Don’t Forget to Breathe

by Joey Traywick

As I get older (48), I am beginning to worry about how being too busy may have adverse effects on my health. What should I be worried about, from a health perspective, being way too busy and way too stressed? – EAS

This is a great question because I believe in our culture we really, really value people that are busy. In fact, I was watching the recent Punxsutawney Phil escapade and I was AMAZED at how many people there were in attendance to see this gopher or hedgehog or whatever it is, that is supposed to see its shadow every year! I mean, there were THOUSANDS of humans crammed in this area trying to get up front to get a glimpse of this event. I pondered on the probability that just about EVERY one in that audience would tell you that they have “just been so busy lately.”

Really? You’re THAT busy? Didn’t I see you on TV at that groundhog shadow event? You were there from like dawn to lunch. You’re too busy to respond to my email? You’re THAT busy? You can’t text me back for lunch next week? ANYHOO…

We don’t seem to value people that tell you, “Stop by any time! I’m ALWAYS home. Really don’t go out or do much. EVER! Just sitting around. Killin’ time.” We think they are probably insane. Or joking. Or both. But at any rate, we don’t really esteem folks with totally open agendas, do we? No, in America we like people that are “on the go” and “in demand” don’t we? We jokingly say that we can’t wait for vacation but there are TONS of data that say we Americans skip lunch, vacations and time at home to be at work and when we are not at work we are on the go to baseball or piano or the gym, right? Right?

And it is killing us. The stress of “GO! GO! GO!” is literally chipping away at the amount of time we have on this planet. The pressure to fill every last moment with something productive or to constantly be on the move can have ENORMOUS negative effects on your health that cannot be reversed. It’s huge. Seriously. Huge.

I won’t bore you with the pathology of stress hormones and what the prolonged exposure to them will do to your body because you probably already can sense what it is doing to your body. It makes it difficult to fall asleep. Fatigue is a real and daily challenge. Your libido is affected.

You are either over caffeinated or asleep. You have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. You have mood swings. You are forgetful and you just don’t feel like the fun person you used to be. And I’m not even going to mention the weird heart palpitations you get from time to time.

If it sounds like I am a little too close to this diagnostic disposition, you are correct. I used to consistently say “YES” to too many commitments so that I could stay busy and be valued for being busy until one day I got some sage advice from a dear friend. She said, “Joey, when people tell you that they just don’t see how you get everything done that you do, it is NOT a compliment; it is a warning.” She suggested I take a fast or a break from doing ANYTHING extracurricular for one week, just go to work and come home. No committees. No emails from work while home. No Facebook or fundraising for the next great cause.

It almost killed me. But now I do it about 3 times a year as a “detox” of sorts. I read. I play with my kids and my dogs. I reschedule date nights with my wife. And I do good. For about 3 months or so. Then, I need to detox again. Step back from the busy. Take the warning. Listen to me, friend. Take. The warning.

But you are going to need some long term and short term goals as well as controls built in to make sure you don’t slip too far before you detox again.

First short term goal you can do TODAY: Set a timer! I have a timer on my phone and about 3 times in every 12 hour shift at the hospital, my timer will go off and remind me to BREATHE. That’s right! BREATHE! I will look for a quick moment that I can steal away to a private place and I will literally focus on my breathing for a couple of minutes. I remind myself that I am a good nurse and that things are going to be OK – and, personally, I pray for the safety of my family while I am away from them. The satisfaction I feel in those few moments can NOT be overstated. There are great apps that can help with this. Some folks like guided 2 minute meditation while others listen to the rain drops on their phone app. Worth every penny. But many are free!

Number two: understand the brevity of this amazing life. I just took a job at RiverStone Hospice. (I know. LESS busy, right? That is the point?) No one there is busy. Time is running out for every patient there and yet they seem to have all the time in the world to do a puzzle or sit with their family and feed the squirrels. May I suggest you find a book about how precious life is (I am reading “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi) or maybe watch “My Life” again with Michael Keaton (do you remember that movie!?) One of the very BEST things I did was visit with a counselor to help me understand WHY I am so willing to put everything on hold for the next shiny thing – because that is NOT how I want to be remembered. This is more a long term goal but schedule an appointment with a counselor you trust this week.

Finally – number three – make “fasting” from being busy a regular occurrence. Take the time to pick a week every three months or so that you will only do the basics. Eat. Work 8 hours. Sleep. Doesn’t that sound nice!? Your inner voice will fight you tooth and nail but much like our NO SUGAR CHALLENGES we do on Facebook (find me on Facebook and I will enlighten you) your resolve to be better than you were – will win eventually.

Remember, being busy doesn’t mean you are productive. And how do you want to be remembered? Scattered? Not as much fun as you used to be? Time was never money. It was always more than that. So, sacrifice the busy and the rat race for the purposeful and intentional things that just may leave gaping holes in your schedule for something amazing to break through in your “boring” day.

Maybe THAT’s what all those folks were doing out there watching that creature look for his shadow. Maybe they all have figured this out before you and I! Maybe they are OK not being too busy and they are not checking their emails. In fact, they are bored enough to enjoy a random moment with a groundhog before life passes them by. How refreshing.

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