“Quiet the voice telling you to do more and be more, and trust that in this moment, who you are, where you are at, and what you are doing is enough. You will get to where you need to be in your own time. Until then, breathe. Breathe and be patient with yourself and your process. You are doing the best you can to cope and survive amid your struggles, and that’s all you can ask of yourself. It’s enough. You are enough.” ~Daniell Koepke
A couple years ago, a colleague of mine died from overwork.
In the days leading up to the event, everything was normal. Everyone was working and getting things done. Things were hectic, but there was nothing out of the ordinary with sixty- to eighty-hour workweeks.
Then one day, she said that she wasn’t feeling well. She disappeared from her desk and checked into a hospital. A few days later, she passed away.
Sometime later, the hospital determined the cause of death. She had been suffering from heart problems, which had been caused from working long hours. She was in her late twenties.
When people heard about it, there were widespread feelings of loss and sadness. But there was also another feeling: shock. Death from overwork?
It’s one of those things you hear about in the news, or somewhere far away. But to hear about it firsthand from someone you knew? It struck home.
Then I got to thinking: Was I working too many hours? What if I was pushing myself too hard and didn’t realize it? What if the things that I considered normal weren’t normal at all?
Being surrounded by people with high aspirations gives you certain conceptions of how things “should” be. Yet after the incident, I started to see work in a different light.
Like so many others, I previously thought pulling long hours was a point of pride. People would brag about how much they work they did on a given week. Feeling exhausted, drained, and stressed were part of the routine.
That is, until something drastic happens to shatter that belief.
Lately, I’ve been practicing self-care more and more. I’ve started to value the importance of stopping once in awhile and enjoying the scenery, rather than always rushing forward to the next spot.
If you’re exhausted from constantly pushing yourself, perhaps these lessons I’ve learned can be valuable to you as well.
1. Schedule in regular “me” time.
Someone I know has a “no work” policy on the weekends. That means no emails, no working on projects, no meetings until Monday. To emphasize how strongly he believes in this policy, he expects the same from his employees as well.
When I heard this, I was skeptical. How could someone get things done if they simply went off the grid like that? I had always equated working longer hours with better results.
And yet, he said that ever since he dedicated weekends to himself, he is happier, more productive, and more energized overall. Plus, he gets more time to spend with family and pursue his own hobbies.
So I decided to try it. I scheduled in time dedicated to myself. That meant I could take a walk, watch a show, or whatever, as long as I wasn’t working.
Setting aside rest periods meant I was forced to get work done during my designated work periods. It took a while to get used to, I admit. But eventually, I started feeling more focused when I was working and more peaceful when I was resting.
Now, you might not be able to take the whole weekend off or choose your work schedule. Still, you can set aside time for yourself. Try dedicating one hour on a given day to do anything you want.
You might be surprised at how refreshed you feel afterward.
2. “No” can be the best answer.
When someone asks you to do them a favor, how do you respond? Do you dive in, ready to help? Or do you take a step back and evaluate what to do?
Whenever anyone asked me for assistance, I would feel obligated to help. If I didn’t give the person some of my time, I would feel guilty and think I was a bad person. Even if the person didn’t really expect my help in the first place, I would still feel as if I should have done something, somehow.
But I’ve gradually realized that it’s okay to say “no.” I can’t agree to every single request or help everyone who asks for it. I only have a limited amount of time and energy, so I have to choose how to spend it.
Of course, we all have obligations that we need to fulfill, even if we don’t feel like it. Certain people in our lives rely on us. For instance, I need to answer an email from a client, or you might need to pick up your child after school.
At the same time, you don’t need to carry the world on your shoulders. Declining an invitation or a request doesn’t make you a bad person. It simply means you’re spending your time on the things that matter most.
3. You deserve a rest.
For the longest time, I was hesitant about taking holidays because it meant I wasn’t working. And if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t making progress. I felt the need to simply keep going.
However, I have since found that those periods of rest can be periods of immense growth. When I step away from my regular routine, it gives me the opportunity to try new things and explore. It enables me to see new ideas that I can integrate into my work and life.
For instance, traveling has shown me there’s more than one way to live and be happy. While many spend their lives running to the next big thing, many more choose to make the most of what’s around them.
It can be addictive to run yourself ragged, I know. Your heart beats faster, you feel the thrill of a rush, and your brain feels like it’s about to burst with all your ideas and plans. You’re constantly going, going, going, with no stop to it.
But chasing that feeling is also damaging your health in the long run.
If your head is hurting or you feel tired, take a rest. You are not lazy for needing a break. It’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s been running at full speed for far too long.
Listen to your body.
It’s not a waste of time to pause work.
I’ve been trying to balance out that desire to keep pushing forward, while stopping to soak in all the good things around me right now. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve been making it a point to dedicate some time to myself regularly.
I hope that you have been achieving things that you’ve been working on. But I also hope that you’re taking care of yourself and taking a moment to appreciate all that you’ve achieved already.
When you stop and look around, your surroundings come into clearer focus.