My message for this Easter is to do yourself and your loved ones and your colleagues a favour by having a rest. Sleep! Sleep is an amazing restorative not only for the body but also the mind and spirit. All our systems are connected and if one is out of balance then we will suffer some form of reaction. This happened to me earlier in the year. I had been under considerable stress for a considerable period of time. Stress is an insidious thing. You get used to the myriad demands placed on you and the insane pace of life becomes the new ‘normal’ for you. Then another demand comes your way. Initially it is hard to juggle things to fit it in but you do. And that is added to the mix. You don’t notice you are way too overwhelmed until suddenly you get sick. I was not only sick but had a rash. The doctor told me it was a stress reaction. I have never had bad skin so it was a real shock to me. But I took doctor’s orders and slept. I had to go on a course of treatment for general health too. (My doctor is also a qualified naturopath.) It was a shock to me that I even needed this. It is amazing how we think we are looking after ourselves but a little less focus on diet and a little less focus on exercise and a little less focus on relaxation and all of a sudden the body says “STOP!!!” It just collapses and we get the message loud and clear that something needs to change. We need to pay attention to what our body is telling us. We may think everything is fine and we are coping but sometimes we get the message in a shocking way – as I did.
Life is incredibly busy for everyone these days as we all have lots of demands on our time and energy, not just at work but family, community and personal demands as well. Fitting it all in and staying sane can often be a too-difficult juggling act and sometimes we drop all the plates.
What I have learnt is to prioritise. Brian Tracey in his book, ‘Eat That Frog’, talks about having one big priority a day – note only one, not ten – which he calls the frog. It’s not palatable, that particular task, we don’t want to do it for all sorts of different reasons, but if we get it over and done with first thing it will be a huge weight off our shoulders. Not only that, it then leaves us feeling as though we are free to do whatever we want to do with the day so all the other bits and pieces get done effortlessly because we can choose to do them or not as the case may be, so they do not stress us out. Most people attend to these little tasks thinking they’ll just get them out of the way before tackling ‘the frog’ but Tracey explains why, psychologically and physically (because the two are connected) this is not a good tactic. Eat that frog first thing and your day is set.
Another thing I have had to learn is not to work too long into the night. I tend to get ‘second wind’ if I’m not asleep by around 11.00 pm. Then I can’t get to sleep. When I finally do, naturally I am tired the next morning and struggle to get out of bed because I have not had enough sleep. Now I only do an hour or two, no matter how much is left to do, go to bed and read and by doing so I switch off. I have given myself permission to relax and so I fall asleep, waking up refreshed because I’ve had a good night’s sleep. Seems simple and obvious but it was a hard lesson for me to learn. I’ve always been able to cope with high workloads and high stress levels, until suddenly one day I could no longer do it. Stress builds up insidiously like that.
The final thing was to stop work around 5-5.30 (if I’m home by then) and go for a walk or do other exercise. This has to be a daily thing because it’s not about the exercise – it’s about de-stressing. I had got into the habit of not doing this daily with disastrous consequences.
It’s not about any one of these things that causes the problem – it’s about the combination of a lot of little things building up over time. So, this Easter take the advice of Mr Curly from Curly Flats (Michael Leunig’s cartoon character) when Vasco Pyjama asks him what’s worth doing and what’s worth having. Mr Curly replies, ‘It’s worth doing nothing and having a rest.’