There are a million self-help books out there (I just made up the statistic, but it sounded so professional, didn’t it?). There are probably five million self-help blogs out there. And we aren’t even talking about the pseudo-psychological help-y bloggy-internety things populating the world wide web. How can any advice I could possibly give about lifestyle or mental health stack up against all that?
Because it’s fresh, that’s why. Because reading about my last 48 hours, you might just catch the whiff of the raw, real, true moment of a genuinely human life in a genuine human experience.
So, this is me, telling you that you should probably take a break.
BUT ONLY IF YOU READ THE SENTENCE AND THOUGHT TO YOURSELF, “I literally do not have time to take a break.”
If, on the other hand, you read that and thought, “You know, maybe I am more stressed than I thought. I could probably use a break. Yeah, that sounds nice… to have a bit more time.”
The former person is working up to an unhealthy relationship with stress. The latter is probably doing okay.
I would know.
I’ve been both.
Not to over-react, but when you prioritize other things over your health and wellness, your health and wellness begin to suffer. During my psychology studies in college, I learned that stress can cause allergies, infections, muteness, insomnia, and then all of the normal symptoms we’re familiar with. It might take six months or more before damage occurs. It also might be six days. But the damage is rarely irreversible, so just calm down. Stressing about stress is a dreadful sort of spiral to get involved with: let’s nip that in the bud.
Let us be perfectly clear: I am not telling you to quit the job that’s demanding weeks of overtime, I am not telling you to buy a yoga mat and a starter-pack of essential oils while simultaneously looking up the definition of ‘mantra’ in a dictionary, I am not telling you to take up meditating, and I am not telling you to flee to the high country on a hardy mountain pony with several weeks of supplies and water with no intention of returning until you need to restock and check your email.
All of those are extreme reactions to extreme and prolonged stress… and probably won’t help as much as you need when it comes to having a healthy relationship with your stress. Because, and let’s be honest, most of us don’t have the luxury or riding skills for that last option anyway. Waking up in the snowy woods… packing everything in your saddlebags… nothing but the woods and your horse… no need to care for anyone or anything but your own belly and warmth…
Anyway. The summer season up in the mountains was a busy one – it always is. However, last summer, I found I had time to keep a decently clean house, keep a decently good tan, and even manage a decent bit of writing. The last twenty weeks were a different story. I would work, come home, collapse, manage to eat something, and sleep before repeating the cycle. For several years, I’ve avoided getting the seasonal cold which always sweeps through our staff mid-season, but burning the candle at both ends meant that my immune system went offline in the worst way. It took a while for me to come back to full health; when it did, it was because I gave everything I could for myself when I wasn’t working.
Without children, a boyfriend, or even a pet, it wasn’t too hard. I fully acknowledge that others might not have this luxury.
I say all this to preface one thing: I have slept in for three days off in a row, and I spent nearly all of yesterday doing exactly as I pleased (having put necessary chores to bed or on hold), and the result has been extraordinary. I feel more like myself than I have in six months.
Stress, and our ability to handle it, is not unlike our ability to handle junk food. Some people can do it all day every day and maintain a healthy weight and cholesterol. Some people break out after eating a handful of M&Ms. Will a few fries kill you? Probably not. Will a steady diet without any nutritious food make your gums turn black and your teeth fall out? Yes. Yes, it will.
Don’t overreact to stress. Don’t underreact to stress. You might not need a major life change to come back to a level balance.
But, maybe, just maybe… take five. Take a sick day. Correct, center, and charge back into battle with a second wind.