Do you do too much? Most of us do a lot; we care for family members, work at a job, do mundane chores like laundry, shopping, yard work. We may also take courses, do workouts, volunteer, have social relationships that require tending. We take online courses for self-improvement. We belong to clubs; we go to parent-teacher meetings. We are busy, all the time.
Our society values doing. Doing is highly regarded: people cannot imagine “doing nothing” and letting that be okay. Even vacations are highly organized events. If they are focused on relaxation, we say things like “I needed a vacation. I work really hard all year and this is when I take time off.” It is almost like we need to have an excuse to rest or relax or enjoy. Almost – dare I say it? – as if there is something wrong with wanting to have some free time. There is more social value in being tired from work than in being tired from playing.
We generally are pretty good at working too much, and pretty bad at taking time off.
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some of us are now required to take time off. We are being forced to do less because our activities have been curtailed, we are socially distancing or self-isolating and many people are not permitted to go to work. This can be a shock to our functioning if we are used to overworking, and we may find ourselves struggling to let go.
Beyond this enormous change in everyday life, there are many unknowns in our future. Even some of the things that we do know are pretty scary, like the nature of the illness caused by the virus. With all of this going on, it is likely that your body and mind might be overcharged or over-activated.
How can you tell?
Here are some ways to check in with yourself.
Notice if you are able to pay attention as you usually can. Distraction sometimes occurs as our nervous systems ramp up. Does it take you three tries to do something simple?
Notice your thoughts. Are you thinking more than usual? Are your thoughts louder than usual? Are they oriented to fearful topics, or stress-inducing ones? Do your thoughts feel like a rushing river, and you are rushing right along with it?
Check out your body tensions. Are you feeling tightness in your chest, your throat, your jaw? Is your lower back aching?
Any or all of these can be due to excess stress or to anxiety. Sometimes we don’t feel anxious, but our bodies are charged up in an unusual way. We may have trouble settling down, easing into relaxation or sleep, allowing our minds to quiet. Those things can tell us that our nervous systems are on alert, even if we don’t actively feel dread or fear.
Here is a radical suggestion. Instead of DOING more, try doing less.
But not just any resting; try constructive rest.
If you are a high achiever, or someone who likes to Get Things Done, constructive rest might be just the ticket. You get to rest and allow your body and nervous system to downshift, and you are doing something constructive! This practice has a lot of forbears, but I first learned of it in a wonderful book called BodyStories, by Andrea Olsen (https://www.amazon.ca/Bodystories-Experiential-Anatomy-Andrea-Olsen/dp/158465354X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=bodystories&qid=1584984957&sr=8-1).
How to practice constructive rest?
Find a quiet space (I know, that might be the hardest part of this exercise). You’ll want to be able to lie down on the floor, so find a carpeted space, or use a yoga or exercise mat or towel to soften a hard floor.
Lie down on your back. You can let your legs stretch out long, perhaps with a rolled-up towel under your knees to help them relax. Or you can rest the soles of your feet on the floor, allowing your knees to rock gently to the center and support each other. Turn the palms of your hands up and allow your body to just lie on this firm surface.
(Don’t rest like this lion; lie on your back. I put him in here because he looked pretty relaxed. And cute, if a large carnivore can be cute.)
Take this moment to notice where your body contacts the floor. Where do you notice the contact? It is likely at your hips, the back of your head, the soles of your feet, and parts of your back and arms. What do you notice, as you wait here for a moment?
Now bring your awareness to the very fact of the floor beneath you. Feel the support and firmness. The floor is connected to the ground, and the ground is the earth. The whole earth is there to support your body whenever you want it to. Is there any part of your body you could let down a little more? Let that happen.
Now notice your breath. You don’t have to change anything, or breathe more deeply. Just allow yourself to notice your breathing as you lie on the floor. Feel the breath enter your body. Feel the breath leave your body. Keep watching and noticing. What is happening in your breath as your body lets down?
Keep resting and watching your experience. If you can stay in constructive rest for five minutes, you’ll notice changes. If you can stay longer, you’ll notice more change.
Notice what you can allow to let go. Notice what parts want to keep holding on, even with your awareness and desire to let go. Consider all of your parts kindly; giving kind attention and curiosity to yourself. What will it be like if I can stay here a little longer? How do I feel about making a move to get up?
When you are finished resting, notice your awareness that you are finished. What is it like to feel ready to move on? Can you find the place or places in your body that are giving you that message? Before you move on, take a moment to assess what you got from this exercise.
There can be something profoundly satisfying in doing nothing and calling it constructive. Try it and let me know what you find out about yourself in the process.
Oh, and helping humanity? Whenever you can exhale and relax, the people around you can also exhale and relax. Keeping a centered, peaceful self helps everyone.