I thought about this a lot afterwards. Teaching is a profession that demands a lot from you. It’s a big responsibility to shape the lives of young people. For some kids, school is the most stable and positive part of their day. For others, school is a place they despise, because they are the target of bullying or peer pressure. Some kids come to school ready for new challenges. Some kids come dreading the tasks they will be asked to complete, because it’s a struggle for them. Teachers have to show up to school ready to juggle all of these things in their classrooms, day in and day out.
Teachers take this responsiblity seriously. We want nothing more than to give every single kid an amazing experience every darn day. And we are so hard on ourselves when we feel like we “failed’.
Teachers come to school sick, because we are often short on subs, or planning for a sub is more work than just dragging our sick body to school. Teachers come to school and do their best, despite all the things they are also juggling in real life.
Now, I’m talking about teachers, because that’s the world I live in, but this applies no matter what profession you are in, or even if you’re a stay-at-home mama. Regardless of what you do, it’s just not realistic to expect to be 100% all of the time. And for some of us, we aren’t even satisfied with 100%–we hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive to be 150% every day. You guys, this just isn’t fair to expect this of yourselves.
Look at it like a simple math equation. If you force yourself to dig deep and give 100% (or even more) every single day, you’re going to end up depleted and wiped out. And then eventually you’re going to crash and have days where you’re so worn out, you might be lucky to give 10%, or less. When you set the bar so high and work at a relentless pace, you end up catching every virus that’s going around, or you become irritable with your family, causing stress at home, or you start forgetting important things or making mistakes on other things. Seven days at 150%, followed by seven (maybe even more days) of 10% averages to 80% overall.
Now, look at it like this. If you give yourself permission to have days that are “good enough”, instead of holding yourself to an impossibly high standard, your overall average WILL be better.
What if you had a few days where you were 100%, a couple where you came in with your “A-game” and delivered 150%, and then several other days mixed in where you gave yourself permission to be “good enough” and operated at 85%? Or even a random day here and there where you did your best just to make it through and delivered 50%?
150% x2, 100% x5, 85% x5, 50% x2 = 1325 divided by 14 is an almost 95% average overall! By giving yourself permission to not take on every single responsibility in overdrive, you end up with a much better overall performance in the long run, and you don’t run yourself into the ground doing it.
Taking a break from responsibility may also mean delegating some tasks, or letting other people handle some things on their own. I have sometimes been guilty of taking on too much myself, because the standard of how I want it done is so high that I don’t want to outsource it. That “If I want it done ‘right’, I’d just better do it myself” mindset is very exhausting. You may even get to a point where you find yourself unable to make even small decisions. That happens to me pretty regularly, where after a long day at work where I’ve been making decision after decision, I come home and my husband asks something simple, like “What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”, and I say, “Can you just decide? My brain hurts and I’m decision-ed out.”
Give yourself permission to just go along for the ride sometimes. Let other people take charge and drive for awhile while you rest.
8. Safe Space
To me, a “safe space” means a break from people who draw too much. Let’s face it, we all have people in our lives who fill our buckets, replenish our souls and lift our spirits.
And we likely have people who do the opposite. Just being around them is hard work.
These types of relationships draw on you more than you realize. If you’re like me, you end up playing and replaying every interaction with them, trying to crack the code, solve the puzzle of what makes this relationship so damn hard alllllllll the time.
For me, I get to the point where I need to take a break. I have to make a conscious choice to step back and regroup. I have to let go of the idea that if I just keep reaching out, keep inviting, keep explaining, keep initiating, keep offering, keep hoping….then everything will be okay.
Because maybe it won’t. Maybe it will. Hopefully, eventually, it will. But quite possibly, it won’t. Because relationships are a two-way street. I don’t have all the answers for fixing them, but what I do know is that no matter how much one person wants it to work out, if the other person does not, or at least isn’t ready at the moment, then the relationship will be a drain and source of pain for both sides. And this is where taking a step back to a “safe space” is necessary.
Giving yourself the opportunity to emotionally rest in a safe space that is free from conflict and drama is far better than forcing the issue and flaming the fire on emotions that ultimately burn the bridge between you.
You have permission to rest on your side of the bridge. Disconnect for awhile. Settle your emotions. Reflect. Rest.
If the relationship is one that is truly worth preserving, then both parties may find a way to meet in the middle of the bridge, after they’ve had time to rest and reflect.
But you may also have to accept that the relationship is simply one that won’t continue. Maybe it’s because the other person is not interested in a relationship with you anymore. Or maybe, it’s because YOU have to decide that the price of that relationship is just too high to pay.
So find the people who love you as you are, and support you when you need them. The people who cut you some slack, rather than keep a running list of your faults and perceived slights against them. The people who celebrate your joys and successes, rather than compete. Find the people who fill your bucket, instead of empty it. That is your safe space.
9. Time at Home
My home is my nest.
For me, it’s the place that gives me the solitude I need to recharge. It’s important to me to create our “nest” to be a place where we feel comfortable and relaxed. A cozy, clean, pretty, welcoming home base that allows me to recharge when I come home from a busy, tiring day.
It’s not always possible because of our hectic schedules, but I notice that I feel better and am more ready to start the work- week when we can stay home at least one day on the weekend. Ideally, I like to run all our errands on Saturday, and then just be able to stay home on Sunday, maybe even do some of those other things I’ve already mentioned, like spend time outside, plant some flowers, read a good book, cook a family dinner, work on something fun for the house like a project or craft.
If you find yourself on the go all the time, try working in a day here and there, where you can just stay home. For me, it’s a type of emotional rest and comfort that only comes from being in the place I love, with the people I love.
You have permission to rest…
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. – Jeremiah 31:25
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28