Throughout my life people have always told me, “Wow, you sure have a lot of things going on.” I heard it my sophomore year before I caught pneumonia from overexerting myself with school activities and depleting my immune system. I heard it when I was teaching six Zumba classes per week and crashing from too many caffeine supplements and not enough rest. I heard it when I was working 12+ hour days, mindlessly shoveling Van’s burgers down my throat, and experiencing intense, regular headaches and near blindness in my left eye. I heard it when I was juggling work, fitness classes, a new business, band rehearsal, and play practice.
In fact, my therapist confirmed that I am better at “doing” instead of “being.” For the most part, I am okay with this part of myself. My energy, ideas, and work ethic have me floating on cloud nine most days. Even when I do have time to relax, my mind and body fight it. It seems like I am calibrated to a frequency where “calming down” is what requires the most work.
So why do it? Well, because no matter how unnatural downshifting is to me, it’s going to happen one way or another. I can mindfully pump the brakes slowly throughout the day or my keen biology will slam my butt into park until further notice. According to research developed through the Blue Zones Project, communities that take time to downshift or shred the stress of the day live longer, healthier lives.
So after learning everything the hard way, here are 3 adjustments that I’ve made to my routine to slow my roll:
1. I have priorities… and no, not everything is a priority. When reading the book, You Are Not Your Brain, I was encouraged to make a list of my priorities. Webster’s Dictionary defines priority as “something that is more important than other things and needs to be done or dealt with first.” So tell me why by the time I was finished, I had filled two pages. Needless to say, when everything was a priority, my life was like the Tetris video game…eventually the pieces came too fast, piling on top of one another, until it was GAME OVER. Today, one of my top values is MY Wellness. Each day, I put items on the schedule that support this value and place all other demands, expectations, and obligations around it. Balls are going to drop. This time, it won’t be me.
2. My calendar has blank spots. Just because I can say yes to something on the weekends, doesn’t mean that I should. Sleeping in, cooking healthy food, talking with people that I love, and taking my time at the gym all have their rightful spot in my life today. Sure, it sounds like I am still “doing”, but the pace isn’t harried or forced. I experience peace and contentment. It is not a check on my To-do list.
3. I eat food that I have to cook. Recently, I found myself very anxious in the evening. With all of this “extra” time on my hands, I was restless and would wind up in the kitchen looking for something accessible to munch on. This would turn into making poor choices and eventually getting down on myself. I also realized that I wasn’t respecting the process of what it takes to harvest, ship, purchase, cook, and consume healthy food. Therefore, I connected with individuals in my community that support a Plant-Based Whole Food way of life. The process of chopping vegetables clears my mind and the end result nourishes my soul. Sharing recipes and experiences connects me to a healthy tribe and makes me feel settled.
Honestly, There is never a good time to downshift. You will most likely feel guilty and the people around you will get annoyed. Things are never going to slow down. The break is never going to come. The light is not at the end of the tunnel. No amount of better preparation or organization will keep the pieces from coming…faster. The world will continue to take as long as you are offering. Every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to another. You can’t have it all. What are you sacrificing… and is it worth it? Only you can make the change.
Alicja Carter, MHR, LADC, BHWC, has been working in the behavioral health and addiction treatment field for over ten years. She is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Wellness Coordinator/Coach for Gateway to Prevention and Recovery in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Alicja is passionate about pursuing a well life and collaborating with others for the purpose of stimulating positive change in her community.