Episode 83 (Season 2: Ep 3)
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders, Entrepreneurs, and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
In the last episode, I made the case for why rest and recovery benefit not only you, but also everyone around you, and make it more likely that you are going to reach whatever goals you set for yourself.
Rest and recovery also make it much more likely that you will be able to enjoy your life and whatever you have worked for along the way.
If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, I encourage you to go back and check it out!
I also happen to know that “resting” is easier said than done.
Why is it so hard to rest?
A few months ago, I was having dinner with some of my entrepreneur friends. One of these friends was still recovering from an illness, but she really needed the time with a community, so she didn’t cancel.
Another member of the group said, “I wouldn’t mind getting sick, then I would have an excuse to rest.” I am pretty sure I looked at her and said, “how about you give yourself permission to rest before you get sick?”
Yes, I tell people to rest all of the time now. Including myself. But that is only because I am now intimately familiar with the very real consequences of not knowing how (or giving myself permission) to rest.
You see, as someone who used to try to prove her value and worthiness, and earn her way to perceived safety, and mitigate the chaos of her life through hyper-productivity and performance, I knew how to push myself to the point of collapse. I didn’t know how to rest.
Twice during my first career I woke up, started getting ready for the day, and almost passed out in the shower. And I would think to myself, “huh, you must be exhausted, maybe you need to take a day off.”
That was what it would take for me to give myself permission to take a day off. And you better believe I didn’t take more than one day.
When I was sick, I would take enough time to go to the doctor and get some antibiotics. And then I would go back to work.
For years, I took one day off for Thanksgiving and one day off for Christmas. And for a long time, my two-day “Christmas Break” included 16 hours in the car.
I distinctly remember my irritation when it started taking me more than one day to bounce back from my exhaustion or illness. What is wrong with me?!?! I took A WHOLE DAY OFF. Why don’t I feel better?!
And then there was getting sick on vacation . . . which I can actually trace back all the way to my childhood when I would commonly come down with a strep infection for Spring Break.
In the Fall of 2012, I had four infections at Thanksgiving. And RSV at Christmas.
It’s almost like I would give my body an inch. And it would take a mile. How rude!
So what is underneath our reluctance or straight up incapacity to rest (before we collapse)?
I have spent lots and lots of quality time with the voice in my head and the anxiety that tells me all that I “should” be doing instead of resting.
And all of the terrible things that are going to happen if I don’t keep pushing.
Here are just a few conditioned beliefs and fears that I have wrestled with, succumbed to in the past, and been working to reframe and repattern over the course of my healing journey. Do any of these resonate with you?
We were taught that rest (particularly if someone else is working) is LAZY.
Along those same lines, rest has not been “earned” until everyone and everything else is taken care of.
We believe productivity is a reflection of our worth. In fact, it is the way we prove our worth. Productivity is how we become “valued members of society.”
If we stop moving we may not start moving again. In other words, on some level we know how deeply tired we are, and we aren’t certain we will be able to regain momentum if we stop.
The piles of expectations and “to dos” will just be worse when we come back if we take time to step away. So much so that we might drown in them. It’s better to just keep shoveling the pile.
What if the proverbial sky falls because we were not there to hold it up? And the truth is, we aren’t necessarily wrong . . . if we do not have the right support system or infrastructure around us, slowing down, stopping or stepping away really could have devastating consequences.
We might be desperate for something in our lives to feel like it is “in our control” and checking things off of the to-do list helps life feel less chaotic and overwhelming.
We don’t know how to sit with the feelings that come when we are still. OUCH. I’ll just leave that one there.
We might literally be addicted to the adrenaline that we have been drawing upon to survive.
From the The Power of Full Engagement, “Not only have we been trained and rewarded for behaving this way, working at a feverish pace without breaks may actually be addictive. Stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol fuel arousal and create a seductive rush--the so-called adrenaline high.
When we operate at a high enough intensity for long enough, we progressively lose the capacity to shift to any other gear. Our natural inclination is to push hard when demand increases. Over time we resist precisely what would make us more effective: taking breaks and seeking restoration. In effect, we get stuck in overdrive, unable to turn off the engine.”
The truth is that I didn’t really give myself permission to rest until I was literally no longer able to function. Until I had exhausted my body and mind almost beyond repair.
I was forced to rest. And as I was forced to be still . . . for the first time in decades . . . I was also, ultimately, forced to be present. I no longer had the capacity to live in the anxious future. Because I was just trying to get through the day.
Building my capacity to be present is one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received. And still, I wouldn’t recommend my path to this particular end.
Continuing to give myself permission to rest and recover has actually gotten harder the more I heal and the stronger I become. Because it is easier to convince myself of what I should do because in theory I can. And old habits die hard, even if they almost killed you.
In Try Softer, Aundi Kolber writes, “We’ve been so socialized, parented, and wired to over-function that we don’t recognize when our bodies are stressed, traumatized, and exhausted until the consequences are dire. It’s then, when anxiety and adrenaline have worn us down to a nub, that we find ourselves depressed, exhausted, and disconnected.”
So how am I working to repattern my own fears and beliefs around rest? One decision at a time, with support for my nervous system every step of the way.
Remembering that I have a choice about how I respond to stimulus and that the fears and beliefs I carry around rest are not true (for the most part) or supportive of my well-being (ever).
Re-framing and re-storying what it does or does not mean about me if I am resting aka not knocking things off of my to do list . . . resisting the catastrophizing or the thoughts that tell me if I don’t do this now, it will never get done and I will drown or disappoint someone . . .
Noticing that things often work out for my good when they are delayed (even if delayed by me, by illness, by lack of capacity) . . .
Using my tools to ground my nervous system when I feel the anxiety and overwhelm creeping in . . . taking walks, spending time outside, petting the dog.
Checking in regularly with my actual capacity v my imagined capacity at the time I made my list and giving myself permission to move things around without guilt.
Continuing to evaluate whether I am actually leaving enough space and time in my calendar to do the things I have committed to do for others and also honoring the things I need for myself and to move at a pace that honors my capacity.
Repatterning the nervous system is like building a muscle in many ways. Every repetition helps so long as we are staying within our window of tolerance and of course giving our body and mind time to recover . . .
It turns out that learning to rest isn’t easy. I am often still surprised by the extent to which my nervous system still seems to feel safer in “go” mode.
But I also understand that rest has been the foundation of my return to health and well-being. I KNOW that the price tag for not allowing my body to rest and recover is too high. And I am deeply aware that the only way for me to show up in the world as the best version of myself–the one who can bring light and make a positive difference for others–is if I continue to develop my strength, resilience and capacity to navigate all the things that life brings through rest and recovery.
I invite you to notice the unhelpful fears and beliefs you may have around rest. I know that you developed those fears and beliefs for very good reasons. Likely, because you had to learn to show up in the world in a certain way in order to survive for some measure of your life.
And I invite you to start to engage with resources (from me or others) that may help you start to challenge and repattern the fears and beliefs around rest that are no longer serving you.
Thank you for listening today.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!
The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
Try Softer by Aundi Kolber