3 Ways to Avoid a Breakdown

Yesterday, I laid still in my weekly restorative yoga class where you spend at least 50% of your time lying in whatever position feels comfortable. Until about three years ago this would have been my idea of sheer torture. I’ve always struggled at the end of yoga classes – savasana, the part where you rest and integrate from the class. It has always made me very uncomfortable. I never saw the point. Why would I go to exercise and spend time resting? It felt like a waste of time. In fact, I’m now a little embarrassed to even admit it, but I used to leave the yoga studio when the ‘real work’ was done. I would roll up my yoga mat and leave right in the middle of class. I had a lot more I needed to do and laying around in this studio wasn’t going to get me anywhere, right?

Back to me laying there still. The instructor said something I wished I had heard years ago: “Relaxing is not something that is inherent. You need to learn to relax.” What?! Why didn’t someone give me that memo earlier in life?

Maybe because I wouldn’t have heard it, or believed them, or thought that relaxing was even important. As a coach, I know one thing is always true: In order to get the lesson, you have to want to get the lesson. So, for me to learn to relax I needed to want to learn to relax.

Let me give you some background. I’ve always prided myself on moving fast, being busy and getting stuff done. I grew up in a high-achieving, fast-paced, fun, outgoing family. Both my parents are entrepreneurs. My twin sister, brother and I were, too, and still are today. We always had something going, whether we were collecting cans for money, setting up a lemonade stand or caroling door to door. I was a competitive athlete, honor student and budding entrepreneur on the side. I started my first business at 16 – The “Rice Bar.” Our school lunches were unhealthy and terrible so a few friends and I created a healthy option for school. For only $1.50 students could instead choose a healthy bowl of rice and veggies!

Our family valued hard work and action. Therefore, I had a belief that success meant lots of hard work, long hours, struggle and sacrifice – a typical entrepreneurial mindset. I remember at one of my first jobs after college, I called my Dad on the way home from a 12-hour day looking for some sympathy for how tired I was. Instead, he said, “Only 12 hours? Get back to work, that’s a half day!” There was no room to relax. Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful for this work ethic; it has gotten me to where I am today. It’s an important, core part of me that I value and love. It just took me years to learn I needed more than that to be successful. I also need to chill the ‘bleep’ out sometimes.

I actually remember the very first time I learned to relax. I was on my honeymoon in Belize. We were on a tiny remote island that you could circumnavigate by foot in 10 minutes. I had walked around that island so many times I was dizzy. My husband (who coincidentally is very good at relaxing) asked me to try and chill out and read with him on the hammock overlooking the ocean. Everything in me wanted to go do something else – relaxing was a waste of our time here in Belize. Surely we could find another adventure or something to do!

I had to force myself to try to relax. So, out of pure love, I sat next to him and tried to read. At first I felt lazy, unproductive and uncomfortable. Finally I read a few chapters, started to mildly enjoy myself and then fell asleep. I remember that day clearly. It was the first time in my entire life that I remember relaxing.

Fast forward many years, a few careers, a move to a new country, three kids, a dog and a new house – I was forced to remember the importance of slowing down and relaxing. I was moving too fast, had too much on my plate, was not taking great care of myself and guess what? I crashed and burned – big time! It was a wake-up call. For the first time in my life I felt fear and anxiety. I have always been a laid-back, easy-going, positive person. Now I was truly scared and anxious. What was going on? It was terrible and I had to do something about it.

Let me take a minute to say how much I love the human body. It is incredible. It has a way of telling us, “Something’s wrong,” “Something’s not working here,” “Slow down.” But sadly, we tell our bodies to shut up and move on. We drag them around and push forward with will and determination.

We get early warning signals which show up as symptoms in our body that something is not working. Physical symptoms might include; low energy, headaches, stomach issues, tense muscles, frequent colds and infections, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, you name it! Emotional symptoms could include feelings of anger, frustration, being overwhelmed, loneliness and eventually depression or anxiety. In fact, 77% of Americans regularly experience these and other physical and emotional symptoms of stress.

Instead of noticing these warning signals and listening to our body, many of us just keep moving. We keep pushing through. We put on the manual override to get through it all.  We pop a pill, drink some coffee or just keep moving so fast that we don’t have to face what is really going on. This may be helpful in times of life or death; but overused, over time, when we override our bodies’ warning signs for safety and survival, we literally break down and pay the consequences. I learned this the hard way. Maybe you have, too. If you haven’t, are you on that dangerous path?

Here are 3 ways I’ve learned to help keep sane, healthy and avoid a breakdown: 

  1. Pay attention to your warning lights.

What are your early warning signals you’re going off track? These may be physical or emotional symptoms. For me? First, I find myself swearing like a sailor. And I don’t normally swear. Second, I get a headache. Third, and those around me notice this the most, I get short-tempered (and that is NOT my normal personality)! When I notice these early warning signals I can look at my life, notice what may need to change and take action. What are your early warning signals?

  1. Don’t leave your gas tank on empty.

If you were on a road trip and you knew you needed to get from point A to point B in a certain number of miles, you wouldn’t just get that amount of gas, would you? What if something unexpected came up? What if there was traffic? What if you had to take a detour? You have to make sure you leave a little room in the tank. This is true for people, too! If you push so hard that you’re always on empty, you’ll never have enough in the tank for the detours. And let’s face it, EVERY day is full of detours. You need a margin of error to make it through – you need some gas in your tank! You can’t cram everything in. If you do, when you have to take a detour, you will be out of gas! To help me learn this skill, I literally set a goal to go to bed with gas in the tank. I used to value and pride myself on being exhausted as that meant I “gave it my all,” but I realized if I went to bed with even 10% left I was happier not just for that day, but each day. What needs to happen for you to leave a little extra gas in the tank? Where can you ‘coast’ a little more instead of pressing so hard on the gas?

  1. Get a regular check-up and service!

It’s important to take care of yourself – not just the normal advice about exercise, sleeping well and eating right. Think about all the facets of you: mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. What can you do to take care of yourself? Maybe it’s something you can do mentally like reading a good book, taking a class or learning something new. Or maybe it’s something physical like getting a massage, taking a spin or yoga class! Maybe you need to take care of yourself emotionally, like date night with your spouse or dinner with a friend. Or maybe you need to do something spiritually like meditate, go to a service or be in nature. What would this be for you? What makes you feel connected, alive and engaged again?

What is one step that you can take, right now to move you away from breakdown and towards greater health, balance and well-being?

I learned to relax, and I’m so thankful I did. Am I still hard-working, motivated, engaged and ambitious? Absolutely, but I’m also happier, more productive and more fulfilled.

Tracy Kennedy is a results-driven personal and professional development coach and consultant. She partners with individuals to help them achieve greater levels of happiness, fulfillment and success. Learn more about Tracy's work or contact her on her website.

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