I’ve always been one of those people with a naturally busy mind that finds it hard to switch off. Brimming with ideas, sparking with excitement, always looking for the next thing to do.
In a lot of ways it’s great. I mean, it’s what gives me drive, passion, the urge to explore…
But over the years I’ve definitely had to learn how to deal with it. I’ve discovered that there’s a fine line between busy-ness and stress, between constantly wanting more and being discontent, between constantly thinking and anxiety.
I’ve had to find ways to manage my own mind (it’s one of the reasons I first got into yoga) to quieten myself down, to learn to be okay being still, doing nothing.
I never used to be able to be happy doing nothing. “Chilling out” was a foreign concept to me, and it’s got so bad at times that I’ve gone through stages where I literally didn’t know how to just stay in at home and sit in my room and just….do nothing.
I’ve learnt the hard way how important it is to learn to just “be”.
And it’s not just me. We live in a culture where busy-ness is a currency, a validation of how successful we are, how popular we are, generally how good we are at “life”.
The people who work late and are always the last left in the office are deemed to be the ‘hardest working’ or the ones who are best at their jobs.
The people with the busiest weekends and jam-packed social calendars are always seen as the ones who are the least lonely, the ones having the best time.
It seems funny to me when I see it now, because I realise that the secret is actually in being able to do the opposite.
I go crazy at my friends who boast about “never having taken a sick day” or who stay in the office until 10pm. I worry about the ones who always have to be out doing things in their free time, or surrounded by other people.
It’s all too easy to cover things up with busy-ness and convince yourself that you’re busy all the time because everything’s just too damn good. I can tell you now that I know the exact opposite can be true.
Don’t get me wrong – there are times when busy-ness is great and sometimes having a lot going on can definitely be a good thing.
But you have to know when to stop.
And actually, the thing is – listening to yourself and knowing when it’s time to stop, take a step back and look after your damn self is actually really hard. Way harder than just adding more to your calendar and telling yourself you’re too busy to take a break.
Doing nothing means having to face how you feel, having to prioritise yourself. And that’s something our busy-obsessed society has made us feel guilty to do.
It’s almost as if we’ve been taught to think that self-love is selfish or self-indulgent. That we should feel ashamed to say no to things and defend the importance of taking time off or looking after ourselves.
We shouldn’t feel like we’re failures for sometimes just needing to do nothing.
I’m pretty sure that’s where my incessant busyness used to stem from – the idea the world seemed to be telling me that I was only “good enough” if I was doing.
Well, eventually I learnt that I was already enough just by being, so now I just listen to myself.
The thing is, our bodies, our gut instincts, the little voices at the back of our minds – they all actually know when we just need to stop and they tell us all the time. The only trick is to surrender to it and start listening to the urges that tell you what they need. We think our minds are the boss, but actually our bodies will always show us what we really need deep down.
So now whenever I get that feeling? I make sure I stop, and do something that’s going to nourish me. It can be anything, small or big.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying no to whatever plans I’ve made and spending the evening re-watching countless episodes of Gossip Girl in bed (I’ve seen it so many times but it’s my go-to when I just need to relax and switch my brain off)
Sometimes it’s cooking a yummy meal that I love or ordering my favourite takeout. A lot of the time it’s getting out some essential oils and having a bath with my favourite playlist on repeat.
Sometimes it needs more and means taking time off. Whether that means taking a sick day, booking a holiday, or going away somewhere relaxing for the weekend. Working for myself can make it harder in a lot of ways because you can feel like you never totally switch off, and holidays are mostly working-holidays.
I am usually quite good now at knowing when I’m getting burned out, but sometimes (actually quite often at the moment) I realise that I can go through weeks where my weekends and evenings are always at least ‘half-working’. Sometimes I have to actively force myself to have days off where I don’t look at my laptop or make notes about work.
My favourite thing to do when those times come is to get a change of scene. Plan an evening out that really gives you that weekend feeling. Go away for a night or two to somewhere in the countryside, with different scenery and open space where I can get back into nature. Book a spa weekend to fully switch off. If I can, then switch off my phone while I’m at it too.
There’s nothing as important as looking after yourself, and for some reason it feels like we’re all only just remembering that now, in 2019!
We’ve been living in the “do more” culture for so long that we’re only just realising it’s doing less that actually makes us feel good.
If you’re anything like me, or how I used to be, then it can seem like a cycle you’ll never get out of. The only answer is to keep taking baby steps.
Factor a few “stop” moments into your day where you get that time to switch off. Have a favourite mug and tea flavour that makes you instantly relax whenever you pour it. Make sure you get outside and sit in a park or look at the sky on your lunch break, have curfews for your electronics in the evening and boundaries of when you’ll answer emails or look at your screen until at night.
Practice just being and doing nothing. Eventually it will not only get easier to give yourself more and more time, but also to notice when you need it.
Writing this post has made me realise that it’s a practice that never ends. I’ve definitely slipped for the past few weeks and haven’t been switching off nearly enough – succumbing to the guilt of ‘needing to work harder’ on my business projects, always having half a mind on my work or sacrificing my weekends.
But baby step by baby step, we can all change the way we think about self-care, stop feeling bad for taking care of ourselves first and maybe eventually that mentality will soak into the rest of our work and life cultures too! Here’s hoping for a healthier way of teaching us how to live in the not-too-distant future.
….now excuse me while I go run myself a bath and book a Champneys spa day!