Bottom Line Inc

It’s OK to Relax! (Lessons From a Type-A Personality)

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I’m 56 years old, and my father died three years ago. Yet, to this day, when I sit on the couch and do nothing (i.e, watch television), I still hear my father telling me to “do something productive.” So is it any wonder that I have spent my entire adult life making sure that I pack my days with actions and activities that contribute either to my own personal growth and development…or to the growth and development of my family and the world around me?

When I look back now, frankly it is insane the number of things I was involved in—in addition to having a full-time job in the family business, I also was the class mother for several of my children’s classes…manager of assorted soccer teams…co-president of the high school field hockey booster club for three years, where I helped to transform the program from also-ran to regional champions…studied ballroom dancing…got my MBA…and was co-chair for two decades of my college’s annual alumni fund-raising campaign. All of this was done while devoting all evening and weekend hours when my children were awake to focusing on their needs—reading books and playing games when they were younger…to helping with homework and carefully being present-yet-invisible when they were older. Please note, I rattled off that crazy list not to brag but because my Type-A personality was in hyper-drive and I didn’t even realize that I was operating in perpetual 5th gear. I just did it.

So over this Thanksgiving weekend, I was exhausted despite the fact that I now am essentially an empty-nester—one child is in college and the other is finished with college. My plate is virtually empty versus the decades of activity-overflow that I lived through. I spent the evenings napping on the couch in front of whatever movie my husband or daughter and I earnestly wanted to watch…and then dragged myself off to bed only to wake up the next day still tired.

There must be something wrong…I don’t nap!!!

Then I remembered something that I have said to others—the rest is part of what makes the music beautiful. It is not a forgotten or neglected space. Translation: While I have arrogantly been pushing myself to be Wonder Woman, Mother Theresa and The Enjoli Woman all rolled into one, I have also thought that the need to rest and replenish didn’t apply to me. How could it, when I had to make every waking moment “productive” and rest was so…so…well…restful? But the joke is on me—and every other overachieving middle-ager who thought he/she was immortal and then went slamming into a wall of physical limitations. It truly is OK to rest and replenish.

Accomplished athletes of all levels know that they need recovery days from their hard workouts in order for their muscles to heal and grow stronger. And Bottom Line has written many articles about the health benefits of both a good night’s sleep and napping. Sleep helps with everything including weight loss, memory, mood and immunity —our bodies rebuild and recharge when we sleep. It’s not a surprise that poor sleep effects our memories or our moods, but how great is it that you actually can lose weight simply by sleeping more?

Of course, rest is different than sleep. Rest is also simply taking a break in the flow of the day. A breath. A moment of reflection. We are so caught up in our routines and schedules that we don’t give ourselves permission to deviate and not be on a routine or schedule for a moment. I saw a very sad post on Facebook yesterday about the overprogramming of our children and how the incessant need to push them toward greatness through teams, clubs, coaching, tutoring and the like has taken away their ability to simply create without the oversight and structure of a counselor or teacher or parent.

So what is this thing called “rest”? To me, it is anything that is “not work” or an obligation or a routine. It is deviant and refreshing and is purely up to the individual and the moment. We did an article a number of years ago about forms of relaxation in which Dr. Jim Gordon recommended anything from deep breaths to walks in the woods and dancing as means of breaking up the monotony and inspiring new creative energies to flow.

My new form of rest is the renewed understanding that it truly is an important and healthy part of my hard-driving life. I seem to be wired for movement and challenge, which is why I exercise daily and even thought it a good idea to run the 5-mile Turkey Trot this year even though I have never run five miles before…and ride the 40-mile NY City 5-Borough Bicycle Tour even though I have never ridden 40 miles before. (Yes..I did train for both.) But, giving myself the shift to understand that taking a mental, emotional or physical break at times is, in fact, “productive” is a lesson of a lifetime.

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Source: Sarah Hiner is president and chief executive officer of Stamford, Connecticut–based Bottom Line Inc., which publishes books and the consumer newsletters Bottom Line Health and Bottom Line Personal.