2008, 7 years ago- I had rushed into an unhealthy high drama relationship right after a divorce. I was also starting a new business with 2 business partners- an experience I was very unfamiliar with and tested my confidence, self worth, and skills on a daily basis. I was all over the place. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, I lived on coffee, and I was stressed out over time and money. I felt pulled in a thousand directions. In my mind, I thought that as long as I was going through the “right” motions that I was doing fine. Get up, put on the heels and make up, smile, go to work, pay bills, make sure everyone is happy, etc… that it was enough. It wasn’t until a very sudden and unexpected series of panic attacks 3 years later that would debilitate me for hours and sometimes days that I began to question the way I was choosing to live my life. I had to face the fact that I no longer wanted to do what I was doing- in any area of my life. I was unhappy at work, I was stressed out at home, I felt like a terrible mother because I was spread so thin between a failing business that I secretly hated and other peoples drama, my body was constantly sore even though I wasn’t working out, and my priorities were completely upside down but I felt lost as to how to reorganize the mess I was in. At the time, I didn’t yet have the tools to understand the signs and symptoms of burn out. The panic attacks were a sign that my body was crying out for rest. My mind was crying for silence. My heart was crying for healing. Where does one find the reset button?
The secret that was missing from my life that completely helped me to shift and reorganize myself was within some essential and much avoided downtime. I believe we live in a society that expects us to be 100% all of the time. When we constantly push ourselves way past our limits, we end up becoming less productive, hence the need to unnecessarily work harder to fix things we messed up in our tired and stressed out state. We lack the time and energy to address and make positive changes and the build up from that can become unbearable. Stress causes certain hormones to be released in our body that make us unclear in our minds, over reactive, and cover up emotions that tell us to rest and recover. I think more people are functioning in a burnt out mind-state than we realize. Humans were not meant to be robots or machines. We require downtime. Without it, we begin to slowly shut down and lose control over our lives.
Some physical symptoms of burn out are sudden weight increase or decrease, increased resting heart rate, headaches, sleep disturbances, irritability and overreactions, dehydration, pain, low immune system and illness, hair loss, nail biting, sugar/food/alcohol/caffeine/drama/& substance addiction, accidents, negativity/worry/fear/panic/anxiety, and poor performance in any or all areas of your life.
Eventually, I had to learn how to listen to my body’s signs and signals that it was time for downtime. We all have cycles and rhythms and I began to learn to recognize when my body was in a down cycle- which just simply means to redirect my focus on receiving to balance the giving. Just like your breath, you are inhaling and exhaling right now- a perfect balance of input and output. If this cycle is disrupted, you fail to live. If your personal cycle of input and output is disrupted, you fail to live as well. Recognizing the need for downtime means that we begin to honor our cycles and admit as individuals and as a culture that it is completely ridiculous and insane to think we will always be 100% without the right breaks. We don’t expect our cars to function without stopping to fill up their gas tanks and make sure the oil is right. Animals don’t naturally push themselves to exhaustion, they innately know that in order to be productive in hunting, they need to rest first. We are no different. As soon as I stopped the insanity, I recovered my life. I replaced the panic attacks with gentle self care. The reset button is worth pushing. Not only is it normal and okay to say “STOP” and to find your “NO,” it is absolutely imperative to draw healthy boundaries to drama and overexertion.
Downtime is not “crashing”. Crashing is symptomatic- where we have worked ourselves into an automatic situation where we engage in oversleeping, illness, accidents, or in my case, panic attacks. Crashing is non productive, there is nothing that rejuvenates or realigns you during a crash. Another form of crashing is engaging an addiction to a stimulant or a sedative. Neither of which help you to regain the mental clarity and physical capacity to make the necessary changes you’re avoiding. Zoning out on social media or TV is also NOT an effective way to reboot. You may be “resting” however laziness is more of a result from overworking when the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and rarely does anyone feel energetic, clear and ready to take on their lives after a Netflix binge.
