When you’ve been drawing deeply on your energy reserves, and perhaps even slipped into Superwoman to achieve everything you need to, there comes a point when just “stopping” doesn’t really cut it. At times like these, knowing the secret to rest becomes an art in itself. And it’s one I want to share with you today.
Maybe your “holiday” looked more like taking care of everyone in your household.
Perhaps you’ve been caring mode for a loved one, and you can’t switch off that sense of alertness just in case the phone rings.
Or you’ve been pushing through a big project – managing deadlines, soothing wobbles from the team, doing what it takes. The finish line’s there – but somehow, you can’t seem to switch off.
You tell yourself it’s finally time to relax and yet… wine and Netflix doesn’t seem to have the numbing effect you crave. You're checking your email “one last time” before bed. Stress dreaming about the project you can't let go of.
Screens, deadlines, worries and responsibility just won’t stop.
So what’s the answer? How do you deal with what I’ve started to lovingly refer to as the “Superwoman hangover” and get yourself back on track?
The secret to rest: 3 steps to handle a "Superwoman hangover"
#1 Call it what it is
The first step (isn’t it always the first step?) is awareness. Superwoman can be a sneaky visitor. She can often come disguised as just being super caring, or as taking responsibility, or as “going the extra mile”.
But when her tendrils creep in, she begins to show up in every area of your life. Suddenly, it’s not just everything at your work you’re trying to juggle – you’re beating yourself up for not responding to that Whatsapp message from your neighbour two weeks ago.
Time off to recharge starts to look like impossible goals to run 10km, quit carbs and complete 8 hours unpaid work for the voluntary work you've (guiltily) neglected).
Before you know it, you’re holding yourself accountable for everything that’s happening, and telling yourself “there’s no other way”.
Don’t get me wrong. The ability to perform to an exceptionally high standard, in multiple domains, all at once? It’s a talent that comes in extremely handy from time to time.
But learn to recognise when you’re in Superwoman mode. And know that, like any substance, when it’s time to return to reality, you’re going to have a hangover to deal with.
#2 Switch off - properly - for as long as you can
There are no half measures with Superwoman – which means it's nigh-on impossible to switch her off gradually. When you've been keeping an eye on a global team across timezones, have been doing 24hour shifts with the kids or whatever your flavour of Superwoman looks like, the only way to truly rest is to really, truly switch off.
Like, not even "a quick check in". Putting your phone in another room (or switching it off all together).
When I've been going at one hundred miles an hour, ONLY fully stepping back - going to bed for a day if I can - is enough to really rest my brain.
#3 Reconnect to pleasure
The real secret to rest is this one. Let me explain.
So often, when it comes to replenishing ourselves, we think the secret to rest is in getting back to "OK" again. Drink enough water, get a good night's sleep, meet our own needs, that kind of thing.
But if there's one thing I've learned over the past 12 months, it's that when we go beyond our usual levels of depletion – when we've been pushing, and pushing, and keeping going, and holding it all together...
We need to practice RADICAL levels of rest and self care.
And the fastest way to really reconnect to your creative, energised, motivated self isn't to focus on "getting back to OK". It's to prioritise pleasure.
What do I mean by pleasure?
When I shared this lesson on a lunch and learn live a few months ago, it was fascinating to hear some of the responses.
Some of us have been in "get sh*t done" mode for so long we've almost forgotten what pleasure is.
If that's the case for you, I suggest you start by trying something other people find pleasurable. For example, these were some the ideas that came up on the call. Have you ever...
- Ridden a bike?
- Watched a musical?
- Bought a vibrator?
- Sung at the top of your lungs?
- Flown a kite?
- Blown bubbles?
- Got a message whilst lying in the garden?
The other thing that struck me was how utterly reasonable – modest, even – our pleasures are. Think reading a book by the river. Getting dressed up to have an exquisite afternoon tea. Using the fancy bubble bath.
One of my benchmarks for pleasure is when you start to feel slightly guilty.
Here's my secret: sometimes, when I'm supposed to be "working", I snuggle onto the sofa in my office and watch a TV show on the iPad.
And another: last summer, the kids were in bed one evening when I realised we'd forgotten to pick the raspberries in the garden.
Do you know what I did?
I stood by myself in the dusk, and I picked every single ripe berry off that bush and ate them. I savoured them, and felt deliciously selfish and subversive. And it didn't hurt anyone, or cost anything. It was a powerful signal to my brain of how much I value and care for myself, and I have zero regrets!
So today, if you're someone who cares deeply about the world, who feels the heartache of everything that needs to change, I invite you to stir things up.
Start this year by prioritising YOU. Because when YOU are firing on all cylinders, you will be able to have an impact that's bigger than you ever thought possible on the causes you care about.
Don't focus on what's sensible. On what will get you back to "OK".
Focus on what gives you PLEASURE. That's the secret to rest that leads to real results.
And let me know how you do so in the comments...
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