A few years ago I got myself into a right old mess.
I was busy, busy, busy ALL the time and ended up with a severe case of burnout. (You can read about it here.) Recovery from burnout is not straightforward. Many people never recover, and most people never return to the energy levels they had prior to burnout. I myself now operate on 80%. And that’s on a good day. The only way I can explain it is that it’s like your body has run in this state of extreme stress for so long (and it can for ages after the original cause of the stress has gone) that it becomes your body’s default setting. Like when you lose data on your computer and you have to reset it to a particular date to recover what you’ve lost. When I experience even just a small amount of stress, my body automatically reverts to how it was during burnout. Yeah, believe me, it’s a pain in the @ss.
Learning to rest is an on-going journey for me.
I haven’t lost my drive to do-everything-I-possibly-can-because-I-don’t-want-to-miss-out-on-something-awesome, but I have learnt to make sure my life isn’t filled to capacity so I have time to rest and just be.
Resting, being idle, downtime, having a siesta, whatever you want to call it is vital for our well-being, and certainly doesn’t seem to be popular in the modern, Western world. We like to be productive. We fill our leisure time with activities and events – hell, we’ve even turned shopping into a national pastime at the weekend. Most people will tell you that their lives are busy. Getting together with friends can mean booking a lunch date several weeks away because everyone is so busy. Our kids are busy with sports (with sports fixtures usually held at the weekend because school time is so busy with study), dance class, karate class, art class, piano lessons and play dates. And this is normal!
Paradoxically, resting can boost our productivity and this is why it is so important.
Some of the world’s best thinkers and inventors came up with their ideas whilst daydreaming. Archimedes had his eureka! moment while taking a bath after all.
So what can you do to stop the ‘busy’ madness?
- Put limits on your weekly schedule. For me this means only having 1 thing on at night during the week (a meeting, family dinner etc.), and only 1 thing on my radar over the weekend (going to a friend’s, doing something fun as a family). Sure, some weeks are naturally busier than that due to special events, but I try to stick to my limits. Finding time to just be idle is pretty darn hard when you have wee ones, but it is possible if your evenings aren’t crammed with stuff. My husband D is an introvert and he needs a lot of down time. I found out early on in our marriage that he simply cannot handle having something scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights. His need for quiet time is helpful for an extrovert-who-needs-to-rest like me.
- Put limits on your kids’ schedules. My eldest tot is an extrovert, but like all little kids she is easily overstimulated. If I wanted to, I could take her to some sort of play group every day of the week. But I don’t. I deliberately keep Tuesdays and Fridays free. Sometimes we go out for a walk or to a park or whatever takes our fancy. But more often we stay home. Occasionally she gets bored, but that’s not a bad thing. Sausage will paint, or ‘read’ her books, play in the garden, or have a dance party with me. Whatever we do or don’t do, it helps her to be a less cranky, tantrumy toddler.
- Ignoring that I just said to put limits on your schedule, I do have one thing I recommend to add to it: Create a weekly rest spot. Choose a day or a half day that is always kept free (except for special events). I’m a Christian, so I try to take the commandment to ‘remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy’ seriously. I’m not always great at it, but I do find that I am a much nicer, more flexible person when I ensure I have a Sabbath day of rest. For me it means that on Sundays I usually go to Church in the morning, and forget about housework all day, except for meal preparation – and even that I try to keep simple. I keep the afternoon free so I can rest or do something spontaneous with my family. Whether you are religious or not, everyone can benefit from having a regular spot for ‘nothing’ in their week. Use it to catch up on sleep, or to zone out while lying under a shady tree, to ponder the mysteries of life – like who really did kill Laura Palmer? Do nothing and try to shake off the guilt of being ‘non-productive’.
Do you have a ‘do nothing’ time in your week?
Part of this post first appeared on my other blog Giving Up Sugar.