When we watched as Simone Biles withdrew from her Olympic competitions, we were shownI a vital lesson: even the strongest of us need time to recover, to rest and recharge. So, as we close out the summer months and the temptation to pick up the pace calls, I am consciously pausing and reminding myself to take note of the lessons I have learned. As Simone said, “We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we’re human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” Too often we feel we have to “give it our all” at the expense of our well-being. We’re eager to prove ourselves and show our teams we’re capable and reliable. This became especially true as many people moved to a virtual work environment for the first time and the lines between work and home blurred. For many, the early uncertainty of the pandemic also led to longer days and less time off. With the changing nature of work, it can feel as though this level of exhaustive determination is now just part of the job. If asked how work is going, we say we’re, “giving 110%,” “firing on all cylinders,” and “burning the candle at both ends.” But if we really look at these phrases and consider what they mean, we realize keeping this pace means there will likely be nothing left of us to give — not to work or to any other aspect of life. We end up exhausted, depleted, and burned out — a feeling that is all too familiar for many people. Well-being should be a priority in our personal and professional lives if we are to thrive in mind, body, and purpose. Growth requires us to add value, find opportunities, and bring new insights, but rest is required for accessing these skills. We are encouraged to make time for our physical, emotional, and financial well-being, set boundaries, and listen to warning signs instead of ignoring them — tasks we mistakenly think will take away from our focus at work and in life. However, when we carve out this time, we find we have more to give to work and everyone around us. We all pride ourselves on having a great work ethic. And we’re missing a “rest ethic.” Having a strong work ethic — without a correspondingly strong rest ethic that we take every bit as seriously — is what’s burning us out. We should see time off as an investment into productivity, and into creativity. It’s so important to commit to recharging our internal batteries regularly. In doing so, we find our reservoir of energy replenished instead of drained and we’re able to bring more passion to all that we do. Yes, our daily demands are calling but we’ll never achieve the growth we are seeking by simply “powering through” them. Instead, we should make real time to unplug and reset. So, while our work calendar fills up with engagements, client meetings, and travel (maybe), also find time to enjoy what’s left of our warm summer days — because the time spent on our own rest and recovery is just as important for our collective growth and success.
Making time for the activities that contribute to your spiritual growth has little to do with being selfish. Modern life compels us to rush. Because we feel pressured to make the most of our time each day, the activities that sustain us, rejuvenate us, and help us evolve are often the first to be sacrificed when we are in a hurry or faced with a new obligation. It is important we remember that there is more to life than achieving success, making money, and even caring for others. Your spiritual needs should occupy an important spot on your list of priorities. Each task you undertake and each relationship you nurture draws from the wellspring of your spiritual vitality. Taking the time to engage in spiritually fulfilling activities replenishes that well and readies you to face another day. Making time for the activities that contribute to your spiritual growth has little to do with being selfish and everything to do with your well-being. Regularly taking the time to focus on your soul's needs ensures that you are able to nurture yourself, spend time with your thoughts, experience tranquility, and expand your spiritual boundaries. It is easy to avoid using our free moments for spiritual enrichment. There is always something seemingly more pressing that needs to be done. Many people feel guilty when they use their free time to engage in pursuits where they are focusing on themselves because they feel as if they are neglecting their family or their work. To make time for yourself, it may be necessary to say no to people's requests or refuse to take on extra responsibilities. Scheduling fifteen or thirty minutes of time each day for your spiritual needs can make you feel tranquil, give you more energy and allows you to feel more in touch with the universe. Writing in a journal, meditating, studying the words of wise women and men, and engaging in other spiritual practices can help you make the most of this time. Making time to nurture your spirit may require that you sacrifice other, less vital activities. The more time you commit to soul-nurturing activities, the happier and more relaxed you will become. The time you devote to enriching your spirit will rejuvenate you and help you create a more restful life.
Have you ever felt exhausted by your work, even if you love what you do? Or perhaps you’ve felt like you were swimming upstream overwhelmed at your growing to-do list and facing the limited hours in each day. If you have experienced this, you’re not alone.
Exhaustion and burnout can take many forms, but signs of emotional and intellectual burnout are often less visible than physical burnout. This ailment is so prolific that the World Health Organization officially characterized burnout as a medical condition in 2019. According to a recent Gallup study, “76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they are burned out “very often” or “always” at work.” The study also discovered that it was how individuals experience their workload that made the most significant impact on their well-being.
Mindfulness supports the development of self-awareness, the first competency of emotional intelligence. When you strengthen this internal capacity, you can discern how you are experiencing and relating to your work. With this knowledge, you can better manage your energy, acknowledge when you need rest and recovery and build capacity for intensive high-performing work periods.
