These days, it’s not hard to find a challenge to take on. As I scroll through my social media feeds, I see so much encouragement for me to “crush” my goals and join my friends and family on multiple challenges every day. Even as we go through a global pandemic, affecting every area of our lives, we find ourselves being pushed to do more, lose more weight, eat healthier and be more productive. At times, life can feel like a pressure cooker, a steady rise of expectations with no relief allowed.
For some of us – probably many of us – it can be harder to stop working so hard and take a few hours to simply relax and recover. So much of what we hear and see these days is all about doing more: crushing your goals, getting up earlier, eating better, exercising more and harder. More, better, faster NOW. Even when self-care is mentioned, it can often feel like even more to do: oh great now I have to add a daily meditation and yoga routine to my day on top of my job, feeding my family and now homeschooling my kids. It feels like there is so much on us, it seems like stopping to take a break is impossible. Even when there are no specific external pressures, many of us put a lot on our own shoulders. We hold ourselves to high standards and beat ourselves up when we feel like we’ve fallen short.
In reality, none of that is sustainable. If we don’t give ourselves the permission to stop, our bodies will do it for us. I’m not sure exactly where this comes from for me but I’ve always put more on myself than others have asked me to do. Even in my teenage years and in my twenties, I was pushing myself to go harder, be better and do more. I knew deep down that I couldn’t continue to beat myself up for not doing good “enough,” I knew that stressing over everything wasn’t healthy but I couldn’t figure out how to give myself the permission to stop.
Unfortunately, it took the death of my older brother to serve as a wake up call for me. My brother was a dedicated father and employee: he was always driving across the state for work and then back to see his daughter; I remember being afraid that I’d get a call that he had been in a fatal car accident but in the end that wasn’t it, it was a stroke that took his life instead. His internal system, after years of stress pressure building up over time, had broken down and he was gone. It was a trauma for me but also a wake up call. I had to ask myself: is all of this worth it? Is pushing myself to the limit every day in order to “crush” my goals really what I need or want for my life?
The truth is, I love a good challenge. I’m competitive by nature and enjoy getting things done and achieving new accomplishments. I naturally wake early and am easily motivated to get going and push through difficulty to reach my goals. It took many years of Zen practice, becoming a parent and going through the grieving process for me to finally learn, in a deep and fundamental way, the importance of taking the breaks I need for self-care and recovery. Like coming up for breath, I have learned that if I don’t take the time I need, I will hurt myself more in the long-run. Success isn’t achieved through constant pushing the limits and constant effort, success is really a process that occurs over time and includes times of rest and times of activity.
These days I have learned to prioritize recovery time as even more important than productivity and accomplishment. I put recovery higher on the priority list because I have seen first hand that if I don’t make time for breaks and plan for them, they won’t happen. Something will always seem like a higher priority in the moment if I haven’t already put my self-care at the top of the list. I have also learned that while short breaks every day are important for me, I need to take a full day “off” from time to time. It can take many hours for me to truly unwind my stress and feel rested. For me, that means stepping away from work and even parenting responsibilities for a while and the only way to do that is to plan ahead and get support from the people in my life, my friends, colleagues and my partner. I’ve found that the people in my life want to support me but I need to ask for that support and not just keep my nose to the grind stone, expecting them to see my struggle. I think that is often the hardest part for a lot of us: giving yourself the permission to slow down, ask for support and actually block out the time you need for a break.
Sometimes it feels like the world is constantly pushing you to do more, be better and achieve every victory. Achievement is great, completing a hard project feels good but everything has a cost. It’s important to give yourself the permission to slow down, stop and rest from time to time. You deserve a break and you will be better and stronger once you’ve taken the time you need to rest.
Until next time… take a break!
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