Ah, summer… when the pace of life slows down. It’s a time for lazing in the sun with a book… taking a nap… for really taking a break… making time for self-care. Does that describe your summer? Me either.
For many of us, summer actually brings a bigger to-do list. The work demands keep coming. If you’re a parent with kids at home, the kids are out of school, which means more to juggle on the home front. Summer is also the designated time for vacation – which takes planning, packing, and working around the clock to get your job commitments well enough in order to extract yourself from work. And then you return from vacation to a mountain of emails, and wonder whether taking time off was really worth it. I don’t mean to be depressing. I’m just saying that for many of us, the notion that summer is a restful time doesn’t always ring true.
But it needs to.
Most of us know that we are not at our best when we’re at full-throttle for prolonged periods. The human brain and body need rest. I’ll bet you know exactly how the lack of downtime affects you – whether mentally, emotionally, physically or interpersonally. So we owe it to ourselves and others to attend to our own personal renewal. We know this, but it’s hard to heed it in our culture, which worships the god of ’24/7.’ In his wonderful book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer makes this simple, eloquent case for taking time for ourselves:
Self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.
Many of my clients are intimidated by the sense of self-care, because it sounds like it’s going to take a lot of time and money – both of which can be in scarce supply. But, happily, there are infinite ways, limited only by your own creativity and resolve, to clear the decks. Here are a few ideas to prime the pump:
- Take a longer vacation. Have you ever found that it wasn’t until Thursday of your one-week vacation that you finally feel rested? That’s because many of us are routinely calling upon adrenaline (the stress hormone our bodies supply when we respond to stress or demands) to get through our days. Adrenaline was intended by nature to provide a short-term burst of chemicals to a short-term threat. But when we call on adrenaline for long spans of time, it can take about five days of non-stress to get that chemical out of our system. A longer time off can give you the time to detox from adrenaline and then sink deeper into a restful state that is actually restorative.
- Take a “staycation.” Sometimes the hassle of travel really eats into the restfulness of a vacation. With some planning and discipline, a stay-at-home vacation affords you the opportunity be “off-duty” right away – without having to stage a military operation to get you and your family out the door.
- Boycott your computer. Set aside times where you do not check email or social media. I don’t care how placid your own life might be – if you’re on Facebook or twitter these days, your adrenaline is pumping. We should not distance ourselves from the world’s troubles, but we may need to disengage for a period in order to right ourselves. And trust me – your niece won’t suffer if you don’t “like” her picture of the lava cake from last night’s dinner out.
- Embrace the principle of ‘sabbath.’ All of the world’s wisdom traditions tell us that time for rest, reflection and reconnection with what really matters is an integral part of a life well-lived. Religious or not, most of us intuitively recognize this as true. Sabbath can be ‘scaled’ to fit within almost any life, no matter how demanding. A nano-sabbath might be taking a 30 second break at mid-day day to breathe deeply and ‘clear the decks’ from your morning. Or what about a mini-sabbath? A former boss of mine used to take a 30 minute walk at lunch – without fail. At a particularly demanding time in my own life when I was serving a multitude of other people’s needs, I set up a structure of “sanctuary Mondays” where my only commitment was to do nothing for anyone else. As a sole practitioner, I had the flexibility to do this. I lost revenue, but I regained my footing. Larger-scale times-out include things like retreats and sabbaticals, which, sadly, we often don’t consider unless we’re in bad shape.
- Enlist support. The world doesn’t usually hand us opportunities to rest. We have to claim them, and we often need others’ help to stake those claims. Ask your spouse, neighbor or family member to watch the kids for a bit. Ask a co-worker to cover your calls for an hour. Sign up for a class with a friend – because it’s easier to show up for yourself when you’re showing up for someone else.
We all need to challenge ourselves to take a break from challenging ourselves. What better time than summer to ‘clear the decks’ in any way we can?
Need a little help clearing the decks? Take an hour to use our InPower Workbook on Starting Fresh (free!)