Why Is Taking a Break So Difficult?

While talking to a female attorney recently, she excitedly told me that she and her husband had been away for the weekend and what a fabulous time they had shared.  Well of course I thought! They’re a great couple, both attorneys. Puzzled I pondered her expression of surprise, was it the location, romance, food, accommodation or just taking a break? I felt compelled to ask, all the while thinking, they don’t have children and after her husband’s surgery a few years ago, surely they get away often. Instead, her reply shocked me: “It’s the first time we’ve been away in 8 years, and this time we didn’t bring our work” she said.

Sadly, overwork has become a way of life for many, seemingly externally imposed, but often our own making.

There’s a new term being coined by consultants Drs Jackie and Kevin Freiberg for disengaged employees: “Dead people working”. We all know them, colleagues, friends and family that are apathetic, disengaged, burnt out and bored with work. The Freibergs place the blame squarely on leaders and the inability to understand the needs, motivation and psyche of employees.  Much of what they say is true but in the USA no one nails our foot to the floor, so why don’t we just walk outside, explore nature, find ways to take a break and re-group? Living The Orange Line emphasizes outcomes versus “busyness”.  But, without awareness and reflection, we never learn the process.

There was a time when I consistently ignored my body sense and rarely took a break, creating unnecessary high levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, which sustained over time, weakened my immune system. A time when postponing my “to do list” was excruciating so I’d anxiously check in with my phone, catastrophizing the worst in my absence. And if and when I took a break my head was filled with noise about work demands. I spread myself so thin I wasn’t truly present to “me”, my family or friends.

Life’s different now and not because I’m doing less, in fact the opposite. What’s changed is my response. I practice consciously ignoring the noise in my head and I’m better at looking after “me”, protecting myself from the emotional angst of others. As one of our interviewees suggested, she figuratively puts on the white coat when she arrives at work as a way of protecting her psyche and spirit from the negativity of others. My strategy is different and includes adhering to 5 daily practices – contemplative prayer, exercise, prioritizing, re-framing and delegation. When I feel pressured I say to myself: “all will be well, I’ll get it done!”

Pacing myself feels good and many of our interviewees said the same. In fact my creative juices and innovation are consistently elevated and my body is healthy.  Ironically, simply shedding Feminine Filter bad habits allows me time to work less, achieve more and have the energy to serve and love others. Yet the first step is always allowing the inner space for stillness and reflection.  For me, this has made all the difference, lending perspective. I become the observer. I’m truly thankful for this discovery and the women in our study that graciously shared their insight on pausing and taking a break – albeit inwardly.

© Michelle Waters

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