Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Take Time To Breathe

I’ve been going about a million miles an hour for quite some time now. I’ve honestly lost track, and have commented more than once around the office lately that it has been Monday for about six months now. Most of the activity is of a positive nature, on a personal level, though it can be stressful on a professional level. It is personally positive that I have been officially trusted with the level of responsibility that I have been unofficially carrying for several months, and I enjoy the challenge, but it can be difficult to find a moment to breathe under the increasing workload. Finding a moment to write - or at least to write anything that isn’t a business plan, training material, or similar professional material - has clearly been nonexistent.

Still, it is imperative that we do occasionally take time for ourselves, and it would be useful to examine some of the ways we can do so, even when we do not believe that we have the time to do so. One of the easiest tools to use for self care on the go is music. I don’t even want to contemplate what kind of mental shape I would be in right now without my headphones. I really do believe they should be an approved medical expense. There are days when I seem to spend twenty six hours a day in meetings, so I don’t always have my music available. It might take me all week to get through a two-to-three hour playlist. When it’s available, though, music is a lifesaver. I may not get much, but there will be a few minutes a day, every day, when I can plug in the headphones and pretend that everyone else just goes away. Believe me, that matters.

We all have our favorite songs, and the songs that are the right songs for the current mood or activity. We may not all be as obsessed with music as I am, but we can all benefit from use of music, even in small doses. Music can tie into and even alter your mood, it can motivate when you’re starting to flag, and it can drown out the overly loud phone call in the next cubicle. Music often has the added benefit of being able to be used while you are doing something else. It is probably not recommended during some group activities, but it’s fantastic when you’re crunching numbers and compiling reports.

Take a walk. It doesn’t even have to be exercise to be therapeutic. Just get up and walk. We often get locked into what we are doing and we forget that the body is not accustomed to prolonged periods of inactivity, but we need to move around from time to time. You may not be able to go outside and work up a good sweat, but surely you can make a circuit around the building at least a time or two during the day. If you can’t, it might be time to reevaluate your daily activities and time management, because you’re probably overloaded somewhere, and that isn’t good for you either.

If you can get out and do some exercise walking, that is even better. It’s good for your physical health in all sorts of obvious ways, but it is also good for your mental health. First of all, taking care of your physical health is a good start toward taking care of your mental health but, even beyond that, fresh air and physical activity help to clear out the cobwebs. It’s a nice reset button, and your brain could use a periodic reset, especially if you’re spending hours and hours staring at a computer screen under unnatural lighting, as so many of us do.

If you can’t get outside and do some real walking, though, you should still try to get outside. Worst case scenario, you’re buried under a pile of work that just has to get done no matter what, you can afford to spend five minutes standing on the back porch watching the ants carry someone’s picnic across the top of the fence. More to the point, you can’t really afford to not spend a few minutes outside. The human mind can only take so much focusing on one point before it loses its edge and the mistakes start to pile up. If you don’t let yourself get up and reset from time to time, your work will suffer and you’ll end up costing yourself more in the long run.

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes you have to slow down to get faster results. There’s an old saying that asks, “If you don’t have time to get it right the first time, how will you have time to do it again?” Slow down. Take breaks. Give yourself time to breathe, and give yourself time to get it right. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors when you glue yourself to a chair and only do one thing without stop. You, or someone who ends up replacing you, will just have to do it again to correct the mistakes that become inevitable eventually.

Take the time to breathe. Say a prayer, count to ten, meditate. I don’t care what you call it, just take the time to breathe. I don’t mean that automatic stuff that keeps you alive. I mean mindful breathing. Be aware of you, your breathing, your environment. Take it all in and be it all, even if for just two minutes. If you spend just two minutes with your eyes closed in focused breathing four or five times a day, you will feel the difference. You’ll feel more settled, you’ll be more comfortable, and you will almost certainly find that you are more productive. Waste a few minutes here and there, and you’ll find that they’re not so wasted after all.

In the end, it’s about taking time. We all have things that we have to do. We have to get the kids to school. We have to pay the bills. We have to do the job that gives us the income needed to get the rest of the stuff done. All of these things are necessary, but they’re not going to keep getting done if you don’t remember to also take care of you. If you don’t get an oil change, your engine will eventually seize up and you will simply stop going. It won’t matter how much you have to do then because none of it will be getting done.

It’s an easy thing to forget. I forget it all the time, but it is critical. If you don’t take time for self care, you won’t have time for anything else. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will happen. You can’t keep going a million miles an hour without breaks. Neither the body nor the mind can maintain that pace. Use the tricks I’ve mentioned here or find other tricks that work for you, but you have to do something for you. That really isn’t option if you want to keep doing those things that need to get done. Take time to breathe before you run out of time.

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