Think of the last time you caught up with a friend you hadn't talked to in awhile. You probably started off the conversation with "life has been so busy lately" or something sadly similar. Beyond the notion of busy, it's so hot right now to be involved. We want to max out: to get the best workout, to cook the best meals, to crush it in our careers. I'd rather not get started on the whole "Lean In" concept, but I'll just say that while hate is a strong word, I rejoiced a little when I came across this super opinionated letter to Sheryl Sandberg about why "reclining" might a healthier choice for most folks (women, specifically - and save your comments about me not fighting for fair treatment of women in society, because 1) that couldn't be further from the truth and 2) I'm a woman who also believes strongly in equality. Digressing now.)
Busy is killing you - literally. The stress hormone cortisol, while necessary for some bodily functions (like pumping more blood to your legs when you're getting chased by a bear), is arguably overproduced in most individuals today. Without getting too scientific, cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands, and when there is excess - your body pays the price. Exhausted adrenals over an extended period of time lead to a plethora of health issues, ranging from unwanted weight gain to heart disease. It's the real deal.
The reality is, kids or no kids (not a parent yet, also not pretending I know what it's like to be busy with kids, an entirely different universe of busy, I am sure), whichever career you've chosen, whether you save lives or you answer phones, we are all busy. You will likely be busy from the day you start kindergarten until retirement (and probably long after that). Let's just start there by recognizing that. Okay, good.
Once the ego enters the picture, it often takes over in the form of expectation and standards: the ego is what drives us to spend every waking moment adding to and checking things off the to-do list. Most of our to-do lists contain absolutely necessary components of day-to-day living. The parts of life that we all have - the need to eat, sleep, and work so that we can pay our bills. That's just life, for you, me and everyone. Knowing that life is busy for most everyone can take some of the pressure off.
Then, there's the ego. The ego loves perfection, leaning in, accomplishing all. While trying to combat "busy", some individuals justify leaving dishes in the sink or not making the bed. The truth is, while it's a great idea to lower your own personal expectations, skipping out on the apparent "undone" tasks only benefits you if you're replacing the task with something that requires little to no energy output. I'm talking about replenishing. Giving back to #1 (that's you). Finding time during your day, even for five minutes, to do nothing (even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom to do so). Changing the way you decide your life "should" be, maybe by removing yourself from that one extra committee, saying "no" to grabbing coffee with your gal pals on a Saturday morning, or opting for take-out when you had a crazy day at work (sacrificing salt intake for the ability to put your feet up). It's NOT selfish. It's essential to your health, happiness, and overall well-being.
Start with mindful awareness of how often you're telling your friends and family how busy your life is. Recognize your tendency to go-go-go. Then, breathe. Take a slow yoga class instead of your usual powerful flow. Find gratitude for what you have, even if your chaos exists due to working your tail off to live paycheck to paycheck.
Life's responsibilities, the ones that keep you and your family happy, healthy, and functioning, can often trump self-care; however, It's likely that not everything on your schedule is required or mandatory. Even if you are a "giver" by nature and refill your cup by doing things for others, no human can ONLY give. You have to recharge. One must find a way to balance effort with ease.
You can change your schedule or change the way you respond to the events and circumstances in your life that are non-negotiable. You can also only do your best. There will be times where it feels like you can't keep up. Notice when you feel like you're behind or falling short, and then recognize that you are only human. These feelings of inadequacy can serve as beautiful reminders to integrate a healthy (albeit, maybe brief) self-care routine. By slowly ditching "busy", you can begin to regain control over your schedule, your life, and most of all: your breath. Embrace your circumstances for what they are, find gratitude, and take deep breaths often. Your adrenal glands (and your body) will thank you.
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky (READ THIS BOOK if stress interests you.)
Cortisol: Why "The Stress Hormone" is Public Enemy #1 on Psychology Today