Raise your hand if you have ever spent a day binge watching TV clad in your favorite home-only pants while consuming nothing but unmentionable treats. Keep your proverbial hand raised if you winced when reminiscing upon this glorious memory. Of course we all have these days and feel this tinge of guilt over the culturally “weak” moments. But, why? Why do we coat a day of rest with derogatory laziness but praise a day of rushed and hurried stress with “I was so productive today”? We all know it feels great to do nothing every now and then - the lightness of freedom when you have no plans! So why feel bad about it?
Think about the past summer season. Were there constant weddings to attend? Baby showers? Soccer games? Days are packed with hot yoga, running red lights, and brunch with the girls. After the birthday party, sports game, or playdate I’m sure there are dinner plans and off-the-clock work emails - because days off are relics of the past.
If you have ever described experiences like these as “stressful” think about how much of that insanity is self-made. Andrea Stanely from the blog Girlboss explains that “when we fling around those words, the underlying message is that we’re kind of a big deal”. I understand this overall perspective comes from a certain place of privilege and socioeconomic status. A large portion of our population carries an overwhelming amount of stress due to financial, health, or other circumstances that are out of their control. For those who are fortunate enough to enjoy the extra curricular bustle, listen to the language you use when narrating your experiences. A word like “Sedentary” holds a negative connotation while “busy” and “swamped” are generally positive. Be mindful of negative self-talk towards days of rest or overly positive descriptions about stressful times. It is a completely natural response for your mind and body to yearn for rest. A productive day is not better or worse than a “lazy” one.
So, why do we feel obligated to be stressed? One reason may be because “we link our behavior, our performance, our productivity, with our self-worth,” said Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D, LCSW. We have a value system that treats busyness as an intrinsic skill we should all be using. I recall feeling this way in school. There was a sense of urgency to accomplish a list of tasks before I could feel good about the day. I challenge you to observe your self-talk throughout the week and think about how you could speak kinder about your productivity and overall success.
Stop feeling guilty on over slow days. Allow your mind to release its clenched focus on “doing” and praise yourself for finding stillness. I am not suggesting you ignore your children or disappear without notice. Amid the epoch of burnout, just pause. Literally take a deep breath and ask yourself why you are actually stressed. Even if the scenarios are out of your hands, it is still in your control to spend energy on things you truly like to do! Think about the ways you spend your time and you may find that your best ideas come during quiet, care-free, and low energy situations. The deadlines, the appointments, the endless tasks will be there when you return.
Before you begin comparing your jam packed days with your neighbor, remember that every body is different. Your needs are just that - yours. Our rest requirements are as unique as our circumstances and vary greatly each day, month, and season. Just because your coworkers are killing themselves to put in 80 hour work weeks does not take away from your healthy 40 hour commitment. My goal is to break the stigma of doing less or seemingly doing less.
I am aware that all of this is easier to preach than physically achievable. So how do we do less? Ironically, science tells us that the highest success rates start with scheduling in time for rest. If you are the type of person who’s career is your hobby or has a family that demands attention, begin by setting boundaries within your daily or weekly schedule. Then, decide how you will spend that time. This is where most people fail to achieve R & R - they haven’t decided what they will do with this new space. Start pondering low intensity activities such as walking the dog, reading, or calling a friend. It does not have to be a grandiose or lengthly endeavor. The important thing is to be all there. Be present, appreciate, bask, in the nothing that you are doing. You may find that shifting your mindset to actively enjoying your passive days elevate the other areas of your life. Some may find it inappropriate to equate binging a show to self care but too often wellness is not defined in an accessible way. The point is to engage in something that feels effortless and drop the guilt! If you need more examples and exercises in being mindful, I highly recommend Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.