We're just past a quarter of the way into 2016 and once again we are busy; busy working, busy playing, busy dreaming, busy achieving, basically we're busy being busy. Unfortunately, this isn't unusual; in fact it is the "American Way," so I guess I should be used to the constant pressure to do it all and to be everything to everyone. Well I'm sorry but I just can't do that, I have to call a flag on the play. I am at a point where I have never felt more tired, been more stressed out, and existing at the end of my rope than I do now. Something has got to give.
As a working mother of two young children and someone who is notorious for taking on too much (read not being able to say no), my wellness, health, and overall well-being is being compromised and it's all (ok not all but mostly) my fault. So what am I to do? How can I turn things around? If you are like me, you have the tendency to do everything because you can. You might even take pride in the feeling of accomplishment you get from ticking items off the to-do list. If you are at the burnout point like me than it is time for a little introspection, time to sit back, take stock, and to realize that just because you can do everything doesn't mean you should. There is always a trade-off. While you may be able to do a lot, you also need to consider what is being lost/sacrificed? I know it is gratifying to get things done and to "slay" at work, at home, and in life, but if you are coming home completely spent, your patience has worn thin, you've begun to give up doing things you used to love including exercise and healthy eating, socializing with friends and loved ones, pursuing favorite hobbies, etc. you will eventually end up feeling bitter, resentful, tired, unfulfilled, and unhappy.
The way forward is to change our priorities. If we don't value health and wellness over other pursuits, the things that matter to us most will begin to fall apart. I realize I can no longer sustain burning the candle at both ends and I've come to the point where I need to slow down and stop doing certain things or I most certainly will suffer the consequences. It's true, especially for Type A personalities, the feeling of dialing down or scaling back can be scary, but it doesn't have to be. Here are some ways I've found to re-claim my sanity, peace of mind, and energy that don't require me to make sacrifices in terms of time trade-offs:
Make Time For You
In order to make the shift you have to commit to yourself first. I always say, "If you can't take care of yourself you won't be able to take care of anyone else." Make the commitment to eating healthy, regular exercise, and a good night's sleep. Remember this isn't a zero sum game, you can make gradual changes to your daily routine to start re-introducing into your life these essential elements and the first step is putting yourself at the top of the to-do list.
Exercise Anyway Possible
The key here is moderation; start by doing what is easy. I work on the fourth floor in my building so a trick I use is to take the stairs whenever possible. I take the stairs coming off the metro, and take the longest route to the cafeteria at lunch. Another trick is to request a standing desk so you can switch positions throughout the day instead of remaining sedentary. With a standing desk, I am able to do leg lifts, calf raises, squats, and even lunges at my desk, (when truly motivated) and more. I try to force myself to stand at least 30-60 minutes in short 10-15 minute intervals (or longer if it is a good day) over the course of the day. If this seems too much, start with what works for you, and commit to walking up one flight of stairs per day or making yourself go for a lunchtime stroll around the block or out to the food trucks. The trick is to get moving and to find non-time consuming ways to incorporate exercise into your day. If running is your thing, this can help with figuring out scheduling.
I know it seems counter intuitive, especially if you are counting calories, but don't skip meals. Eat and keep eating. When we skip meals we tend to crash and are 9 times out of 10 more likely to grab an unhealthy snack, like soda, coffee, a candy bar, or donut because it is fast and easy. According to every health magazine every written on the subject of healthy eating, frequent eating every few hours and being prepared, as in bringing in your own food and snacks, so that you have healthy options on hand will make you less likely to grab an unhealthy alternative.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), and no surprise to anyone, sleep is essential for health and well-being, yet millions of people do not sleep enough or suffer from lack of sleep. The truth is that everyone's individual sleep needs vary but the NSF says the optimal amount of sleep for adults ages 26-64 is 7-9 hours. Initially 7-9 hours seemed impossible to me between work work, life work, restless kids, and the running to-do list in my head that seems to require immediate attention in the 2-4 a.m. window, but once I gave myself a hard lights out time and stuck to it, I immediately began to feel better overall and became more productive and efficient at work.
If you live a stressful, busy, and constantly on-the-go life, then following these steps will help diminish those stressors by improving your physical, mental, and emotional health, thus making you a priority again.