Do you ever find yourself working and working and working with the door to the hamster cage open, but you’re stuck on the wheel?

When caught up in this cycle, when do you give yourself permission to stop? How do you know that you need to actually shift gears?

The tendency is to keep our heads down and go and go and go onto the next thing, thinking we are being more productive, but would really be better off if you took a break. It is possible to get addicted to powering through it, living for the deadline and loving the adrenaline that comes with it. There can also be peer pressure to keep on going and not take a break…like some weird game of office chicken.

I’m not quite sure when it became the norm to not take care of ourselves or recognize that we might need something different than our colleague. There’s often a lot of judgement from ourselves when we perceive our own expectations aren’t being met. Whether we are people-focused (don’t want to let others down) or process-driven (need to meet a goal), we get attached to what those expectations are, drive our head down and don’t come up for air.

This is only sustainable for so long before we inevitable crash and burn. You’re no longer productive or efficient or effective. The saying “a change is as good as a rest” is bullshit. Even with a change, if you aren’t addressing the underlying issue driving you or your habitual way of doing something, you’ll continue to recreate it. You can change a job, relationship etc., but it might not change the underlying issue.

Self help books are full all sorts of suggestions, but the reality is the sage wisdom on the pages mostly only works for entrepreneurs or those with enough autonomy to implement the tips. For the most part, these suggestions don’t work for those on the standard 9-5 track.

So when is it ok to stop and take a break? Recently, one of my clients took a four-week break. Only now, in the 4th week, are they starting to feel rested, sleeping well and waking up feeling energized. For the first two weeks it was a massive crash, the third week was spent realizing how tired they had been and now we are working on proactive planning to protect it from that happening again.

If you’re constantly working to deadlines and pushing through, you’ll eventually crash. So, if you know you’ll crash then what can you do to be proactive? We need time to recover from learning new things or being under constant stress.

Here are a few ideas, but really, it’s about finding what’s going to work for you and recharge your mind and body.

  • Schedule time to regroup
  • Create self-imposed deadlines to get things done
  • Strike a balance, a flow. If there is something predictable and cyclical, plan in recovery time to compensate for those predictable peaks of stress. Personally, I believe “work-life” balance is an illusion, instead strive for harmony whatever way it works for you. My typical style is drive hard, full-on and then retreat and recover and do it again.
  • Find calm in the storm. Try journal writing or meditating for 5 minutes a day.
  • Clear your plate. Cancel the things that are nonessential during times of high pressure or stress.
  • Reframe expectations. Set a timeframe for how long you’re willing to keep up a frenetic pace and stick to it. You may have to make short-term sacrifices to make it happen.  
  • Be your new BFF. Spend time with yourself to get clearer and to get present. You can do this throughout the day by taking 30 seconds to 1 minute an hour to get your mind back from a state of stress.
  • And BREATHE! Truly breathe – big deep consecutive breaths.

Above all, give yourself permission to try something new. Chances are, you’ll find a way to shift gears and refocus. When we’re in a constant state of stress we’re relying on adrenaline to get the job done, and this adversely affects our health. If you’re doing that to yourself every single day, it’s a problem.

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