How is your ‘rest life?’

“I’m exhausted… like ‘end-of-my-rope’ exhausted. But I feel guilty taking time off.”

My clients, especially women, say this to me a lot. It comes from a deeply embedded cultural value that work is good, and non-work is non-good.  If you’re running from dawn to midnight, you must matter. If you’re well-rested, then you must be expendable.

Many of us take better care of our cars than we do of ourselves.  We understand that it’s necessary and advisable to get the car checked regularly, because routine maintenance may prevent us from getting stranded at the worst possible time. We know we shouldn’t wait till the car’s broken down to change the oil. We don’t see the car as somehow flawed because it requires regular care.  But when it comes to ourselves, this is EXACTLY how we tend to think – that we can only afford to attend to ourselves when we’re completely spent or hair-on-fire stressed out. We tend to view cultivating our ‘rest life’ as something we do only when the outside world has stopped making demands of us.  As if.  

I firmly believe that personal renewal is foundational to our effectiveness. I know the territory of burnout, and it’s very hard to come back from. I now understand that a rest life – in the form of quiet, solitude, reflection and engaging in the things that feed us – is essential, especially if we want to be effective in our work, family and community lives. Yet everything around us is calling us away from rest, toward overwork and its accompanying stress.

I’ve come to see stress as an addiction, as potentially dangerous as any other.   So does Patrick Lencioni, author of an excellent article on executives’ addiction to adrenaline.   Stress is addictive for several reasons.  First, the chemicals that our bodies generate in response to stress produce an emotional and physiological “high.”  For better and for worse, stress is kind of a rush. If we go into stress mode more often and for longer times, our adrenal glands pump out those high-inducing hormones around the clock. This makes you restless 24/7, which can make time-outs very uncomfortable.  So you keep trucking, even though that’s drawing down your body’s reserves.

Stress is addictive also because our culture values heroics. We get kudos for pulling off that monster proposal, for solving that problem that no one else could solve, for being the first one to arrive at work and the last one to leave. Women have also internalized an expectation that they should ‘do it all’ and ‘have it all.’ But even if we could reach that standard (and that’s debatable), it doesn’t mean we should. 

You’re in luck.  April is National Stress Awareness Month. It’s a nationally-mandated excuse to become more aware of the stress in your life and its effects on you. With this awareness, you’re equipped to take action toward more balance and resilience. It’s a great excuse to move your ‘rest life’ further up the list of priorities, and watch how that affects the other parts of your life for the better.

Questions to guide your inquiry

On a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being best), how well do you currently attend to your rest life?
What are the pros and cons of attending to your personal care and renewal at that level?  How does your current level of care benefit you?  What is it costing you?
What rating would you like to be able to give yourself?
What would that make possible for yourself and for others?
What two concrete, doable steps can you take in April to move toward that level of self-care?



6 replies
  1. Lorrie
    Lorrie says:

    I, too, am an intimate friend of burn out. Being a single mother in an executive leadership role during the children’s teen years gave me a non-stop life of on-demand attention to children, board members, and constituents. It took me two years of loving attention to my body to recover. Now, nearly three years after ending that life style I still have residual health issues: weight gain, energy loss…

    Now, every day consists of solitude, good food eaten attentively, and time spent in relationship with nature. These habits of self-care allow me to more fully serve my family and community.

    Thanks for this reminder. For many, the need to remain attentive to self is a matter of life and death. Why let things become that extreme?

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      It is a funny thing about us humans, that we wait till we’re at the life-and-death place to wake up. Thank you for your provocative question – “Why let things become that extreme?” It’s a great challenge for us to wake up to our lives BEFORE we’re on the verge of losing them.

  2. Patti
    Patti says:

    Leslie – this is very timely for me. The part about burn out being hard to come back from? I’m tettering there, unless I make a change. Thank you for reminding me about that part. it is motivating! You prompted me to pick 2 things. Eat Breakfast and walk with my dogs. Thank you for that.

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      Patti, thank you for your honest and thoughtful comment. One of the things I’ve discovered is how much we take our bodies for granted. In this culture, it’s almost like we forget we HAVE bodies. While I believe that we’re spiritually infinite, my own experience has taught me – the hard way – that our bodies are finite, and that self-neglect can have real and lasting consequences. So by all means, I encourage you to make any changes you can while you’re still ‘teetering.’ Breakfast and dog-walks are a wonderful place to start, and today is the perfect time.

  3. Kristen, Divine Journeys
    Kristen, Divine Journeys says:

    Leslie, a deeply moving blog. So much truth here- that somehow the DOING is more important than the BEING. I struggle with this as well- our cultural paradigm being “do more, be more”. My “job” actually requires me to spend time in solitude & meditation, and it can be extremely challenging to wind down, let go, and be OK with simply being still. And yet… no life altering shifts of awareness come from being so engaged in the left brain “doing” activities. It is the quiet moments, where the right brain intuition can allow us to dip our toes into the pool of ancestral knowledge where great awarenesses can slip into our conscious mind. Thank you for this reminder, and your very personal touch when writing it.

    • leslie.williams
      leslie.williams says:

      Kristen – amen to the role of quiet in helping us access deeper wisdom. In my coaching practice, I see this all the time. When I’m in “execution mode,” I find that my coaching is more likely to be thin and superficial. But when I ‘drop down’ into silence and intuition, my questions are more provocative and my insights cut closer to the bone. This is great and forgotten paradox – that taking time for myself is what most supports my ability to be of real service to others. Starving myself of life-nutrients just means I have less to contribute. Parker Palmer has a fabulous quote: “Self-care is never a selfish act. It is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Any time we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

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