2021 is on its way. As we bid goodbye to a difficult year and welcome in the unknown joys and challenges of the next one, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on one insight this year brought me.
As a therapist and a caring human, I understand the concept of self-care. Simple, right? Take good care of yourself. I know this is important, and that in order to serve others, I have to tend to my own basic needs first.
If you know me, you know I have a lot of plates spinning, pretty much all the time. But coming down with and recovering from COVID earlier this year led me to take a look at and eventually come to terms with some aspects of self-care I hadn’t been as aware of. This is what I realized: I can give myself permission to do nothing, go for a walk, take a bath or a nap…and then it is also important to notice what my brain is doing.
That’s why I want to ask you: When you intend to unwind, what is your brain doing? Of course, your brain is part of your body, but even when we’re resting, most of us don’t really get a brain break. In my case, I could be lying in a hot bath and still worrying about a list of things. I could be falling asleep, or trying to, while simultaneously problem-solving about any number of things, for instance a tough conversation, a difficult decision, or how to improve my online course. This habit led to considerable fatigue over time, and I had to come to terms with it in order to fully recover from COVID and keep my business, and my dreams, moving forward.
You don’t have to get sick; you can learn from my experience, and I sincerely hope we can all take many important lessons forward from 2020. So I ask you: Are you giving your entire body a break, including choosing kind thoughts that create relaxed feelings? Or are you still running that little checklist in the back of your mind, worrying about a client, friend, or relative, telling yourself about a list of “shoulds” or being mean to yourself about what it means to nap at 3 pm?
I want to talk about this because I think it is likely that a lot of people, like me, may intellectually value the importance of recharging, while missing the most important aspects of it. Allowing yourself to really rest is a critically important part of functioning. Never completely unplugging, and running at a low-grade of worry all the time, is a recipe for burnout, not to mention ill health. But still, our to-do lists expand, and self care falls off the list. How can we bridge that gap between theory and practice?
I want to offer a reframe that might help. We tend to think of resting as “doing nothing.” But, knowing what we do about the importance of rest to physical and mental health, maybe we should reframe resting, and start thinking about it as “fulfilling our most crucial and basic needs.” It’s not the thing you do once you’ve checked everything else off your list; it’s an indispensable part of functioning. I’m sure none of this is news to you, but if you’re feeling fatigued, stressed, exhausted, and burned out nonetheless, I hope this message can be the reminder that encourages you to take a real break.
To ring us into the bright and hopeful new year, I’d like to close with some tips for accessing your parasympathetic nervous system and getting a real break:
- Take a nap
- Have an orgasm
- Bask in a sunbeam
- Listen to some beautiful music while doing nothing else
- Do just one thing at a time
- Get out your markers or colored pencils and make some marks on a page
- Play with your child’s play doh
- Go for a relaxed stroll just for the fun of it
- Take a leisurely bath or shower
- Ask yourself “what would feel positive, or at least neutral, right now?” and do it
- Follow your emotional guidance system; choose the action that sounds like the most fun of the options before you
- Practice thinking thoughts that bring you positive feelings, no matter what you, the weather, or your relatives are doing (or not doing)
Most of all, I wish you health, happiness, and true wellbeing. This is the season for consolidating learnings, rekindling hope, seeking inspiration, setting intentions, and moving together into the deep and beautiful unknown. I’m so lucky to be moving into the future in community with you.