If you find yourself often feeling utterly exhausted, depleted, and wrung out, it might be time to finally take a rest. And I’m not talking about going to bed early one night just to get up the next day and do it all over again. I’m talking about making a practice of pacing your activities so that you don’t continually end up collapsing into bed each night.
It’s understandable why so many people (particularly mothers) are caught up in constant busyness. Our western culture places high value on individual accomplishment. And it can be inherently exciting to cross items off the to do list and see progress being made. Yet this natural drive to create, be active, and make progress can get entirely out of control. Many of us start to measure our worth by what we accomplish. We see a busy calendar and interpret this as a sign of our importance or value. We try to keep up with friends, family and neighbors, complaining about a packed day with a slight sense of pride. All of this incessant busyness can start a self-destructive cycle where the focus on being constantly busy overshadows the purpose of the actual tasks we are accomplishing, and we end up feeling like a rat on a wheel. The eventual consequence is physical, mental, and emotional burnout.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. It may be hard for some to imagine a lifestyle where pacing and rest are valued just as much as tasks being completed. It may be hard to even consider there’s more to you than your accomplishments. It’s time to challenge this self-destructive cycle of busyness.
Creating a practice of pacing and rest is a worthwhile endeavor. The benefits of a well-paced life can be vast: lowered stress, less pressure, better sleep, greater personal insight, richer relationships, healthier body, and more space for meaningful growth. If you’re ready to take a step toward greater wellness, try these strategies.
Assess Your Own Patterns. We must first understand our own patterns before making any changes in them. Think about the rhythm of your day. Notice when you typically seem to run out of steam or feel extra irritable. You might find these are the times you grab an extra cup of coffee or sweet treat or glass of wine. These are red flags that you’ve probably already overdone it and a rest was needed earlier. Moving forward, this will help you to plan time to rest before you get overwhelmed.
Schedule Rest Breaks. The typical worker is allowed scheduled breaks for good reasons. And we need to apply this same practice to our life outside of work too. Think about where you might fit in 15-30 minute breaks two or three times a day. It’s okay to start with just 5 minutes at a time. Try to schedule these breaks before those red flag moments when you’re typically overwhelmed. Common times for rest breaks are during lunch time, mid-afternoon siesta time, before kids get home from school, before you head home from work, before beginning to put kids to bed. You might experiment with choosing just one time per day to begin a regular practice of rest and change it up depending on how you felt.
Make Your Rest Renewing. Many of us need to challenge the notion that being still is equivalent to being lazy or wasting time. Allowing our bodies and minds moments of stillness actually renews us for greater wellness and focus. We are much more effective and fresh after a few minutes on the bench, so to speak. The key is to make your rest time truly restorative. This is not a time to peruse social media where you will naturally be distressed by all the images of people doing things while you rest. It’s also not a time to catch up on the news or mentally scrolling through the remainder of your to do list. And it’s certainly not the time to engage in self-criticism or negative self-talk (there’s really never a good time for that). Instead, try listening to pleasant music, sitting or lying still, watching the clouds, trying a guided meditation, reading a book, taking 10 deep breaths, watching your favorite show, or taking a bath. You may notice yourself struggling to let yourself just rest. This is normal. Keep focusing on the rewards of a well-paced life with less stress. Accept that change is always uncomfortable, and challenge yourself to rest just a few minutes at a time.
Say No & Set Limits. You may find that your typical lifestyle simply isn’t conducive to regular rest and pacing. This indicates it is time to make some tough choices about all of your commitments. Take serious inventory of what seems to suck your time and energy over the course of a typical week. See if you can identify some areas where you can set new limits. Give yourself permission to choose your own wellness over fulfilling everyone else’s expectations or obligations. This will allow you to be much more present and focused on the activities and people you do choose to spend energy on.
Ask for Support. It’s often helpful to make these meaningful changes with the support of a friend. See if someone else in your life can join you on this mission so you can cheer each other on when there’s hard moments. You can encourage one another to set limits and stay focused on the big picture benefits. Finding a therapist may also be helpful if you find yourself struggling through this alone or having difficulty sitting with your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes our busy life can be a distraction from deeper issues we’ve been avoiding, and talking this through with a trained professional can help you better understand yourself and work through these issues.