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Give it a rest

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.

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How to keep going when you’re running on empty

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Somehow we survived the week.  I’m still not sure how.  You know the sort of week where every day just draaaaags and all you want to do is go to sleep until it’s over?  The weeks where you are absolutely running on empty but there is no fairy godmother in sight, so you just have to keep on going?

It wasn’t even an unusual week filled with traumatic happenings.  Nope.  Just a run-of-the-mill week here in Tahwero.  Chip is sleeping well finally – one night he even slept right through!  And yet D and I are to-the-bone-exhausted and worn down.  But there is housework to do, bills to pay and two tots to wrangle so there’s no stopping.

Here are my tips to help you get through those times when you just want to yell ‘Stop the world!  I wanna get off!’

  • Look after yourself first.  By this I mean make your priority to get yourself back on deck.  We are no good to anyone when we are running on empty.  It’s really easy to neglect yourself when you have demanding little ones, but make sure you eat lunch too.  And if it’s not junk food, that’s even better.  Your baby will survive screaming for 3.12 minutes while you have a shower.  Get to bed as soon as you possibly can at night.
  • Do the bare minimum of housework.  What ‘bare minimum’ means will be different for you, me and your neighbour who always has a sparkling clean house.  For me it means throwing clothes into the washing machine, making sure everyone gets fed and that the dishes are put in the dishwasher.  (You’ll note I haven’t mentioned putting clean clothes or dishes away…)
  • Rest whenever you possibly can.  Now you notice I didn’t say sleep.  For many people taking a nap during the day is a physical impossibility because you’re at work (and you suspect your boss might not be impressed if you start snoring), or you’re looking after multiple kids, or you just have a million and one things that must be done today.  Resting – just taking yourself off somewhere quiet for 10 minutes while you have your lunch break can make the world of difference.  If you’re a parent this brings me to the next tip:
  • Use the ‘electronic parent’ (TV)/tablet/PlayStation or whatever might get you a few minutes of peace and quiet.  Before I had kids I had high-minded ideals about not letting my kids watch television before they were two.  While we are very strict about how long Sausage can watch it for, I have yet to discover that her brain has rotted due to watching Peppa Pig when I am knackered or sick or just plain need to get something done.  If I take a wee break while Sausage catches up with her favourite porcine friend, I am often a much calmer and better parent for it.
  • Cancel/postpone/put off any extraneous stuff you have going on.  Say no to parties, meetings, ferrying your kid halfway across town for archery lessons.  If your brain feels like it might implode with trying to juggle all the things going on in your life – stop juggling.  You might pick up those balls again in a week or two, or you might decide that some of those balls are the reason you’re running on empty anyway and they need to go.
  • Ask for help.  I know a LOT of people who really struggle with this last tip.  They want to be seen as capable (which they usually are) or don’t want to ‘bother’ anyone.  But here’s the thing: people want to help you.  There are people in your life who have walked in your shoes and will help you without judgement.  There are people in your life who you’ve helped in the past who would love to return the favour.  There are people in your life whose day would be made because you have done them the honour of turning to them in your time of need.  Without the help of my family and friends – whether it’s childcare, advice or just a listening ear to rant to – I would be a gibbering wreck.  Ask. For. Help.

 

Do you have any advice on how to keep going when you’re running on empty?