The cornerstones of balance for me are rest, healthy tasty food, exercise, being outside, time in silence, family/friends, and creative self-expression. Since I started a new job, and have been dealing with the stress that seems to inevitably come with change, even positive change, I’ve neglected every one of those things. Over the years, and with some helpful coaching, I’ve become much better at putting my own needs first, and considering others’ requests respectfully, but secondarily. Living with a chronic digestive condition and a chronic pain disorder have taught me that I need to do this if I’m to have the energy to address others’ requests at all. But I’ve also realized that I’m a bit of an adrenaline addict. One of the things I enjoy about working in an I.T. organization is the opportunity to work with smart, curious, interesting people, solving interesting problems. I get all fired-up about solving something difficult, or getting something finished, and will stick with it like a dog with a bone, until I’m exhausted.
After a few sixty-plus hour weeks and too-late nights, the inevitable happened – I crashed on Friday last week & spent most of the weekend recovering. By Tuesday the digestive condition made itself strenuously known and for 2 days I’ve been unable to eat even broth without pain. I should know better. I do know better. So why don’t I do better?
I know I’m not alone in this, in putting myself last because other things seem more important in the moment, or because we think that if we don’t do it, whatever “it” is, it won’t get done (which is often true). For me, in that moment of pressing obligation, or compelling knotty problem, or request, whether actual or even implied, from someone I don’t want to disappoint, the long-range commitment I made to myself work out, mediate, be outside or write seems less important. I tell myself that skipping it “just this once” isn’t so bad and I’ll “make it up later, when I have more time”. Even though it’s not “just this once”. Even though “more time” is a myth. Even though the consequences are and will be a bitch and I know it. This is not awareness. This is not mindfulness.
I wish I could say confidently that I’ll never again get out of balance, burn myself out, and then have to work my way back to health, but I’m not there yet. I’ve been doing more yoga, which is making me more mindful of my body and hopefully able to respect it more in future compelling moments; to make the connection that a workout or meditation session skipped is the start of the slippery slope. To honour my health even, and perhaps especially, when the “approval-whore” in me raises her head and I’m afraid to disappoint someone. Careers these days are marathons, not sprints, and if we’re going to survive the distance, we have to take care of and protect our energy. Yet even as I write that and know it’s truth, I know the next time I have to make the choice between the compelling and the long-term, I’m going to find it difficult. Progress, not perfection – that’s the goal.
So, in light of that, here are a couple of resources that I’ve found particularly helpful, when I’m fried and need to recover:
1. “Tired of Being Tired“ by Jesse Lynn Hanley & Nancy Deville. This is my burnout recovery bible. It’s wise and immediately helpfully and covers all facets of recovery from food to exercise to mental attitude. I always go back to it.
2. “Spent” by Frank Lipman, M.D. (I think the recent reprint of this book has been renamed “Revive”). Another good recovery program – the restorative yoga poses are excellent, especially the Shoulder Release. There are some good recipes for smoothies and healthy lunches and dinners as well.
3. “Slim Calm Sexy Yoga” by Tara Stiles. I know the title sounds a bit sketchy, but this book is filled with doable 15-minute yoga routines designed to address a variety of goals from losing weight and getting fit to digestive issues, anxiety, insomnia and lots in between – they really work.