Vacation Now

Traveler Girl Walking On Tropical Beach In Sunset. Vintage Photo

I love to go on vacation. After a few days of decompressing, I switch off and relax. I sleep. I read books. I laugh. I eat good food. I spend time with the people that I love. The sole focus of the day is enjoying the next meal or activity. There are no chores or obligations. There is a quality of light and spaciousness. It is fantastic and I cherish the experience.

When I return to “real” life, I often feel like I am on a hamster wheel. I go to work. I come home. I cook. I clean. I care for my daughter. I grocery shop. I run the laundry. I chip away on the never ending “to do” list (which seems to always be getting longer). I squeeze in time for friends and family. I catch my breath. Rinse and repeat.

I was speaking with a colleague recently about his long weekend. We swapped stories about how we spent our time. I shared how I had pulled apart my garage and reorganized it. He told me how he spent time being still. Still? I asked him for more details; and he shared how he schedules time in each week to be alone. No obligations. No activity. Just rest and stillness. I was intrigued.

He explained that the key to success is to schedule it in like any other activity and then fiercely protect it. It is easy for other obligations to feel more important; but when you are drained and exhausted, there is nothing left to give. Making time to rest is ultimately a gift to those you love (and yes, he does have a young child, and he is an independent parent, so time is precious).

I have been thinking a lot about his advice and my lack of ability to slow down during my “regular” life. Why can I do this for myself during a vacation and not as an ongoing practice? I realized that there is no real good reason except habit and commitment. It does not need to be a full afternoon or long period of time to be valuable and nourishing. A half an hour, here and there, is a good place to start; and it feels much more manageable.

I am going to start scheduling in “stillness” time in each week and see how I do. I will give myself some rules, such as no phone or computer. I will focus on activities that are quiet and introspective, such as reading, walking, listening to podcasts, knitting or zen colouring: all things that I really enjoy. My ultimate goal will be to cultivate a regular practice of rest and spaciousness, so I can bring this into my daily life, rather than waiting until I crash on vacation to restore and replenish.

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In Awe of the Body

dr. libby

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how tired I have felt lately. To be honest with you (and myself),  I have actually been tired for years. Literally. No matter how many hours of sleep I fit in, good food I eat, or vitamins I take, I am tired: deep down to the bone exhausted.

This does not stop me from continuing to be a striving overachiever. My daughter has coined me the “zoom zoom mommy”, as I rarely sit down or stop moving due to the endless “to do” list of: grocery shopping; laundry; meal planning; general cleaning; chores; working and care-giving…”Hmmm,” I recently thought, “Maybe this is why I am tired all of the time?” Ya figure?

I have been consuming a lot of Dr. Libby Weaver’s work as of late. She has a PhD in biochemistry and she is dedicated to improving women’s overall health and well being. Her message is simple but profound. The body is miraculous and too many of us are not in touch with its magnificence. Many women live in a chronic state of disconnected panic, due to the frantic, high-stress nature of our lives; and it is making us sick, tired and unhappy. There is no time or effort given to deeply connecting with the body. We do not stop and listen to the constant feedback messages that it sends us; and these messages are often misinterpreted as a signal to push harder and move faster. Dr. Libby coins this the Rushing Women’s Syndrome.

Rushing Women’s Syndrome is a term she uses to describe the cascade of hormonal changes that happens when we feel stressed for extended periods. It can manifest in anything from unexplained weight gain to fatigue to mood swings.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) controls homeostasis and the body at rest. It is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” function. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls the body’s responses to a perceived threat. It is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. The PNS and SNS are part of the ANS, or autonomic nervous system which is responsible for the involuntary functions of the human body.

When your body constantly live in the SNS zone, all of your systems respond accordingly. Your adrenals suffer (causing deep exhaustion), your hormones are imbalanced (causing emotional instability), your thyroid, stomach flora and liver become stressed (preventing you from absorbing nutrients) and you store more fat (as your body thinks it is in starvation mode).

Dr. Libby deems this to be a crisis in women’s health.  She suggests various lifestyle revisions to help bring the body back into biochemical balance. These include: eating more whole and local foods; incorporating slow and deliberate exercise into your schedule (e.g. yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates); working daily with deep breath and meditation; prioritizing adequate sleep; and considering the impact of alcohol and caffeine on the body. In her books, Dr. Libby goes into much more specific detail about actions that can be taken to support stress hormones, sex hormones, liver function, thyroid function, gut bacteria, insulin, alkalinity, and emotional health.

These are good, solid recommendations for achieving overall well-being; but they are not new revelations. Most of us know that we need to do these things in order to be healthy. The question is why do we not just do them? Dr. Libby credits the “not enough” complex. A common dialogue that runs through a woman’s head is…”I am not…pretty enough…smart enough…thin enough…successful enough…or generally good enough…to receive love, nourishment and support.” It results in that woman pushing through, striving harder, and serving everyone else’s needs before meeting her own.

I definitely fall into this category. The “not-enoughness” keeps me constantly striving to achieve more, contribute more, and generally “do” more. There is no end in sight and it is draining. A wise friend of mine recently reminded me that everyone dies with an unfinished “to-do” list.  She also challenged the voice of my inner critic, asking me: “If you would not speak to your friend like that, why would you speak to yourself that way? Give yourself a break.” I could not answer her, other than to say, because I had always talked to myself like that. Ah ha. Old stuff. Maybe it is time to pay closer attention to my words and re-examine the status quo. This is not serving me anymore. Maybe it never did.

Dr. Libby’s message came to me right at the moment I needed it, in a form I could hear. I have to be kinder to myself before I can start feeling better in my physical body. It is that simple. Setting boundaries with my time and energy will start to give me some much needed space to start; but it is going to be a life-long practice to make time for the things that nourish me and say no to more that does not.

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