Our world’s current and future challenges require caring and value-driven leaders and community members to envision and embody the future we want to see. In these distinct and challenging times, rest and self-care are essential forms of activism that develop the mental agility and emotional fortitude required to build that future together.
For many years, work culture hasn’t valued rest due to the myth that we are more productive when we power through. This myth perpetuates as we email colleagues at all hours, and they respond—usually within minutes, or when we ask employees to show up early or stay late, and they do. Vacations, where we’re not tethered to working remotely, are almost obsolete. This requirement to be always-on is impacting our well-being and relationships. In the days before cell phones, internet or email, work actually ended at 5 p.m. At today’s pace, there’s limited time for the brain to recover, which is an essential step to building resilience.
Contrary to the antiquated understanding of resilience as forcefully surpassing our limits and depleting our energy reserves, rest and resilience are deeply interconnected. The first step to building resilience is developing a sense of inner-calm; this requires us to press the pause button, whether for a short, 30-second breathing exercise integrated into your workday, or a longer rest period by taking an extended vacation where we fully unplug. Researchers Zijlstra, Cropley and Rydstedt refer to these as ‘internal’ and ‘external’ recovery periods: “internal recovery refers to the shorter periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday or the work setting in the form of short scheduled or unscheduled breaks, by shifting attention or changing to other work tasks when the mental or physical resources required for the initial task are temporarily depleted or exhausted. External recovery refers to actions that take place outside of work—e.g. in the free time between the workdays, and during weekends, holidays or vacations.”
Integrated Daily Self-Care
So how can you create integrated breaks throughout your day for recovery and resilience? The key is to rest the mind, allowing it to pause states of high cognitive or intellectual arousal. Without these breaks, you may deplete your inner-resources and experience exhaustion or burnout.
When we open our computer in the morning and notice the growing list of tasks, it is easy to become so consumed that we neglect our basic needs; hunger, thirst and ‘nature’s call.’ In this heightened state of stress, our nervous system is overactive, leading to increased cortisol, which, if experienced in prolonged periods, can result in illness and disease. Throughout your workday, pay attention to your body’s signals to know when it’s time for a break. How does your body feel as you are working—Is it tensed? Are your breaths short? Are you holding your breath?
Short breaks such as this 2-minute awareness practice can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system so you can recover and approach your work from a relaxed state. When you sense that you need a recovery period, try a meditation, go on a mindful walk or take a real lunch break—without your phone or computer. Brief recovery periods like these improve focus and productivity upon return to work.
Extended Rest and Recovery Periods
Extended recovery periods aren’t solely about taking time off—it’s also how you spend your time off. If you take your vacation days glued to a screen, sending work emails on your days off, you are not allowing your mind to rest in the way that constitutes genuine recovery.
Unplugging can be challenging, especially from our interconnected world. Most managers and leaders do not fully unplug when on vacation, which can unintentionally lead to the breakdown of company culture. Each email you send while on ‘vacation’ conveys a message to employees that time off isn’t actually time-off, and they should expect to be accessible even while on vacation. If your company values employee well-being and you advocate for it, model it by unplugging when you take a vacation. Taking time away from your phone and computer has many benefits, including better sleep, which is another opportunity for you to recover and build the reserves needed for the challenges that lie ahead.
Sleep is crucial for the body and mind to gain external recovery each day though many struggle to get a good night’s sleep. One sleepless night can triple the number of lapses in attention, impair our emotional regulation capabilities, and intensify our negativity bias. To improve the probability of restful sleep, unplug from your devices 30 minutes before bed, set a regular sleep schedule and try a body scan to relax.
Rest and recovery are essential to our well-being and expand our capacity for sustainable high-performance. The emotional intelligence competencies of self-awareness and self-management are critical to discerning when you need rest, and having the mental courage to press pause.
Text by Search Inside Yourself
|Life can often feel like it’s zipping by in fast forward. We feel obliged to accelerate our own speed along with it, until our productivity turns into frenzied accomplishment. We find ourselves cramming as much activity as possible into the shortest periods of time. We disregard our natural rhythms because it seems we have to just to keep up. In truth, rushing never gets you anywhere but on to the next activity or goal. |
Slowing down allows you to not only savor your experiences, but also it allows you to fully focus your attention and energy on the task at hand. Moving at a slower place lets you get things done more efficiently, while rushing diminishes the quality of your work and your relationships.
