“Rat race.” No one’s sure when this became a common term for the hustle, bustle and “all the running you can do to keep in the same place” (thank you, Red Queen) of the constant and competitive treadmill of the business world. Its origins, however, seem to be based on rats in cages and the circular path they run, getting nowhere fast but full of struggles and exhaustion.
We tend to be all “go, go, go” in our work lives; pushing ourselves further and harder to make it to the next, well, whatever. Interestingly, the second part of the Red Queen’s quote is, “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that!” As we do that, we frequently find ourselves burning out, not getting the rest we need, and not taking the time for “us” that we not only deserve but is essential for our health and well-being. Finding that delicate work+life balance takes effort, but it is completely worth it. Doing so allows us to relax and breathe.
Speaking of “breathe”, do you ever find yourself at your desk or work and realize you haven’t taken a breath for a while? “Email apnea” is a term former Apple executive Linda Stone coined for long periods of time without breathing — and without even realizing it — while working. It’s a stalking mechanism animals have. Not wanting to breathe or move for fear of alerting their prey. Imagine that. 3 out of 10 people report they hold their breath while working, as if we’re attacking our work rather than embracing it.
How do we slow our minds and bodies down while running this rat race and what is the benefit of it? Well, there’s a bunch of good that comes of it, and we have just the things — 5, to be exact — to make that constant working feel less oppressive and allow you to find rest during it.
Take a break
This one is perhaps the simplest and the absolute hardest for many people. Too often, we figure we’ll just take a break when we’re done with whatever project or task we’re working on and we’ll say things like, “I’ll take a break as soon as I finish this,” or “I can’t take a break. I’m on a roll.” Even taking time for lunch is cut down here in America. That whole belief intoned by the infamous Gordon Gekko in Wall Street that “Lunch is for wimps,” is shared by far too many people — workforce.com notes that 39 percent of people claim to “occasionally, rarely, or never” take a lunch (with 67 percent of these being women) and the Harvard Business Review shares that 62 percent of those surveyed eat at their desk. Now that many of us work remotely, we pay even less attention to taking time to walk away and recharge, relax, and reboot.
The best way to make sure you take time for yourself in the middle of your workday is to schedule downtime. Go ahead. Put in a lunch break, 15-minute walking break, whatever you need to relax and just breathe for a while to refresh and give back to yourself. You can even grab a book, do some knitting, drawing — whatever activity relaxes you. It is your time to “do for you”. Take it.
Stretch and move
Getting up and moving around whenever you can not only gets you away from your desk or workspace — even if just for a little while — but it is great for helping you get the sleep you need at the end of the day. To support more relaxation and a restful break in your “rat race”, we’re not talking about hardcore gym time. Simple movement, even desk yoga or a walk around the office or your neighborhood, or reaching your arms up and stretching out are some lowkey ways of getting the blood flowing and working those muscles to calm and soothe you in the middle of a busy day.
Something else to note: Being sedentary leads to feelings of depression, health risks, and less productivity. Isn’t that something? Studies have shown that if everyone got up and walked around for even 15 minutes per work day, the world economy would be boosted by about $100 billion per year. Not only will this be restful for you, but it will make you a better employee. Who knew?
This goes to that whole breathing thing. Stop. Slow your breath and focus on it. Calm your mind and relax. It takes just a few moments, really, to lower your heart rate, ease your body, mind, and emotions, and let all the worry and stress just melt away.
Give yourself that time to embrace yourself and just let go. You’ll see a huge difference when you get back to whatever it is you are working on and feel a renewed sense of purpose and even clarity. Taking the time to breathe and relax our brain gives us a chance to come at our projects and tasks from different angles, which then makes us feel even more accomplished.
Take time for your hobby/interests
Bring your knitting, books, sketch pad, needlepoint, whatever to work with you and when you take your break, lose yourself in it. If doing that at work isn’t your thing or you don’t have the place for it, then make sure to indulge your hobbies and interests during your down time.
Those hikes you love, food tours, whatever, all combine to enhance your life. Too many of us live to work not because we love our jobs but because we are heavily caught up in the rat race and see no end in sight. Try working to live for a while, turning off your phone, and doing the thing that brings you joy and gets your personal juices flowing.
Set boundaries, unplug and sleep
One of the reasons it’s hard for us to rest while running this rat race is we aren’t always great at setting boundaries. The typical “9-5” has fallen by the wayside, especially as more of us work from home. We are available pretty 24-7 and we don’t know how to shut it off. This means, we don’t truly take time for ourselves because we’re always available and if we’re not unplugging, then we’re not relaxing and if we’re not relaxing, we’re not sleeping very well.
As someone who works from home and deals across different time zones, I get how difficult it can be to do this. When you’re working on a project or deadline that requires a different level of attention than at other times, there needs to be “availability flexibility”. Yep, understood. BUT there is a way to navigate this and here it is: Create a schedule for yourself.
It can be fluid, of course, and maybe one week you’re available in the evening but not early in the morning. Maybe it’s focusing a few hours specifically on the task at hand, then giving yourself a true siesta to reboot, grab some food, take a walk, snooze a bit, then come back to it. Whatever form this takes for you, set true boundaries for others to follow, unplug from everything other than caring for yourself during your down time, and make sure to GET YOUR SLEEP. Sleep is your friend in everything you do and when you’re running this kind of race, the wonderful things your body benefits from during slumber truly make navigating it that much easier and healthier.
Give yourself breathing room
A good work+life balance is vital and you can never have enough tips to help you through or be reminded enough how important it is to give yourself the space to live while working, whether you work in an office or from home. Burnout sucks, feeling over-stressed bites, and the fact that being overworked can lead to some serious depression is no one’s idea of wellness.
There’s no “perfect” work+life balance solution, just the one that works best for you at that time. For one thing, each one of us is triggered — positively or negatively — by different things. It may take time to find your happy place, but it’s worth it. Another reason is that some things in our lives require more of our attention and focus at certain times than others. Being flexible with how we traverse the work+life journey will help because finding time to rest and rejuvenate is always critical and making your “downtime” a priority matters.
Another thing to remember is if you are feeling overwhelmed and seriously stressed by work, take stock of your life, and make a list of the emotions coming up for you and what may be causing them. I know, not all of us are list makers, journal writers, or Monday board keepers — trust me, I get it — but there are questions you deserve to ask yourself as you run the rat race so that you can enjoy both the work you do and the life you live. Writing things down helps us process whatever is in our mind and focus on it to deal with it more effectively. It’s science, people.
While part of that delicate balance is working at something you enjoy, not all of us can have our dream jobs or even our dream careers. If we step back and look at what we’ve sacrificed, pushed aside, the dissatisfaction we may be feeling that might be hindering either our personal or professional life — again, taking stock — we can address it and look at what we need to do for ourselves to change it and act upon it.
One last thing: You are not alone out there. Embrace your support system to bounce things off and spend time and relax with. We all need a little help when we’re committing to giving ourselves more breathing room as we traverse our work life. Sharing is caring, after all. With that said…
I’m now turning off my computer and taking some “me” time. I hope you do the same.