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We are beyond the midpoint of this strange 2020 summer. Concerns about what lies ahead in the fall swirl around us. But we have a few weeks left of traditional summertime, even as we are mostly unable to do many traditional activities — or at least, not without wearing masks and staying socially distanced.
I see many exhausted clients who have been unable to take their usual vacation or pursue the hobbies they enjoy in these usually more-carefree months. What is consuming their attention now is how difficult fall will be.
My encouragement is for all of us to use the few weeks before Labor Day to rest, relax, and renew.
Resting is of course the most obvious. We have been on overdrive. The concerns and anxiety of the days since quarantining began have worn our nerves to a shred. You have undoubtedly been balancing worries of COVID-19 exposure you are outside your home with the boredom and frustration when you are staying in — the fear that people gathering in a nearby park won’t be wearing masks as they pass you or of the person standing too close behind you in a pharmacy line juxtaposed with the loneliness and isolation of not seeing or touching anyone in weeks, now months. There’s worry over job security or unemployment benefits, medical coverage, our children’s well-being and ability to go back to school — the list goes on.
Fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout: These are the results of so much hyper-arousal and worry.
So my first prescription is to rest. Even sitting in your chair for a bit. Sleep, of course is ideal, but not everyone can sleep easily. So find times and places to sit down, zone out, and rest. And rest some more.
The second prescription is to relax. Resting does not always mean you are relaxing. You can let your body settle, but your mind whirs, and maybe your muscles are still tense. I know clients who sleep through the night but wake up with headaches or other chronic muscle spasms due to tension.
Most of us need to practice relaxing. It is even more difficult, and therefore more imperative, in this tense and uncertain time.
There are lots of practices that help relaxation. Guided meditation apps can talk you through tensing and relaxing muscle groups. For some, it is water: baths, showers, swimming, or even being on or near water. Sounds of water can help too. Being mindful of your body — just coming into the present moment and consciously reminding yourself of all the ways that you are safe can encourage relaxation. Aromatherapy — putting scents like lavender or cedar in your environment or rubbing essential oils on your body with a gentle smooth stroking — can promote calm and release. Find what works for you.
Avoid what makes you frightened or tense — TV shows that try to scare you ( who needs that?), news stories that tell you how unsafe you are, people who wind you up.
Relaxing takes intention and practice. Use these next weeks to restore some balance in your tired stressed body and mind.
The third prescription is to renew. Research done by Boyatzis and others at Case Western Reserve University show that rest and relaxation alone do not restore us. We also need to engage in activities that revitalize us.
This stimulates the brain’s limbic system — which deals with emotions and memory — in a new way, and we feel refreshed and re-energized. These kinds of activities are the ones that engage our creativity and our sense of well-being. They re-fill the well of our aliveness.
For some people, renewal comes from learning; for others, from expressing their creativity. For still others, it is found in spiritual pursuits. Some of my clients paint, draw, or play music. Another client has taken up identifying the birds outside her window and studying their birdsong as well as their habits. One person gardens on her windowsill, and another has gone back to solo canoeing in the early morning. There is no one size renewal strategy for everyone, but it is a significant part of how we can use this time to rebuild our reserves.
Fall will be here soon enough.
For now, rest, relax, and renew.
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Boyatzis RE, et al. Positive Renewal: Can You Even Keep Going? Weatherhead School of Management. Case Western Reserve University. April 3, 2012. https://weatherhead.case.edu/news/2012/04/03/positive-renewal-can-you-even-keep-going2.