Photograph by Rodrigo Cid
Ed Note: Join us in welcoming guest writer and HudCo member Jessie Kanzer to the HudCo Journal! Jessie will be reporting on all things that bolster your physical and mental well-being.
Not to brag or anything, but I’m kind of an expert in doing nothing. Seriously, my upcoming book is called Don’t Just Sit There, DO NOTHING—all about how I learned to heal and chill with the principles of the Tao Te Ching. The awesome part is when people ask me what I do, I can say, “Nothing, but I do it really well,” which isn’t totally true… You teach what you have to learn, and I’ve needed to study all of it: how to veer away from perfectionism, how to stop constant people-pleasing, and how to push projects aside from time to time—cause, ya know, they’ll be there in the morning.
The ancient Chinese text of the Tao—translated as “the Way”—tells us “be aware when things are out of balance” and “let the mind become still.” Also, one of my faves: “Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.” All teachings which make the lack of work/life balance in our society stand out like a sore, tired thumb—bogged down even more by our unbalanced ambition/contentment, forcing/allowing, doing/being paradigm. It’s an imbalance that can drive us mad.
Conscious change coach Elizabeth Knell says we can get so busy doing what’s expected of us by others (in our jobs, our families, etc.) that we forget to pause and ask ourselves what we need. “Once we answer that question,” she says, “we then must practice giving ourselves permission to actually do what we need most.” And that is exactly how tennis star Naomi Osaka topped the news recently—by doing what she needed most.
Shouldn’t we treat ourselves as whole beings (vs. human doings) worthy of stillness, of rejuvenation, of not overworking ourselves to death?
At first, she simply announced she would not be participating in the post-match neconferences at the French Open. The rigorous work of performing in the matches took everything she had; she admitted to mental health struggles that made the press room which follows unbearable for her. When tennis officials fined her and threatened to suspend her, Ms. Osaka did not cave. Instead, she withdrew from the Open entirely. Support for her choice and for her commitment to her own well-being has been overwhelming from celebrities and therapists alike. Perhaps it’s the wake-up call we all needed. Duh, we’re realizing, we are each the bosses of our lives, we can say NO when we need to.
Shouldn’t we treat ourselves as whole beings (vs. human doings) worthy of stillness, of rejuvenation, of not overworking ourselves to death? I think so, as does occupational therapist Adrienne Breen. Ms. Breen explains that our nervous systems are often stuck in a state of fight-or-flight due to our chaotic schedules and daily stressors. “Most people do not have enough down time built into their schedules to elicit the rest-and-digest response in our nervous system,” she says, “which is where [it] repairs itself.” To improve our well-being—both mental and physical—this needs to change, which can be challenging.
“We do what we know,” says Dr. Brigitte Gordon of Hudson Mental Wellness. “To rest takes brain power because it is an active challenge to the way your brain has been operating… Doing one thing without distraction and without feeling you should be doing more takes restraint and practice but is significantly important to prevent brain decline, brain fatigue and improve concentration as well as mood.”
To bring calmness, try gently rubbing 2 fingers across your lips for 15 to 20 seconds in order to activate the rest-and-digest response in your nervous system.
The signs (and science) are all there. Change ain’t easy, but we must do it. So, let’s create balance in our lives, one step at a time:
Make a choice to usher in balance—because it all starts with a choice. Be honest with yourself: what needs to change? Where is there room to pare down? Mental Health Counselor Beata Vilar de Queiros says, “it is important to stop and ask: if you are saying yes to something, then what are you saying no to?” And if we turn that on its head, we can start saying “Yes” to self-compassion and “No” to perfectionism, for example. “No” to overwork, to burnout, to people-pleasing, and so on.
Create boundaries, whether it’s finishing work by a certain time each day (which is getting harder and harder for many of us) or blocking off personal time within your calendar to give yourself breaks throughout. I like to think of it as scheduling unscheduled time. At home this may look like, “Mommy needs 10 minutes to herself, please; afterwards I’m all yours.” Or it can mean making sure you and your partner each take “me” time to recuperate from the demands of family life.
Create rituals to bring yourself back to calmness throughout the workday. “Between stimulus and response there is a space; that space is our power to choose to respond differently. It is what allows us to move from mindlessness to mindfulness,” says Ms. Vilar de Queiros. Deep breathing can help us recenter ourselves, for instance.
Ms. Breen, who specializes in craniosacral therapy, suggests gently rubbing 2 fingers across your lips for 15 to 20 seconds in order to activate the rest-and-digest response in your nervous system. Similarly, I like a simple kundalini mantra/mudra combo, which is just a phrase and a hand position: “Peace begins with me” you can say in your head while touching your thumb to each of your other four fingers. “Peace begins with me,” the fingers tap out—discreetly under a desk if you wish!
Whichever way works for you, remember to keep that “Pause” or even “Off” button on hand. As the Tao Te Ching puts it, “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”