By Alison Hill.
In this world of 24/7 responsiveness, it’s easy to become weighed down by being busy – feeling that we’re at everyone’s beck and call, reacting rather than reflecting. And this can come with a huge cost to our health, because when we’re working at a rapid pace, sleep, nutrition and exercise – the essentials for maintaining the energy to keep going – go downhill. This is a state of self-harm; not in a harsh, brutal way, but in a subtle, martyr way. We lose sleep worrying about the tough conversation we must have this week, we toss and turn about getting that project back to the boss, and wonder where the creative inspiration is going to come from to nail the kids’ costumes for book week. We wake up, pour coffee on our worries, grab food where we can and eat it on the run – fast and nasty is usually the choice – and the most exercise we get is running to catch the lift to another meeting. Our sleep, nutrition and exercise drop off at the expense of energy and vitality.
Self-harm versus self-calm
From a physiological perspective, when we’re in self-harm, our bodies respond through our sympathetic nervous system – responsible for our body’s ‘fight, flight or fright’ response. When it kicks into gear, we’re alert to our environment and ready to respond. Our adrenaline is pumping and then cortisol takes effect for good measure. This concoction leaves us feeling ‘on edge’ and, while this is an ancient defence mechanism, when the response becomes chronic it can affect our bodies in various ways, including increased risk of heart conditions, weight gain, reduced immunity and ongoing fatigue. All this creates a fertile environment to engage in further self-harm, which is code for a packet of Doritos and wine by the bucket.
Although we might be getting a lot done, true success comes through finding a way to turn up the best version of ourselves.
Self-calm enables us to shift from our sympathetic nervous system into our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the calming response in our bodies that’s responsible, among other things, for our ‘rest and digest’ response and down-regulating both blood pressure and temperature. The parasympathetic response slows our heart rate, conserves energy and launches activities that occur when our bodies are in rest, such as effective digestion. In terms of brain response, our ability to think rationally, make clearer decisions and view a situation through an optimistic perspective is heightened when our parasympathetic response is in control.
Being switched on to making decisions, being present in conversations, and being able to motivate action are so much easier when we have slept well, eaten what nourishes us and looked after our mental wellbeing. So, it’s time to be self-kind, self-supporting and self-caring.
Be purposeful about pausing
The busier you need to be during the week, the more important it is to carve out moments of downtime. Don’t delay these. Be purposeful about pausing, and realistic about the moments that help you reset.
If you sit outside on a fine day and read for 10 minutes, that juggling act you’ve been maintaining is less likely to fall apart. If you have a nanna nap on a Saturday arvo, no one is going to talk about you (or if they do, it will only be out of jealousy). Just remember that it’s not the person with the most leave entitlement who wins. Stop waiting until later to address overwhelm. So, breathe, carve out space and relax with the same ferocity you work with. Your body, your productivity and your peeps will appreciate it more if you stop delaying the downtimes.
Don’t forget that one of the greatest gifts you can give to those around you is the best version of yourself turning up refreshed and revived.
Alison Hill is a psychologist and co-founder of Pragmatic Thinking, a behaviour-and-motivation-strategy company. An international and in-demand keynote speaker, she is also the best-selling co-author of Dealing with the Tough Stuff, and Stand Out: A real-world guide to get clear, find purpose and become the boss of busy (Wiley $27.95). For more information, visit www.alisonhill.com.au or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.