Time Out!

by Marian Buckner, RN, BSN

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.”

——Eckhart Tolle

There is an implied expectation in our society that we do as much as we can in as little time as possible. The children may be out of the house, but the workload hasn't lessened one iota. In fact, it's almost as exhausting as when they were home! “Multitasking,” originally a computer function, is now a common phrase used to describe a capable “go to” person. Let’s face it, who hasn’t caught a call on their cell phone while driving (very carefully, of course) and felt as though they used their time effectively? Or read emails while watching the news on TV and simultaneously prepping dinner, with the laundry on spin cycle? And these are but a few examples of free time!

Employment, at which we spend our most productive hours, is our biggest multitask-oriented environment. The ability to accomplish small feats and minor miracles is elemental to the current workplace ethic, right? There’s always something to do—and never enough time to do it in.

The “S” Word
Just saying the word stress sends shivers up your spine. Your shoulders hunch as if preparing for an attack. That’s not too far off the mark, if you look at what our chronically overworked high-pressure culture can do to your body. Cortisol, often tagged the “stress hormone,” encourages the body’s “fight or flight” response to a stressful event. Remember how you felt the last time you swerved your car to avoid creating roadkill? Your heart was pounding, but the response was effective. Cortisol is as instrumental now as it was during our evolutionary process. It produced the fittest survivors in pretty tough times.

Prolonged exposure to stress (and therefore to cortisol), however, can lead to a litany of problems for your body’s systems. Starting with the brain, it can impair cognitive abilities. Blood sugar abnormalities, decreased bone density and muscle tissue, higher blood pressure, increased abdominal fat, and diminished immune function can all develop, as well. These abnormalities are of particular importance to those of empty-nesting age. What can you do, though, to return your stress hormones to normal?

Slow Down!
“You move too fast . . .” Everyone knows the value of a vacation and tries to escape at least once a year. But what about the other 51 weeks? Getting out of the “everyday grind mind” regularly is essential for reducing stress and bringing some peace to your life. Here are a few easy methods for “chillaxin,” no matter where you find yourself:

• Take a few minutes to write down what you’re grateful for.
• Focus on doing only one thing at a time.
• Say a prayer, or meditate.
• Take a walk outside.
• Listen to music, eyes closed, while doing nothing else.
• Have a cup of your favorite beverage and savor the flavor.
• Cuddle your pet.

There is a grassroots effort afoot of people reaching out to connect with others by slowing down and appreciating the rhythms of our world. Edward O. Wilson, author of Biophilia, suggests people have an instinctive bond with other living systems and are deeply attracted to nature, whether it is to gardens, people, food, weather, or animals.

Until recently in human history, people were connected via extended families and communities. They had gardens because they needed to eat. They enjoyed the flavors of the season and kept close touch with nature. Today, with our rushed lifestyles, we don’t always satisfy this natural craving or even realize that we need to do it. Nature soothes. It’s impossible to multitask while you’re listening to a bird’s fluttering wings.

Take a Risk
Try something different, even risky: Take a day off from your alarm clock, watch, schedule, and Blackberry. Make NO plans and just wake up. Eat when you’re hungry. Play. Nap when you’re tired. When was the last time you had an unstructured day? When you were in grade school, during summer vacation? Remember what fun you had when you had nothing to do but wake up and see what adventures awaited you? Why doesn’t that happen anymore? Catch a hint from back then and saturate yourself in living for the moment. In short, take a time out.

Combat stress. It’s more about the journey than the destination. If you’re all about checking off tasks on a list and not at all cognizant of the world around you, you’re shortchanging yourself—and perhaps doing yourself irreparable harm. Take a time out. It’s only a small investment. But you’ll notice the difference in big dividends.

Biophilia Hypothesis
Slow Down to Enjoy Life
Slow Movement: Ease Up, Chill Out
Slow Movement

Marian Buckner, RN, BSN, specializes in psychiatric nursing. During her 30-year career, she has worked with patients in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings. Marian, whose job necessitates that she carefully manage her stress levels, enjoys cooking, unwinding with friends, and welcoming the sunrise over the landscape outside her rural Pennsylvania home.

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