Slowing down also lets you be more mindful, deliberate, and fully present. When we slow down, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves to our natural rhythms. We let go of the “fast forward” stress, and allow our bodies to remain centered and grounded. Slowing down is inherent to fully savoring anything in life. Rushing to take a bath can feel like an uncomfortable dunk in hot water, while taking a slow hot bath can be luxuriant and relaxing. Cooking, eating, reading, and writing can become pleasurable when done slowly. Slowing down lets you become more absorbed in whatever it is you are doing. The food you eat tastes better, and the stories you read become more alive.
Slowing down allows you to disconnect from the frenzied pace buzzing around you so you can begin moving at your own pace.
The moments we choose to live in fast forward motion then become a conscious choice rather than an involuntary action.
Learning to slow down in our fast-moving world can take practice, but if you slow down long enough to try it, you may surprise yourself with how natural and organic living at this pace can be.
Text by Madisyn Taylor
In the early days of the pandemic, it seemed smart to press pause on major decisions; it’s not ideal to make big changes in the midst of a crisis. But now, several months in, many people are facing difficult decisions — involving relationships, careers, children, health and more — that can no longer be ignored.
“The advice of not making decisions when you’re under stress is great for someone who is in a short-term traumatic experience where there’s an end to it,” says Kimberly Diggles, a licensed marriage and family therapist. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, particularly here in the United States where the number of coronavirus cases remains high, Diggles says it may not be possible or healthy to leave big decisions on the back burner. Instead, she and the other experts with whom we spoke recommend a proactive, mindful approach. Here are their tips for decision-making during the pandemic and other stressful circumstances.
Assess the moment
Stress can negatively affect our cognitive performance, so try not to rush into a decision during a tense or fearful moment.
“When we perceive a threat in the environment, the amygdala” — often referred to as the fear center of the brain — “becomes overactivated,” says Sunita Sah, an organizational psychologist, expert on decision-making and professor of management studies at the University of Cambridge. “At the same time, the emotional regulation center of the brain is underactivated and the prefrontal cortex — which is required for thinking — is also underactivated, which makes it very difficult to think clearly.”
Taking a beat to bring down your heart rate can help. You need to feel less afraid to make a good decision, Sah says. “If you’re feeling really stressed or traumatized, try not to make an instant decision. The first step is to get some distance.”
For people who work in high-pressure environments — such as Elizabeth Clayborne, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center — swift decisions are often necessary. But equally important, Clayborne says, is the self-awareness to recognize when you need to regroup. “I work in an environment where mistakes cost lives. So I have to be diligent to know that I’m always performing to the best of my abilities,” she says. “In the ER where there isn’t really a time to break, I have to be creative to create the space I need to think.” That may mean something as simple as walking to the cafeteria or getting something to drink, she says. Taking a moment, even briefly, to stop or step away is a small action that can make a massive difference, allowing you to reset and then “re-engage in a more focused manner,” Clayborne adds. Pausing can also prevent you from falling into another effect of stress: binary thinking (limiting yourself to just two options).
You wouldn’t take a road trip without gas in the tank, so try to avoid embarking on a big decision when you’re running on empty. This advice might seem obvious, but Diggles and Clayborne say that it’s common for people — particularly in places with a strong hustle or busy culture — to unintentionally skimp on the basics. Missing out on meals and sleep “shouldn’t be a badge of honor,” Diggles says. “Give your body a chance and give your brain the energy it needs.”
In addition to fueling your physical body, take a proactive approach to your mental health. Diggles suggests finding a grounding activity (her current favorite: yin yoga) that will relax your mind in a way that allows you to “practice being mindful and intentional with your thoughts” so that when you start to feel anxious or you’re faced with a decision, you have the ability to talk yourself through it.
Schedule a meeting — with yourself
High-impact decisions deserve your undivided attention, says Cassandra Shuck, an entrepreneur who has launched several successful businesses. “A lot of times when we’re making a decision, we’re often multitasking and don’t give it the full stage.” She suggests blocking out time in your schedule for a “one-on-one meeting with yourself.”
Don’t show up to your meeting empty-handed; prepare a list of questions to help you think through options and visualize a variety of outcomes. Here are some prompts to get you started:
Is this a time-sensitive decision? This can help you prioritize according to urgency and determine if something can be put off. “Buying a new car, for example, may not be time-sensitive. There will always be cars on the lot to buy,” Diggles says. “But something like IVF or trying to decide whether you’re going to home-school your kids or go back to work, those may be time-sensitive.”
What type of energy does it require, and do you have the capacity for that right now? Your capacity may fluctuate day-to-day, Diggles says, so what you need to consider is whether, on average, you would have the bandwidth to carry out the decision once it’s made.
