Do you get enough down time? I hope you do, but there's a good chance you don't. Our society makes it a major challenge. Even our cats can’t escape the grind!
Now a confession: I am a chronic busy body.
Many of us are. We live in a culture that glorifies busyness, being constantly productive, and prioritizes work over sleep. At least that’s my experience.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I have a very tough time relaxing. This has always been the case: I don’t sleep deeply, I need to move a LOT, and I need to feel like I’m accomplishing something.
This has been especially true while I’m in the process of growing a personal training and wellness business in the age of social media. I can ALWAYS be doing something “productive.” I can always be posting, sharing, commenting, and networking or advertising in other ways. I can always be thinking…and thinking about thinking.
Besides simply trying to earn a living in a market and profession where nothing is guaranteed, I want to help people everyday. As many people as possible! So naturally I feel guilty when I spend any significant stretch of time in my perceived “unproductive” status.
Here are some of the thoughts that run through my mind:
“Who have I helped today?”
“What have I actually accomplished?”
“I’ve been just sitting here for a few minutes…doing nothing? I better get my ass up!”
“I’m tired. Do I deserve to be tired? Can I justify resting?”
Does that sound at all like you? This mindset and attitude is definitely not healthy long-term, so something has to change! I’m not saying you shouldn’t be working hard and putting in hours, especially when it’s necessary and you have mouths to feed.
You have big goals, and that requires big time commitment and consistency. I get it. I’ve been there. I’m always kinda there in some capacity.
It’s fine to be busy and work your ass off, the key is to figure out how to carve some down time for yourself, and with yourself.
Not with your phone. Not with your TV. With YOU, and maybe with some people who help you relax and feel good. Find what works best for you.
Part of this process for me (it’s a constant struggle, but I’m working on it) is to re-frame what productive means to me. Yes being productive is good. But sometimes a nap is the most productive thing you can do.
Sometimes sitting alone breathing deeply for a few minutes is most productive – and can facilitate more clarity and efficiency in your thoughts and work, respectively.
Sometimes simply pooping without your smart phone can give your brain just enough of a rest that you feel refreshed when you get back to your desk.
There’s a zen saying (not involving poop):
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes per day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
The benefits of meditation and adequate sleep are well-documented in research. No matter how busy you are, or how many responsibilities you have, you MUST make time for yourself. All aspects of your life will improve. It’s not easy to make these changes, especially if you’ve conditioned yourself to be “on” at all times. Busyness and checking off to-do lists can become an addiction that is difficult to break.
It may not surprise people who know me at all, but it turns out I’m really good at being “on.” I can expend massive amounts of physical and mental energy for long stretches, and I can flip the switch to hypermode on days when it really shouldn’t be possible.
But believe me, it always comes back to bite you: mood disturbances, massive energy fluctuations, disordered eating, altered mental function, and much more. If you want to be the best version of YOU, adequate down time is essential!
Here are some things that have helped me, and that you can do to find the down time you need and deserve:
DOWN TIME STRATEGIES:
1) Take a few deep breaths:
This is amazingly effective. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, or just haven’t had any time to yourself in a while, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. 30-60 seconds. It will help.
Yes, I know when you’re highly anxious and stressed, deep breaths aren’t always possible. Focus on making each successive breath just a tiny bit bigger. Visualize your lungs and your diaphragm expanding and contracting.
If your breaths continue to be quick and shallow, try fully exhaling first. Push it all out and you might find that you can take a deeper breath.
There are many little moments throughout the day that can bring some peace. Identify them and take advantage...
I’ll say it again: poop without distractions. Free down time. You even get to sit down!
Eat your meals without distractions. Focus on the textures and flavors you’re experiencing. Chew more! This has lots of benefits.
Red lights? Public Transportation? Traffic Jam? All great deep breath opportunities!
Exercise: cut your workout short by a couple minutes (or 30 minutes) to focus on mobility, stretching and breathing. That’s the most important part anyway.
You’re busy, you like checking things off – so schedule “down time” sessions. Treat them like any other important appointment.
Turn off your phone:
We become so attached to our phones that they drain our focus, attention, and energy without us even realizing. I tell myself not to check my phone, but it’s hard! I hear it vibrate from the other room, and I have a compulsion to investigate, even if I’ve been sleeping.
If I’m not expecting any important calls, I find it’s much more effective to completely turn the phone off. It can be surprisingly liberating.
Sit or take a leisurely walk outside. Find someplace quiet if you can, and just observe. Maybe find an isolated trail or spot in the woods.
If you don’t get obsessive-compulsive about it, organization can be a major help. Writing out your daily, weekly, monthly priorities and obligations can help your mind relax and be more present.
Keep a pen and paper by the bed:
Does your brain keep you up? Does it prevent you from letting go and relaxing? Write down anything going through your mind, and it may help you turn off and get some rest.
Of COURSE this my favorite. Play is the ultimate meditation. You don’t have to think. What is playful and fun for you? What are you good at? Try doing it by yourself. Playing by yourself isn’t sad, it’s empowering. You can do something fun with just you, anytime you want, and you don’t have to worry about anyone else.
Maybe you don’t do this at all, so you don’t have ideas. Just explore what feels good, it can be anything:
Roll around on the floor.
Catch food in your mouth.
Spin in circles till you’re dizzy, then go the other direction and see how well it offsets the dizziness (highly variable).
Throw a ball off the wall.
Throw frisbees and chase them.
Kick footballs and chase them – do a fun exercise for every bounce of the football before you scoop it up.
Pick stuff up with your toes and put it in a bin…time yourself to see how many things you can move in 5 minutes.
Play solitaire. Roll dice. There are endless possibilities.
Find something that you like and that is completely engaging for you.
Yes, I HAVE done all of the above by myself. And so much more!
I hope this can help some of you, I know it helps me tremendously – even just to acknowledge and write about the struggles. I'd love if you'd think about this stuff, and try to squeeze in just a little bit more down time to start.
Really invest some time and effort into turning off. It’ll be the best investment you ever make.
I enjoy hearing from you, let me know what you think, and if this helps you out!
- Brian :)