Release the Stigma
We Americans just HATE to sit still. We are always on the go. We wake up, run to the shower, and begin our day, no time to waste. We've got to seize the day, get all the money, please all the people, and live this and every day like it's our last.
I used to wake up to my alarm, stomach-crunch anxious, and literally leap out of bed. Sleeping in was a sin. "Hanging out" was a waste of time. There was work to be done, and work IS LIFE.
I've changed, and I'm here to tell you how I did it.
Shifting from productivity-obsessed to relaxation’s #1 fan wasn't easy. It took me many years to be able to linger in bed, to slow down my thoughts to 10 mph from 70, to take time to stretch and meditate before jumping on the computer. It took years to quell my morning anxiety, to soften my cruise-ship sized load of expectations for each day.
I've learned to stretch out timelines, to allow for mental health mornings, or even days, and to be realistic with myself. As a result, my health is better, my body more relaxed, and I'm more present for my needs and those of the people I care about and the projects that matter to me.
Not only do I feel better, but my productivity and creativity levels have skyrocketed. I have more great ideas than ever.
Does this sound counterintuitive? Maybe not anymore. There are a lot of books and articles out about the importance of sleep and relaxation. Studies have been done on how stress can affect our health and happiness. There's a whole $3.7 trillian wellness industry devoted to helping us feel great and chill all the time, even at work.
So it seems to work, and it has for me.
As a kid and into my late 20's, I was constantly ill or injured. Mostly sinus infections, but I often got the flu, strep, or whatever was going around. Pink eye, even. I was always bumping into things and having to get stitches (3x on my head alone!)
I blame my sickness and injuries on the stigma of REST.
When we get sick, the doctor tells us to rest, but the rest of society tells us to GTFU! (get the f*&$ up). There's too much to be done! You can't miss school, or work, or whatever activity you have scheduled for your week. That would be anti-productive.
The worst thing to be in our society is anti-productive. Anti-productive brings to mind bums, people living off suspect disability claims, trustafarians. Even the wellness industry is constantly calling us to try a new activity or product to help us relax. Sitting still is a definitely a stigma.
So we stay in bed until we feel the fever pass and we are up and Adam again, back at it. Or we feel like taking a day to do nothing, but plagued with anxiety, we feel a deep insecurity that just hanging out would be anti-productive. Slothful, even!
But are we really healing, are we really recovering? Are we really appreciating each of our myriad busy moments?
The answer is no, we are probably not. Most of us would agree that it often feels good to sleep and rest, so why don't we value it more?
Why do we replace relaxation with so many other activities, and relegate this precious non-activity to a one or two week vacation per year? (Which very typically is not 100% devoted to relaxation, since most of us bring our computers, iphones, ipads, our kids).
Some people don't get to rest. They are too busy working to feed and shelter themselves and their families. Rest is a luxury. But many of us in America can afford to relax.
We just don't allow ourselves to do it.
Not resting doesn't make the world a better place. It doesn't make us better people. It makes us slaves to the clock, to deadlines and timelines. We are slaves to the idea that productivity is morally correct. Maybe it’s a vestige of our puritan founders. Or maybe it’s in our DNA as farmers or hunter gatherers or whatever.
Regardless of where the urge to constantly do comes from, it’s pretty obvious that not relaxing is not working out for us.
In reality, we make ourselves worse people by not resting. We are high-strung, reactive, caffeine-addicted, screen-engrossed, think in short-sighted spurts, and burn out quickly. We get stressed, and therefore sick more easily.
We also can't prioritize and be present for the small, "insignificant" life moments, like spending time with our loved ones, because it's simply not productive.
I'd like to release from myself the stigma of rest. I have felt the effects of burn-out. I’ve lived through many years with my chest tight, shoulders hunched, forehead scrunched, holding my breath, mind racing, working until my brain couldn’t take in or spit out any more information.
And I’m finished.
I have benefitted from the myriad gifts that rest can give. Now, while I am working, I unclench my teeth, I take deep slow breaths. I take mental breaks every 30 minutes or so. When I feel the slightest bit ill, if I am able, I sleep in a bit. At the very least, I take it easy that day. I set an intention to be gentle with myself, to make small and slow movements, and to eat foods that will nourish me in my low-energy state. Maybe I do some low-impact exercise instead of hitting the gym hard, like walking or yoga.
I am gentle with myself because I know tomorrow, or the next day, I'll feel great again. I'll be energized, motivated, inspired, and even more creative because I took time for myself. What I will not be is sick.
Honestly, I am still often plagued with guilt if I sleep in an extra hour or watch Netflix instead of working on my new marketing plan. But I notice, the next day or the day after, that I feel utterly refreshed and rejuvenated. I often complete my work in record time, and am super efficient.
I can't explain why I am more creative after I have rest. But as a friend of mine recently said, you can’t explain everything in life. Some things you just feel.
A few months back, I wrote a post called Period Productivity, about the natural cycles that we move through and how those fluctuations affect our work. I think we all have natural cycles of high and low energy, and if we really listen, our bodies can tell us if today is a mindless busy work day (tired), or a totally inspired creative strategy day (high energy).
Every day can't be 100% high energy. It's just not possible.
Life is tough, and yes, work is important. It keeps us fed, clothed, and engaged in the world. We need to work. Many of us love to work (me!).
But why not carve out a little self-awareness in our work day? Next time you feel so tired you need to go get a red eye and a cookie, take a moment to really examine what your body needs. Does it really need a short-term burst of energy, followed by the inevitable crash?
Or does your body want to take a minute? Can you take a few breaths at your desk? If you have a yoga room at your office or work from home, consider laying down on the ground, taking some deep breaths, or even taking a power nap.
If you're feeling bad, but not quite feverish-contagious, consider asking to go home early. Many workplaces are building out mental health policies. You could help your workplace to think more about mental health by asking for a break.
If none of these are possible, consider going right home to rest after work. Skip the gym, the cocktail hour, book club, and go home and lay down. Take a bath. If your mind is racing, put on a guided meditation. Allow yourself to deeply chill. While you’re relaxing, ask your body what it really wants, what it really needs, and listen to it. Follow your body's direction.
I have no doubt you'll wake up the following day feeling refreshed and centered. I hope you'll feel more creative, motivated, and inspired than ever.