By Rebecca Ward, MSW, LCSW
About a month ago, I left to run some of those maintenance-type errands that aren’t all that much fun. When I was about a mile from home, I realized I had left my phone behind. I felt a little anxious before I became aware I would be able to have undisturbed time for the next couple of hours. I felt a freedom I hadn’t experienced in quite a while. Here, alone in my car, I was incognito, unreachable, out of the loop, off the grid, invisible to the satellites. I was unplugged! Wow. What a great feeling.
Being “plugged in” all the time causes stress. Every time one of your devices pings for your attention, your cortisol levels rise. This induces a rise in your stress level. Add the ring of the telephone, the chime of the doorbell, the sound bites from the television or radio and you’ve got more demands on your time and energy. Most of us have too much time sucked away by these demands, as well as by the demands of the roles we play in daily life and our relationships as husband or wife, mother or father, daughter or son, employee or employer, friend or neighbor. I once read that we have more interactions in one day than our great-great-grandparents had in a year.
Unplugging is a good way to take care of yourself. We all have a finite amount of time, and we often let it slip away without making a conscious choice. We say “yes” too quickly sometimes, not considering if this is something we really want to spend our time on. People who have “the disease to please” do this more often than is healthy and can end up stressed and depressed after giving up their time to help others.
Lesson No. 1: Take charge of your time. Do not give it away until you’ve considered all the consequences. Saying “no” is almost always an option, and if you can’t say it, your “yeses” mean nothing. Your complete disregard for your own feelings is not a healthy behavior.
Another way to care for yourself is to set your own goals — not goals based on the expectation of others. I was raised around cooks who shared recipes as if they were sharing precious gems. I wasn’t interested, but pretended I was for many years because women in my family were expected to love cooking and I wanted to meet expectations. Finally, when I was in my 30s, I let everyone know that I didn’t like to cook.
Lesson No. 2: Be true to yourself. If you do this, you will live an authentic life, which is about as good as it gets.
Lesson No. 3: Allow quiet time for reflection and self-awareness. Many parents may wonder, “Where in the world am I going to find quiet alone time for me?” You don’t find the time for yourself; you make the time. You set aside some just for you. You build it in your schedule and you make it happen because if you’re not taken care of, it’s almost impossible to care for others. One woman told me that before she picks up the kids and delivers them to various activities, she drives to a lovely spot she’s found and simply enjoys the peacefulness of her happy place. She may take a short walk, listen to music, read or just sit and breathe. It calms her and she feels more energy. She made herself a priority and made this time for herself. You can do this too… and please, no guilt permitted.
The last lesson to learn is likely the most difficult.
Lesson No. 4: Accept that our control over our lives may be an illusion. In fact, I think it is. Accepting that we are at the mercy of the winds of change and challenge, the terror of tragedy and trauma and the uncertainty of the future is hard for us. Humans seek security and safety. Our sense of both are wounded when floods sink our houses, a malcontent picks up a gun to kill others or any unexpected event shakes our sense of normal. But accepting that we cannot control what happens leads to a kind of truce between us and the future, for we can control how we respond to cataclysmic events. That’s the comforting part. Trusting yourself to deal with whatever comes your way is very calming.
Learn and practice these lessons of self-care and I suspect that your stress level will decline and your ability to enjoy life will increase. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the positive changes.