Avoidance. Taking a break. Filling my cup. Delaying the inevitable.
All of life is a balancing act. I believe most people have more goals, tasks, or demands than they could possibly accomplish in a single day. Whether it is children who need attention, job or school tasks that demand completion, or relationships that require tenderness and time, we are all pushed to our limits.
I am in a season of incredible demands on my time. I am currently working full-time, nearing completion of a doctorate degree, and teaching a class at a local university. I’ve begun jokingly referring to my life and stress level as a category of hurricane. For instance, “Guys, there are seven toddlers coming to class today… what could go wrong? My life is like a category 5 hurricane.” It’s a good day lately when the category or hurricane was deemed to be three or less. I long for the days when I deal with the winds and demands of just a tropical storm level life!
The winds, rains, and hurricane categories will not abate any time soon. And yet in all of it, I cannot maintain the same pace of life; I need breaks. Real, guilt-free, purposeful breaks. My brain, heart, body, and soul cannot run this fast and deal with constant hurricane-force winds without real and serious repercussions. I’ve tried to be mindful of such strains on my body over the past several months. Those fingers that go numb because I slept wrong or the headache that hangs on longer than normal or the stress-filled dreams are all indicators of a need to care for myself. Caring for my body is crucial, but I am trying to be just as attentive to strains on my soul.
Whenever I have control of my schedule, I schedule weekly breaks. Real, intentional, purposeful, life-giving breaks. During these times, I don’t do school work. I don’t check emails. I don’t write dissertations. Instead, I create margins in my life. I watch movies, and take naps, I go to theme parks, have lunch with friends, I make crafts and do all the many, many items that get pushed off the edge of my plate on a daily basis during Cat-5 hurricane days!
There was a long period of time where I felt selfish for these actions. Like I was filling my world with too much “me-time” or feeling guilty for taking a break. I have been thinking a lot about the difference between procrastination and self-care. The difference to me is that procrastination is focused on task avoidance. I procrastinate when I don’t want to do something, when it feels overwhelming, when it isn’t fun. Procrastination is, at its core, saying “no.”
Self-care, on the other hand, is choosing to say a deep and resounding, “yes!” to something better. It isn’t primarily saying no to an undesirable task, but saying yes to something even more important. Self-care is saying yes to rest, to life-giving experiences, to reminding myself of my limits and my worth. My sanity and health are more important than any paper than could be written, any grade that could be assigned, any project that could be completed, or any course that could be taught. Self-care is not selfish. It is pulling away in order to re-engage at our best. This realization has let me take breaks without guilt. The tasks will never fully quiet. Even when I graduate and the semester is done, the pulls for my time and attention will continue. I am training myself to distinguish between procrastination and self-care, and to choose the best yes. Sometimes the best thing I can choose is to take a break.
How do you practice self-care?