Lately, I’ve been swamped and feeling the stress. First thing, each morning, I usually write in my journal. For weeks now, I start with, I’m tired. And then stare out my kitchen window. I manage to get a few more words out.
The rest of my thoughts feel paralyzed and static. I’m baked, fried, roasted. Just roll me down a hill and let me stay there — preferably a hill that leads to a quiet beach and a cove insulated from any demands.
For months now, there’s been a steady inner voice telling me to do more. For transparency’s sake, I am the CEO of my private counseling practice, as well as a single mom, poet, cook, bookkeeper, and administrator of everything. Sometimes, it gets to be too much, and I forget to take care of myself.
The other day when that voice crept in, I laid my head down on my desk and feebly shook my head, no more. Then I imagined that inner voice with a long thin cane tapping my desk, nudging, and poking me to get up. I grabbed the cane and threw it out the window. Which, of course, made me laugh.
Here I am having a battle with my inner critic. But my reaction served me well because I kept daydreaming outside the pages of my routine. Without any doubt, I longed to smell the sun. Taste the sea. Walk and walk and let all else wait until later. Obviously, pulling the plug at the moment isn’t exactly doable. So, I started to plan some time off.
You see, stress, exhaustion, and overwork are all indications something needs to change. The subtle list of being overworked will inevitably send us multiple red flags. For instance, some of us will inadvertently procrastinate or avoid tasks when life gets too busy. Or we might start to forget details and roll our eyes when there’s another phone call or email to return.
Our minds and bodies are extraordinary at being our personal teachers. Those red flags will keep popping up until we wave our own flag, not exactly to surrender but to create some personal boundaries and take a break.
So, when the voice repeated itself, and this time louder, I smiled and shrugged my shoulders at the do more voice and shook my head, no.
Then I asked myself if that smile and shrug could speak, what would they say?
Without a pause, my smile and shrug slipped out a loud, stop! Followed by a laugh buried from deep within. I could see how necessary my needs were to escape through the metaphorical walls and over the hillside. I needed to temporarily break free from my routine.
Taking a break, even for a short while, helps me to reconnect and sip sun juice. I let my daydreaming wander, and there I was, wearing a beautiful clear blue dress and sandals! I had my toes painted, too, and bangles were adorning my wrists. What fun!
Continuing in my reverie, I walked along a deserted beach. Those bangles shimmered soft and sweet. My sandals were held in one hand as a warm breeze embraced me.
Even though I hadn’t left my kitchen table, I took a mini-vacay inside my heart space and let myself be carefree. I realized, once again, how much I crave quietness in the form of daydreaming. I also noticed how this past week, poetry has been my go-to. The brevity and freedom of poetry is my soul sister.
To take my dreaming one step further, later that afternoon, I took myself on a much-needed date. We went to a small local nursery where the paths are a combination of redbrick and gravel. On either side of the pathways, there are tables and rows of quiet plants. I picked a handful of herbs, a few colorful flowers, and one sweet cherry tomato plant.
I felt more than fine. I felt giddy, relieved, light, and carefree. With the car windows open, a cool breeze a-blowin’ and the stereo jammin’, I sang all the way home.
I learned from this experience we benefit from listening to ourselves — to listen to the tiredness and hesitations. Listen when your body aches. Listen to your procrastination. Perhaps your headaches and your tummy hurt. What is being said? Are you resenting your extra work? The overtime? The ongoing and often thankless job you do?
Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a CEO of a mega organization, a freelance writer, a teacher, student, plumber, artist… The list goes on. However, there comes a time when we need to walk on the quiet side and into our dreams. Not exactly to escape but to fulfill and nurture the inside of our soul’s deepest passions.
This article was originally featured on Age of Empathy, via Medium. Let's Sip Sun Juice and Take a Break.
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."