No one needs to read a bunch of statistics to realize that, as a whole, we Americans are spending more and more time at work or on the way to/from work. Those of us lucky enough to still have jobs in these days of downsizing and outsourcing are having a harder time making ends meet. All of this plus the general state of the union has made us a nation of major stressballs. Nowadays, leisure – the concept of not being in a hurry – is a luxury item.
A travel agent was recently telling me about her African adventures and Caribbean cruises. Boy, was she barking up the wrong tree! Until I win the lottery, I’m not even looking at brochures. But, I confess; I played hooky yesterday and it felt great! Other than for medical reasons, preparation for holidays, or occasional out of town trips, my presence at work is a given. I take my responsibilities seriously and never take days off frivolously. Yesterday was the exception to that rule. This teeny, tiny, mini-vacation that I manufactured out of whole cloth had an outsized impact on me in the mental health department. Listen up.
If you’re like me, you harbor this fantasy that the work you do can’t possibly survive your absence. Most of us are so overwhelmed by life’s many demands on us, we can’t step back and see the larger picture. But we know, if we take half a second to think about it, that there is more to life than work. While this is a simple concept, it is often incredibly hard to put it into practice.
Once I came up with this radical-in-its-simplicity notion, I already felt a lot better. One source of stress – at least for me – is when I feel helpless and trapped. Consciously deciding to make my life easier was very empowering, with virtually no downside. So, the question becomes, what stops us from treating ourselves well on a regular basis?
Let’s look at what I did on my day off. Nothing particularly dramatic, I didn’t go shopping or to a museum or art gallery. I did a lot of little things that added up to a terrific day. First off, I allowed myself to go to bed later than usual the night before because I knew I didn’t have to go to work in the morning. Then, when I woke up, I didn’t get up right away. I laid around for what was probably no more than fifteen minutes yet felt so deliciously decadent. When Emma and I did our morning walk, I didn’t hurry her along. We literally strolled the neighborhood, stopping for an impromptu play date with her friend, Gordy, and his owner, Jonathan. All that was missing from the picture was a cane and bowler hat. It was wonderful to be able to schmooze without feeling like I should be elsewhere. I don’t often enough experience that sensation.
After a slightly longer shower during which I forced myself not to think about the extra water being consumed, I made my power shake and planned my day. Before getting down to writing, I headed to Runner’s Edge, to explore why my goggles were denting the bridge of my nose. Instead of rushing in and out, I had a leisurely conversation with the saleswoman and we decided the problem was that the foam padding had gotten so compressed over time. In the end, I splurged and bought myself a new pair of Barracudas, which are still made in the USA. So, I could feel virtuous about buying American, while taking very good care of myself –a classic win-win situation.
Then, I went home and got down to work. Energized and refreshed, I made quite a bit of progress on my article, enough to amply justify my absence from work. Emma’s friend Sophie came over unexpectedly for a romp in the back yard. And later in the afternoon, I met my friend Christy for dinner and a walk by the beach. We’ve been friends since high school. She went to school in Dallas, got married and has lived there ever since. We connect when she comes to town, several times a year but it's never enough. She just rented an apartment nearby so, she'll be around a lot more. Her proximity is like a present you’ve been wanting for such a long time that you’ve stopped believing it could ever happen. And then, miraculously, it does!
After my busy, and productive day, I tossed and turned and woke up totally unrefreshed. The usual laundry list of concerns about the state of our country – elections and beyond – crowded back into my mind and hovered there, for quite a while. I was probably more susceptible to the assault because my defenses had been down for a bit.
Earlier this month, I wrote One activist’s prescription for mental health In it, I laid out my fun mix-and-match technique designed to maximize efforts in that direction. Yesterday, I must have racked up a kazillion points. Lots of outdoors activities, multiple social occasions, a massage, plenty of sunshine, good food that I didn’t cook or clean up, hanging out with my canine companion, down time, reading, and word games late at night (my no-longer-secret vice). You name it, I did it. And I’m telling you, it felt great. Admittedly, not everyone has the freedom to play with their schedule. But, you may have a bit more flexibility than you think you do. From my experience yesterday, I’m telling you that it is absolutely, positively worthwhile to do some rearranging to make your mini-vacation happen. Even a few hours can be enough to get a buzz. Maybe part of the reason I can be so philosophical about my sleepless night is because I fully intend to play hooky again next week. I can hardly wait!