It’s early August, those last few weeks when we crave catching some much needed R & R and diving into down time. Yet for many of us the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends phenomenon persists.
There are external stressors, of course, the deadlines and meetings and back-to-school supplies to run out and buy, all of which require presence of mind, focus and action.
Then there are the internal stressors, our beliefs and habitual self-talk, that keep the candle burning. “I must work harder to get it all done,” so you stay up too late working. Or, “Who can take time off, I have to get this (project, rollout, load of laundry, etc) done before I can . . .” at which point you overfill your calendar with details.
To top it off, if life happens to sprinkle in something extra, like your sister’s surgery or a product launch, or you simply have to juggle summer childcare with two working parents, well then, your stress levels expand exponentially in a snap!
We know that burning the candle at both ends eventually leads to collapse—physical, mental, and social, even spiritual. Such stressed out exhaustion leads to decreased energy, lack of motivation, and loss of focus. We see it in others, yet are blind to it in ourselves. The candle burns.
So yes, you may truly need some R & R, in the same way your next breath is vital. This could take many forms: a long weekend, an extended vacation, or switching off your technology for an afternoon with a push of a button.
To garner the reserves to recover from long-term stress—burning-that-candle-at-both ends–our bodies require time and space to renew our energies. Time and space.
Simple, yes, though challenging to cultivate and absolutely essential. Building the muscle of resilience is key to working with life’s never ending stresses.
By definition resilience is, “the ability to bounce or spring back into shape after being stretched, bent, or compressed.” If you’ve ever felt stretched too far, bent out of shape, or pressed into a ball of roiling stress, you’ll know the internal longing to bounce back, to ‘feel like myself’ again. Yes?
The good news: resilience can be developed through your intention and practice. One essential practice is self-renewal. Self-renewal is an active commitment to build your capacity (muscle) to be with the stresses of life which allow a quicker recovery.
The first step is to allow yourself to notice a need for self-renewal, even if only for a few minutes–a time for pausing, taking a step back, creating space in your life. This may come in a flash as you realize how fatigued you are in the middle of the day. Or, when you realize you’re tired of fighting: the kids, your partner, the deadlines, life. Or, when you notice that something you love to do: golf, garden, grandkids—well, none of it sparks your interest.
Next, move toward creating a realistic plan for renewal and let others in your life know your intention. Get support from those who care about you, who want you to enjoy life fully. This third step, verbally letting others in on your plan, seals in your commitment into action which leads to the fourth step: actually taking action (vs. planning for it, scheduling it, or simply yammering on about it—I know this trick!).
Here’s where I had to take my own advice.
For many of the reasons listed above, I just wasn’t quite myself this past year; I was off. Nor did I believe (all last year!) that I had the time, and certainly not the space, in my life to reclaim my energies, to gather myself together, to rest and renew. I had to work harder, move forward, hold it together. I had believed the internal self-talk, and I, too, had become exhausted.
The first step for me came when I was sitting in reflection one morning. I felt an overwhelming yearning (like a fist turning in my chest, it moved me to tears) to be out in the woods, away from my phone, the calendar, the office. I wanted a momentary respite from my life. That realization took my breath away.
My second step involved talking to my husband about this yearning and my idea, now a felt need, to get away for a few days. To clear my head, to be out in nature, to pause for whatever life was right in front of me, unfolding.
Finally, I moved into action by contacting the venue I’d hoped to explore. Believe it or not, they had availability for me on the days I’d hoped.
I took off three days, driving straight for the rolling hills of central Michigan. While I labored over whether I could actually afford to take those days off, this action step in self-renewal created space for bouncing back and building resiliency, and proved essential to reclaiming myself and my energies.
Once tucked into the cozy, knotty pine cabin in the woods, I sat in the quilted chair looking out the window into the green saplings all around. I read. I hiked. I napped. I swore off technology and turned off my phone. I created art. I read some more. I sat some more. I hiked some more.Those three days in the woods proved to be just what the doctor ordered: quiet, nature, beauty, hiking–space for all kinds of feelings and pent up stresses to move through me.
My mind quieted. I relaxed and opened to each moment, without trying to make anything occur. My perspective expanded and with it more flexible thinking to respond vs. reacting. I was nourished.
I witnessed a terrific summer storm one night, with bright lightning and crashing thunder all around. The storm brought new life, and fresh growth in the morning; the greens were greener, the air full of dewy possibilities. I learned, again, that change is as inevitable as that storm and that a regular time of self-renewal is as essential to me as breathing.
Action Steps: Commit to a plan of pausing each day, of taking a step back from your current situation, no matter how brief. This is the first step in cultivating self-renewal. Then, reflect on a plan that will provide you with time and space and generous nourishment; reflect some more. Share your ideas with a loved one or friend and commit to taking action—today. Increase your own renewal and resilience and extinguish that candle for good!