I took a few days off last week because I was at a breaking point. Too many days back to back of constant pressure and non-stop phone calls, meetings and emails, and I’d maxed out. Looking back, I think the last day I really took off was my birthday – four months ago.
Today I’ve been entirely disconnected from the office, but my work anxiety hasn’t let up. If I let up from my distractions for even a moment, my heart rate increases, my breathing gets shallow and short, and I feel a wave of panic rising up in my chest. It’s probably a sign that I need to take more days off – not less – but like most folks, I get trapped into thinking what I’m doing is the Most Important Thing Ever, and don’t take the time I need.
Once upon a time I read an article about weekends and how the feeling of a wasted weekend is something that typically results from either too many activities packed into a two-day timespan, or too few. Laying on the couch for 48 straight hours tends to result in the same level of panic as running from a birthday party to a dinner out (remember those?!) to painting the living room and getting zero sleep. Neither one is a recipe for success. The key to a successful weekend (according to this long-lost article and my experience) is balancing Things with Rest, and landing on what, for you, is the perfect ratio. Since adopting this strategy I approach days off the same way – balancing marathoning TV shows with organizing my closet, taking a walk one day with a good solid nap on the next. So to prep for my days away from my desk and in an effort not to sleep until noon every day, I made a conscious list. It included, among other things:
- Fix my blog (we’re back up and running!)
- Organize my closet
- Pull out my sweaters
- Read at least one book
- Watch some mindless TV shows
- Take a walk
- Return a few purchases
- Mail a package
- Make popovers
- Don’t get depressed
Don’t get depressed. Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that depression is a choice, but for me personally, I’ve noticed that in some of my down-time – even absent any other triggers – I tend to slide into a depressive state. A song on the radio, a stray thought, the nostalgia of a sunset, a missed phone call from a friend, a cool breeze reminding me of the transience of life and our tenuous connection to the earth beneath our feet… it doesn’t take much. I think it must be like when we get sick right as we’re going on vacation (as I learned in a recent “Unlocking Us” podcast, you don’t suddenly “get” sick – you’ve been carrying that sickness with you and your body has finally released enough stress to deal with the next urgent signal from your body and so you collapse into the flu or a cold or a sinus infection) – it’s something I carry with me always, but absent all my other distractions, there are fewer things keeping me out of that spiral. But sometimes when I start to feel the waves crashing up over my head, I can find a foothold at the edge of the pit and launch myself out before I slide all the way to the bottom.
Find a foothold, I was telling myself. Grab ahold of any rock you can get your fingers on and hold the hell on until you have the energy to pull yourself up.
And now on Monday, the day before a world-altering election and before I go back to work, I accomplished everything on my list, including not getting depressed. I am, however, full to the brim of anxiety, like so many are tonight.
If that’s you, may you find peace and footholds, quiet spaces or noisy distractions, whatever your heart needs (even if that means decorating for the holidays before Thanksgiving, because this is 2020 and there are no rules).
And if you need a good popovers recipe, try this one.