By Erika Farber
I have always been an over-thinker. Being perpetually occupied always made me feel productive, responsible and necessary. In my personal relationships, at work, and alone, I spent a lot of time scampering around, immersing myself in lots of little projects. In the absence of a husband or children, I thought of my boundless “busy work” as a reward, not a burden.
Surely cooking brunch for a friend, canning 25 jars of pickles, going to the museum, crocheting a scarf, calling my grandma, sending out a bunch of personal emails and birthday cards, baking cookies for the office, watching a documentary and then going out to dinner all in the same day were the perks of my hedonistic, single gal lifestyle, right?
One of the nicer things about growing older is that you finally begin to know yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in life’s “busy work” but sometimes we forget to nurture ourselves. How wonderful it is when we take that break and bask in the glory of a rare moment to ourselves. We all know this to be true, but it’s a completely different story to try to implement it.
Eventually I learned that sometimes, in order to really know what’s best for myself, I needed to take the time to slow down. This can be a daunting thought for a busy bee - what am I going to do for the next 5 minutes? I don’t have anything planned! It can be scary to cast aside the comfortable structure of a busy calendar, and just plan...to do...nothing.
Our society today has equated slowing down and rewarding ourselves to curling up on the couch with a plate of warm cookies and watching TV. Few of us have time in our schedule for more than a scroll through Facebook or a flip through a magazine. But this doesn’t really calm us down, or quiet our minds. It’s just another activity that we can do while we’re not moving.
Given my predisposition to over-thinking, I fully immersed myself in finding out how I could learn to relax, regroup and refocus. And boy, did it stress me out at first! Every attempt to look inward was clouded with racing thoughts, a ticking clock, an uneasiness to simply sit still and...be.
I tried all sorts of different exercises, hoping to find “the zone” that I’d heard about so often, but nothing was helping me achieve the elusive peace in my mind. I was just adding things to my life instead of trying to remove them. It all just felt like more “busy work.” I was running faster and faster in the hamster wheel, and not getting anywhere that really mattered. I had a pantry full of pickles and an enviable social calendar, but I was tired.
I ultimately resolved to shut off my phone, sometimes even leaving it at home (only in small doses though, I’m not crazy!) and spend as much time as I could outdoors. I took long walks and sometimes sat on a park bench and people-watched. Soaking up the sun, listening to the birds chirp, hearing the wind in the trees are all extremely relaxing and helped me shut my mind down.
There were the inevitable surges of guilt that I should be spending this time doing something better (ie: more productive) but I promised myself that this was an exercise that I had to schedule, just like anything else. As someone who lives by her planner - and who plans events for a living - I knew that I had to stay the course and make this mental exercise a little part of every day.
As cold weather approached I found I needed to find an indoor alternative. I tried, for the first time in a long while, to close my eyes, and mindfully meditate. This wasn’t a structured or guided meditation. This was just me, sitting on my living room carpet, legs crossed, eyes closed, comfortably enjoying the silence. I drew in deep, slow breaths, and exhaled fully. I allowed my mind to gently dissipate, and let my thoughts begin to be carried off.
I admit, the backdrop of my noisy city did distract me at first, but the longer I allowed myself to relax, the less I noticed it. I wondered if I was going to fall asleep, and decided that if I did, so be it! I allowed myself to remain in this state for what seemed like forever, and when I felt ready to stop, I did.
I try to practice this quiet time at least once a day now, more if necessary, and it not only helps soothe my frayed nerves, but I’ve come to look forward to these peaceful moments. I’ve developed a different kind of confidence, evidenced in how I relate to the world around me. In the hustle and bustle of New York City, I find myself able to close my eyes and enjoy a few solitary moments by shutting out the world around me, if only for a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll even catch myself smiling.
Try this out: Choose a time when your world is quiet. For many, this is first thing in the morning, before everyone is awake. Put your phone down, turn off the TV. Find a quiet space where you can be alone and sit or lie in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, and just breathe. If you need to count your breaths, this can be very helpful for those who need help to focus. Allow your breaths to become deeper and longer. You will feel your face relax, your shoulders loosen, your neck soften and your back settle. If you are able to do this a little bit every day, you will find that place of pure calm and quiet that I promise will eventually benefit your body as much as your mind.
Being busy with all of the tasks that make us feel important and useful are often unavoidable, but eventually, the steady stream of activities can wear us down. Deciding to carve out time to hit reset isn’t an easy habit to develop, but instead one that brings value with time and practice.
I value my time much differently now, and as rewarding as it is to be able to help and support my friends and family when they need it, I’ve finally found a way to help myself, too. Intentionally caring for myself has made all the difference in the world.
As women, we give away so much. Take care of yourselves, especially during the hectic holidays. Be gentle, be mindful, and love yourself, ladies!