We live in a culture that values productivity and hard work. How often does someone ask how you are and your response is “Busy!”. Although numerous studies have repeatedly shown the myriad of benefits to taking time off, how many people really think a break will help them reach their goals? I didn’t…until this summer.
After a year of school, building a business, working part time in the hospital, and taking care of my family, I was exhausted! I loved creating a new path in lifestyle medicine since it was in complete alignment with my interests, values and beliefs. Yet, I realized that being an entrepreneur offers no boundaries between work and leisure and the "to do" list is never ending. I also realized that I was still telling people that I worked only two days a week (my “real” job). I was not acknowledging the enormous effort of reinventing myself since that was not yet generating income.
When school ended, most of my classmates were posting what they were doing next but I didn’t know where I wanted to focus my energy. I was pushing so hard for so long that I felt totally depleted. I was afraid that if I didn't start the next project right away, I would lose momentum and fall behind. I also felt guilty taking it easy when I didn't have a viable business yet. But, I was empty and knew what I really needed was to TAKE A BREAK. My mantra is all about self care and I was going to walk the talk. I put the guilt and fear aside and vowed to refrain from scheduling any work appointments on Mondays and Tuesdays, hold off on any new classes or commitments, and keep weekends free for playing. No computer late at night, no incessant “to-do” lists and no multitasking while interacting with my kids. I put away all the books in the huge “to be read” pile and created a space where there was no pressure to accomplish my next task. Most importantly for me, I vowed to keep all social media to a minimum. I would coach my current clients and do business development related activities that I enjoyed in the allotted times, but not try to grow anything. I made space for my brain to unwind and new ideas to come in.
Well, this is by far the best summer I have had in years! To my biggest surprise though, my business is still moving ahead beautifully. I have scheduled more talks and workshops for the fall than I did this whole past year. New potential collaborations, new clients, new projects and new direction are all emerging without much effort or angst on my part. I organized my workspace and put all the pieces in place to move ahead after my kids go back to school. Oh, one other big surprise--so many of those "peri-menopausal" symptoms I was complaining about the past two years have subsided!
Giving myself permission to relax was just the self-care that I needed and the results have exceeded my expectations. Positive psychology talks about the value of time off to increase mood, creativity, and productivity. Relaxing and doing activities we enjoy with people we love increases our positive emotions. This plays into the “Broaden and Build” theory, which states that positive emotions broaden people’s mindsets. An expanded mindset allows for building resources, creating change and developing resiliency. Counter intuitive to our cultural messages, time off and becoming “less busy” can lead to a more productive and satisfying life.
Are there any areas of your life where you need a break? If it is not feasible to take vacation or mental health days, are there ways to change where you spend your energy for a defined period without guilt? Just limiting your time on the computer or in front of TV to spend more time doing an activity you enjoy, or indulging in extra childcare, cooking or cleaning support for "me time" or "we time" can increase your positive emotions. The impact may astound you.