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Take a Break

It is my observation that we as a society are driven by an agenda that no one can quite put their finger on. We wake up to the alarm, bow to the almighty coffee pot, push through our days in overdeveloped multitasking mode, chase every dollar we can, purchase the most items possible, slam more energy drinks, push harder. And then we take downers to try to unwind at night only to find our bodies revved so high that we lay awake staring at the ceiling. Sound familiar? This is all too common and it’s killing us…literally.

Growing up, I was always intrigued by the Aesop’s Fable: The Tortoise and the Hare. Having a type “A” personality in an insanely large and driven family, I never quite understood how the moral of that fable settled. Was the hare really all that wrong in taking a break? Did the tortoise really win by slow and steady effort? It seemed a bit boring to me. Neither character remotely resembled my reality. But as I have grown, I’ve decided that a healthy pace for living is found somewhere in between the two approaches. And are we living a race or a journey anyway? A race demands a host of stressful and negative emotions from pressure to disappointment to fear. And worst of all when viewed in the context of life, a race allows for no down time! But a journey invites you to enjoy the scenery. To stop and explore, and rest in contentment where you are at the moment. Take the journey and feel the tension begin to fade, minute by minute, nightly, weekly and seasonally.

Restful living starts with a choice. What is your minute by minute orientation as you move about your day? Is your perspective one of negativity? Do you find yourself afraid and worried, or more overtly, angry and resentful? Sometimes a negative outlook presents itself simply as constant boredom, cravings and discontent. Sound like you? Or are you living from a positive point of view, full of hope and creativity? When you look at things this way, problems are challenges and giving is a pleasure. But there’s more to it than just how you feel at the moment, your attitude has great power over your physical body. Negativity leads to long term consequences such as diminished energy, tension and sickness. And positivity? Well it leads to life, energy, peace, and a state of thriving. You are in control of your thoughts, make choices that bring you physical and emotional health.

If attitude affects your ability to rest during the day, sleep is paramount to the overall survival of your body. We are designed to sleep! Every night! It’s amazing that it needs to be said, but it does. Combining nights and naps: adults need a minimum of 8 hours, children need 10-12 hours, babies need 12-14 hours and the ill need to sleep as much as their bodies require. When we sleep, our bodies go into a house cleaning mode. We repair, detoxify, mentally process the day’s information, and deeply rest. Without adequate sleep, we begin to deteriorate. It’s a law of the human body. Break it and it will break you. Steal sleep now, your body will require it later. Plus, sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of premature aging due to a lack of tissue renewal. So get your “beauty sleep”. Here are a few tips to ensure a good night’s sleep:

1. Avoid stimulants and alcohol late in the day as they cause insomnia by interfering with hormones.

2. Finish any workouts within 4 hours of bedtime to allow your stress hormones to lower.

3. Avoid an overly full or empty stomach, have a light, healthy snack an hour before bed to keep your blood sugar stable while you sleep.

4. Turn down the lights at night and avoid the computer, TV or any other light you can.  Light stimulates our hormones to keep us awake. We are designed to sleep when the sun goes down and rise with morning sunlight, so try to follow this pattern. And hold the mental stress. Save problem solving for the morning.

Not only do we need a restful attitude and good sleep, we also are built to take days off from the normal grind of every day living. How many days do you work before you take a day ‘totally off’? Reserve at least one day per week to get away from your regular stresses. Like sleep, a day ‘totally off’ gives your body a chance to rest, regroup, and repair on all four levels: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. Without rest days we begin to fall apart, and as our minds grow foggy and chronic fatigue sets in, it takes more effort to maintain a normal level of life. We’re less efficient because we make more mistakes when we’re tired.  So remind yourself, a day off is a credit not a debit. On your day off, do things that bring you joy and rest. You’ll know what those activities are for you if you honestly think about it. My work is very fast paced and demanding. So on my days off, I sit in the sun, read, spend time with my friends, and basically avoid responsibility. Figure out what your needs are and choreograph your down day. A regular, well executed day off, is one of the secrets to living the marathon of life.

The last area to consider is the idea of seasonal rest. Life tends to happen in cycles, be it family expansion, vocational growth or a multitude of other dynamics. Be sensitive to the intensity in which these areas of life function. There are fast paced and condensed seasons of life which need to be followed by more calm periods or life gets too heavy to bear. Try to separate your hazards, so to speak, by dealing only with one big change at a time, such as a job change, getting married, or coping with a death. Sometimes life throws several things at us all at once.  A geographical move coupled with the birth of a baby and a new job will just about kill anyone. Avoid it if you can, but if you can’t, then definitely plan a calm season after these changes in order to find your equilibrium again. You get the picture. If you can afford it, take a sabbatical season; a month, summer, year etc. to live differently. Longer breaks yield rich changes in perspective and creativity.

Layering these four areas of restful living is a bit of a challenge to the typical American mind set, but there’s a beautiful synergy waiting for you if you so choose to implement them. Assess how you invest your time, energy and mind. Take note of those areas you feel you can change and gently begin to shift one habit at a time. Change itself can be stressful, so be easy on yourself, and allow the process to happen gently and organically.  Peace out…

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