Like so many in the human services field, I entered my profession with a deep commitment to helping others. As an ex-perfectionist, I did it with one standard in mind–to always give 150% to everyone and everything I did. This singular focus worked well until a life-challenging illness forced me to rethink my time and energy distribution. If there are only 24 hours in a day, and ideally only 8 hours should be devoted to work, 8 to rest, and 8 to enjoying life, clearly giving 150% to work meant I was short changing two of the most important aspects of my existence. I probably would have continued expressing my work ethic in this manner for my whole life, until the life-threatening need to regain health and wholeness stopped me in my tracks.
Reinventing my life meant honoring my deeper needs while questioning the 150% expectation. I had to reformulate my distribution of time and energy. Could I still express excellence in my work without compromising my health, enjoyable time with my family and friends, and the new need for life-sustaining self-care? The solution to my dilemma was found in quantifying my work time and dialing it down by 20%. This new formula for excellence was perfect in that all I had to do was tally up the amount of time I was giving to work pursuits and reduce it by 20%. For instance, I used to give 60 minutes to each of my clients. Dialing it down put me in the range of 48 minutes, which was still within my professions standards. Recalculating my people-helping time resulted in the ability to complete my paper work by the end of my 8 hour work day, without taking time away from the rest of my life. The feeling of balance between work, home, and personal life was not only a gift I gave myself, but one that included better quality of time for all the people in my life–including my loved ones.
I find that many people working in human-helping professions, like teaching, nursing, mental health, etc., often give 150% and then feel exhausted at the end of their work day. To you I offer the 20% less option. Calculate the amount of time you give to grading papers, reading journal articles, answering emails, talking on the phone, documenting your work, and conversing with the people you service. If you’re the type who gives 150% to these aspects of your work– at the expense of your self– try dialing it down. 20% less means instead of giving 150%, you now provide 120% (which still puts you over 100% and on the side of excellence). It starts with a commitment to valuing your health by giving your self permission to apply the new 120% formula for excellence into the time you devote to your work. The outcome for you, as it has been for me, will include more energy, health, balance, wholeness, and happiness. And because of these essential wellness benefits, I hope this new formula for excellence will remain with you for your whole life.
If you’ve ever visited a warm weather country, like Spain, Italy, or Greece during the summer months, you might have noticed that in some locations they shut down the entire city during the hottest part of the day. Traditionally, this practice allowed their workers to take a much needed siesta, or nap, to rejuvenate and return to work during the cooler part of the day. During my visits, I’d be forced to take a siesta as a way of coping with their oppressive heat. But upon returning home, I never thought it necessary to continue as the cooler summers associated with living in the northern states never required this kind of adaptation. Honestly, I thought my geographically influenced way of life would be the case for my whole life. But this summer, with its record number of heat advisories and scorching temperatures, challenged me to make a practical lifestyle change–siesta style. In addition to helping me better cope with the heat, it turns out a good nap has fantastic health benefits as well:
- cardiovascular health
- hormonal maintenance
- cell repair
However, as I discovered, the type of nap you take can further influence your mental wellness too. According to Sara Mednick PhD, author of the book Take A Nap! Change Your Life, Power naps (defined as lasting 20 minutes or less) have the additional benefits of:
- enhanced mood
- increased productivity
- lowering stress hormones
- improved memory
- aiding learning
It turns out there are some important factors to consider before attempting a power nap. Failure to follow these recommendations can result in waking up feeling groggy and foggy instead of alert and refreshed. So for maximum benefit, consider these important 8 steps:
- Attitude–taking a nap does not make you lazy, it makes you smart.
- Timing–napping in the morning or just after lunch is best for avoiding grogginess.
- Avoid–stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, and high fats that mess with your nap.
- Diet–eat a high calcium & protein food (like yogurt) 1-2 hours before to aid sleep.
- Environment–prepare the room to be free of disturbances and disruptive noise.
- Lighting–darken the room or cover your eyes to produce melatonin for napping.
- Temperature–body temps fall during sleep, so compensate with a blanket or heat.
- Duration–in the sleep position, set your alarm or cell phone for 20 minutes or less. This is the key to waking up feeling rejuvenated–as opposed to feeling groggy. (Be careful, sleeping longer than 20 minutes is associated with slower brain waves that results in waking up in a state of sleep inertia that leads to that groggy and foggy brain feeling.)
Now that I’ve made this simple SIESTA STYLE accommodation to my lifestyle as a way to better adapt to the changes in my environment I can honestly say I like the effect a good POWER NAP has on my body, mind, and spirit. Due of this enhanced feeling of well-being, I’m pretty sure I’ll continue this practice of power napping for my whole life.
I’m standing in line paying for my groceries. The credit card chip has my transaction moving slowly. The cashier, a young man accustomed to working quickly, complains about the slow pace of these new chips. Mindful of the opportunity to share a different perspective, I told him about discovering the gift of these new credit cards. I share with him that they’re not credit cards, they’re breathing cards. Slower processing time provides a moment, a gift, to slow down, take a deep breath, and relax myself. He smiled and accepted my invitation to catch his breath too. And in that moment of sharing a deep sigh, we celebrated our common desire, regardless of our differences, to overcome the stress of life and enjoy the feeling of comfort that comes when we choose wellness. We also agreed that the busy pace of our lives often results in forgetting the basic need to breathe. For my whole life, before integrating this discovery into my shopping, I used to process all of my credit card transactions at the often impersonal and fast pace set by a hardworking and conscientious cashier. But a practical approach to mental wellness beckons us to slow down in the everyday moments of life–including during the processing of a credit card. I believe that integrating the gift of a deep breath, even better when shared with another, into these everyday encounters is the key to making positive personal and social changes. Now, like credit on a card, I’m reminded to bank even greater well-being with a deep breath, and in so doing, make a mindful investment in my whole life.