Is it something you were thinking about pre-pandemic? Consider whether the decision was already on your radar. Diggles says asking this question can help you determine whether you’re making a choice to ease uncomfortable feelings related to the pandemic or to move something forward that’s important to you. Avoid making “reactive decisions,” she says.
What might the choice look like down the road? Who does it affect? What happens if you succeed or fail? Shuck suggests fast-forwarding mentally to your future and imagining what it’d be like to look back on your life. Allowing yourself to take this view can provide insight into whether and in what ways this decision is important. And, she says, don’t discount your intuition. While all of the experts warn against making impulsive decisions, they acknowledge that your “gut” reaction can alert you to something significant. “Gut reactions give you information,” says Sah, the organizational psychologist, and when it comes to high-impact, personal decisions, “people have to think about different scenarios and their own comfort with risk-taking.” So, she says, we need both an intuitive, emotional response and a slow, deliberative approach to make good decisions.
What are your biggest fears about making this decision? Diggles recommends doing some “reality testing” on your fears to gauge whether they are genuine possibilities or if your brain is serving up overgeneralizations and binary thinking.
Don’t go it alone
Once you’ve had a chance to think through things on your own, seek support and a sounding board.
A friend, therapist or health-care provider can introduce possibilities you may not have considered. Diggles says this is particularly important but also challenging when making decisions during tough times. “When you’re in the middle of a trauma, the last thing that you want to do is go to something unfamiliar. That can be scary … and it takes bravery to consider options you haven’t before.”
If possible, Sah says, in addition to a support system, invite the insight of people who think differently from you to introduce “cognitive diversity” into the mix. But be discerning, she says: Consider the source and their potential biases. She also recommends physically separating yourself from the advice-giver before you make a decision, if possible, to reduce the effects of “insinuation anxiety” — the concern that rejecting advice will signal distrust to the adviser. Invite input but then make the decision in private if possible. “Even just a few minutes [apart from the advice-giver] really helps you to understand what your own preferences are,” Sah says. “If you need time and space, ask for it.”
If you’re hesitant to seek out advice and lean on others, ask yourself why — and try to push past the tendency to withhold. Oftentimes due to social conditioning or expectations, “women especially do a lot of silent suffering,” Clayborne says. “I don’t think we should feel guilty about asking for support.” She knows firsthand the value of a support system in navigating difficult decisions and uncharted territory: Clayborne was seven months pregnant when the coronavirus arrived in the United States and she continued working in the emergency department of one of the hardest-hit hospitals in Maryland. Two other colleagues were pregnant at the same time and, in facing so many unknowns, the three leaned on each other (and have all since delivered healthy baby girls).
Do your best with what you’ve got
Once you’ve laid out your options, you may find none of them are ideal. “Sometimes it might seem like there’s no good solution and anything you choose is going to leave you at a loss of something,” Diggles says. But if a decision must be made, take a moment to acknowledge sadness about the circumstances that have forced you to make this choice, and mourn the loss.
The good news, Sah says, is that once you’ve decided something, you may experience relief. Whereas, if you’re still hung up on making the decision after you’ve done your research, collected insight and weighed your options, that can lead to the added anxiety of being stuck in “analysis paralysis.”
And once you’ve made a decision, says Shuck, the entrepreneur, go all in. “When you make a decision, most of what matters is actually how you carry it out,” she says. If you halfheartedly commit, the outcome will likely reflect that.
Although decision-making can feel exceptionally difficult right now, times of trauma and upheaval can also provide clarity and unanticipated opportunities to pay attention to and accelerate things that are important to us. “Sometimes traumatic events can be a catalyst for moving us forward,” Diggles says. For example, “we’re seeing that with Black Lives Matter.” (After the police killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans, several million people in the United States took part in protests; the New York Times reported Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in this country’s history.)
Significant change is possible on an individual level as well. A number of Shuck’s businesses have sprouted from times of trauma; two weeks after delivering a stillborn baby, she launched a doula and bereavement business, and two months after giving birth to her daughter and struggling with breastfeeding, she created a lactation cookie company. In both instances, she says her healing process led to helping others on their journey.
“Remember that one of our best human strengths is our ability to bounce back,” Clayborne, the emergency medicine physician, says. “I see it at work — human beings impress me every day, people survive and manage things that I can’t even imagine sometimes. I know people are scared for a number of reasons, but I’ve always felt that I see the true human spirit shine through most brightly when we’re challenged and there are uncertainties like what we’re experiencing right now. We are a resilient species, and I expect great things in the future.”