Here are the essentials if you want a productive downtime.
1. Functioning under a constant burden of stress is like trying to fly an airplane with the wheels unlocked and the flaps down. There’s more ‘drag’ and greater resistance against which much of your energy is wasted. De-stressing means that we are deflating or letting go of burdens. Practice just letting go. Either through meditation or through prayer, talking to someone or writing down everything on your mind so that you can “get it out of your head”. In extreme cases of stress, you may even have to leave a situation to detach and let go.
2. Your best ideas often pop-up when you’re most relaxed and in free thinking mode. While working under adverse conditions may provide an adrenaline surge to meet deadlines, it really isn’t a great way to spur creativity. The most successful people I know take time to just daydream and visualize. They lie out in the sun, spend time reading an inspiring book, or just simply gaze out of a widow and daydream. You can also indulge in a creative endeavor like painting, music, or dancing. I recently received a grown up coloring book as a gift, and I love the things I consider and dream about while losing myself in creativity. By the way, daydreaming is NOT worrying. It’s using your imagination to visualize the success or outcome of a project. It promotes relief and rest.
3. Taking time to relax lets you review your performance and see how well things are going. What needs adjustment? Is something out of balance? Are you doing what needs to be done? Who can you delegate to? These answers are easier to find while you relax. This honest reassessment time is valuable to your happiness and success as it leads you to make corrections to stress-forming habits and situations.
4. Taking time in your hectic schedule to break away from work and rejoice in what you’ve accomplished can be a forceful drive to achieve even more. If you can’t do this daily, shoot for at least once a week. And if you can’t find something big to celebrate, celebrate the small ones! Once I was able to list my priorities, it was easy to see where I needed to spend most of my time. It also became easy to accomplish things because I knew I would celebrate and congratulate myself for marking things off of lists and completing tasks. Bringing fun into your day is an essential part of honoring your downtime.
5. While routine creates success and security, a short ‘vacation’ from the hustle and bustle of your typical work-day can help ignite the passion and excitement that got you started and fired you up in the early days. Capture that spirit, in a small way, through relaxing breaks from the routine. Other ways you can rejuvenate are to leave your building for lunch, go for a walk, try something new, take a scenic drive home, get a massage or some sort of pampering, engage in yoga or workout to release stress from your body and rejuvenate your cells. Hydrate!
6. Honor bedtime: It is crazy to me to think that we can go from watching screens, being in bright lights, and having noise all around us and expect that our systems will just shut down because our head is all of the sudden on a pillow at bedtime. One of the best changes I ever made was to honor the downtime we all need every single night. 30 mins before bedtime turn the screens off and dim the lights. Do things that will inspire sleep like essential oils in a bath, tea, reading (an organic book with pages, not a kindle or tablet), stretching, writing in a journal, and meditation. Allowing a consistent downtime of actual rest and relaxation before bed might just be the best thing you ever do!
7. “When you get nervous, focus on service”: I love this saying from Doreen Virtue and the angels. Sometimes the best way to honor our downtime is to get out of our own lives, and serve the needs of others. One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to delve into other peoples lives and help them create their own success. Being able to share in other peoples breakthroughs and positive changes really inspires me, it fills my cup, and definitely rejuvenates me.
The point of honoring your downtime is to give you time away from your mundane life so that when you return, you do it with vigor, new insight and ideas, and the energy to be even more productive and successful. Great managers and bosses recognize that overworking employees just doesn’t work. They will get way more out of the people who work for them when they allow adequate breaks and downtime. You will find the same thing about yourself. Just as I have implemented downtime into my life, you will also find that you can finally accomplish the things you have been talking about, achieve more than you thought you would, and most of all ENJOY what you are doing and who you are becoming. Downtime is important; it’s necessary, and life changing.
What can you do today- RIGHT NOW- to honor your body’s natural cycles?
Clarity is powerful, you can live a life of grace and ease when you make powerful decisions based on CLARITY!
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