“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~Jim Rohn
Busy doesn’t adequately describe my life over the past few years. Let’s say it was a hurricane of a schedule, with extra storms and a tsunami thrown in. Looking back from my current safe vantage point, I’m not sure how I survived.
The Stress Of A Busy Schedule
In 2011 I was working full time for the civil service and working part time trying to start up my own business. Early in the year I had my son, who turned out to be a non-sleeper and a constant crier.
After nine months of sleeplessness, stress, and upset I went back to the civil service ‘part time’ three days a week, but the reality was I had the same workload, only now I had to sort out childcare and stay awake all night to deal with my son too.
Over the course of three years we also moved three times. You know how they say moving is the most stressful experience? It is—especially with two jobs and a toddler.
On top of all this stress I kept getting ill. At my check-up I was told my blood pressure was too high. I couldn’t shift a permanent backache, cold, and headache.
I cried literally all the time, boosting the crying human total to two in one house. My son outdid me, though, because you’ve got to get on. Being a new mum is hard, but I told myself “Get a grip,” every day.
The Wake Up Call
Then my aunt suddenly died at the young age of fifty-nine.
She was always busy moving, rescuing horses, and looking fabulous. She complained to her doctor about headaches and he sent her away with a “stress” diagnosis. The following week she was taken to the emergency department and she died of cancer a few months later.
It was a mighty wake-up call for me. Work, stress, and demands had taken the fun out of life—it was miserable.
Life is too short, so I made a vow to sort myself out. I was ungrateful for my life, too busy to appreciate anything except tea and Kit Kats. I was a horrible person to be around, if anyone actually saw me.
How I Dealt with the Nightmare Years
I ate rubbish.
I don’t eat much meat or dairy, but I ate a lot of processed foods to save time. My son had lovingly prepared home-cooked foods, but me? I ate standing up in the kitchen—usually jam on toast.
I didn’t exercise.
I didn’t have time to exercise. If my son was asleep it was time to work on the business, or cook something, or even clean.
I found time for friends instead of me.
I sent round robin emails and Facebook updates to stay in touch because I didn’t have time for individual chats, but I went on nights out even when I was too tired to stand up. I felt my social obligations were important. I was still the joker and laughed at anything going, but by god, it was exhausting.
I lost touch with my hubby.
We argued all the time, trying to outdo each other in the “I’m more exhausted than you” Tiredness Olympics. I won because I fell out of bed one night and didn’t wake up. He didn’t notice.
I didn’t enjoy my son.
I feel robbed of his early years, not just because he was a nightmare baby, but because I didn’t have time to appreciate him.
I cried a lot.
I cried every day, usually in the bath at midnight after I fell asleep and dropped my phone in the water.
So what do you think of my coping strategy? It’s pretty pathetic looking back. Many of us do this in the belief that we’re soldiering on, but in fact we’re destroying our health.
How I Made it Better
After discussions with my husband we decided to make some cutbacks so I could give up my civil service job. The thought of us both commuting and juggling a school run with a traffic jam was the deal breaker. I was to concentrate on my home business instead.
I realize I was fortunate to be able to drop my job and focus on my son and my business, and that not everyone can do that. But I believe everyone can start restoring their health and their sanity by making these choices and lifestyle changes.
Sleep and more sleep.
Skip that TV program and go to bed.
I started getting ready for bed at 10:00. By the time I was asleep it was 11ish, but this was a lot better than my midnight to 1:00am routine.
When my son woke in the night, instead of putting him back in his own bed (with an hour of fighting), I just let him in with us. It’s quite cosy, and he’s more relaxed.
Getting kicked every now and then is worth it in my opinion. A new Korean study has shown we increase our odds of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease if we get less than six hours a night—so damn the parenting magazines.
I went to the doctor.
It’s easy to dismiss small symptoms when you don’t have the time to stop.
When I finally got to the doctor, who went thirty minutes over my allotted ten minute appointment, I left with appointments for a physiotherapist, an ultrasound, and the contraception nurse; a prescription for psoriasis treatment; and instructions to buy a steam inhaler and some iron tablets.
It turned out that I had a large ovarian cyst, anaemia, sciatica, chronic nasal infections, a bad time on the implant contraceptive, and violent psoriasis all dragging me down—and I was exhausted. The doctor thought I had post-natal depression, but in hindsight I think I was simply tired out.
Talk about a mess! That’s what can build up when you ignore your health. The solution?
Fresh air and walking are tonics like no other. I started walking and talking with my son. I soon realized he was bright and had a real grasp of emotion and how people felt. He told me I was always cross, but he wanted to make me happy (cue crying).
He’s now at school, so we walk there and back every day to talk about his day and the worries he might have. His behavior is startlingly better and he sleeps well too.
After drop-off I walk to the supermarket or wherever, just for the exercise. I’ve lost fourteen pounds and my backache is pretty much gone.
Put the mobile down.
It’s easy to constantly look at Facebook, Twitter, personal emails, and even work emails when you should be resting.
Keeping work and home life separate is harder than ever, but it’s more important than ever. Talk to your family, watch mindless TV, or read a book. I stopped reading email or Facebook after 6:00pm and immediately felt more relaxed.
Drink water, not wine.
Dehydration is a problem for many people, but they don’t realize it. Your body doesn’t function well without water. A new study claims that millions of us visit the doctor with tiredness symptoms when we’re simply dehydrated.
I didn’t drink much water in the dark days because it didn’t give me a boost and I resented all the peeing time. As a result, my skin was dull and grey, and yes, I was exhausted.
I got a pet.
My rescue cat was the best present ever. He kept me calm with purring, sleepiness, and soft fur. Dave lent me a furry ear and didn’t mind when I complained or cried it out.
From the outside all was calm, organized, and clean. On the inside I was fire fighting with sugar, caffeine palpitations, and a bad attitude. So I took up mindfulness—the act of present-time-awareness.
According to The NHS, “Mindfulness, sometimes also called ‘present-centredness,’ can help us enjoy the world more and understand ourselves better.” They aren’t wrong!
It’s okay to say you need some alone time, or to leave the house messy. I didn’t want people to think badly of me back then, so I put myself under pressure to be an actual Wonder Woman. I found out there’s a reason she’s fictional.
I stopped eating sugar.
Processed stuff was my main diet, and it’s horrible for our health.
I was never fond of meat and dairy, but I was filling up on caffeine and sugar. I upped our family intake of fruit and vegetables, bought soya milk, and caffeine-free teabags to use in every other cup. Bye-bye constipation and headaches.
I wasn’t a smoker, but a busy stressful schedule can cause people to start or to smoke more. Goodness knows I was looking for a prop. The effects of smoking on health are devastating—heart disease, cancer, asthma, and susceptibly to colds are just a few. There are no pros.
It’s taken almost a year to feel human again. My dietary changes, exercise, and water intake helped almost immediately, but it took a little longer for the health problems to clear up.
Now I find myself looking back and wondering how on earth I allowed my busy schedule to harm my health so badly, not to mention my family life and friendships.
Nothing is more important than your health and well-being, because without it you have no life. Is that overtime really worth it? Can that email wait? Those illness symptoms certainly can’t.
When we’re on a busy schedule, fitting in some self-care and relaxation time just feels like another chore. However, it’s one that could save your health, life, and relationship. Make it your number one priority—before it’s too late.
Busy schedule image via Shutterstock
About Becky Mathews
Becky Mathews spends a lot of time feeding hedgehogs and talking to her cat in rural England. When she isn’t doing that she’s a freelance health and disability author thankful to have escaped the rat race.