I probably shouldn’t be giving advice about how to relax because I’m fairly horrendous at it. Relaxing, for me, takes work. I can rarely make it through watching an entire movie at home without becoming antsy or getting up to do a chore. From the time I get up to the time I go to sleep, my mind is constantly scrolling my to-do list for work or for home. Finish this project, clean this room, make this meal, and so on. For the last half of 2017 I was exhausted and barely had enough energy to make dinner at the end of the day. I kept pushing myself, however, because I thought I should be able to work full-time, care for our home and still be emotionally, mentally and physically healthy, despite the extremely stressful season of life my husband and I are walking through.
At the end of January my doctor told me I had cancer. My thyroid had rebelled, and I was diagnosed with stage one thyroid cancer, which required doctors’ appointments and surgery and now daily thyroid medicine. God is gracious, and each result was best-case scenario. However, cancer was a vivid reminder of how important it is for me to spend time relaxing, especially during the stressful seasons of life.
Our bodies need rest, and we have to find ways to refuel our bodies, even in the midst of the stressful seasons of life and ministry. When I returned from my last term overseas, I was on the edge of complete burnout because of an unhealthy team situation. As I sat through a debriefing and renewal retreat with fellow cross-cultural workers, I felt as though I belonged. All of our lives were stressful. All of us had faced situations which cause extreme (and unhealthy) stress levels. But God didn’t create our bodies and minds to endure extreme stress day after day and month after month.
Each of our lives has busy weeks or months. Perhaps it’s the beginning and end of a school year or weeks of summer outreach events and camps. During those seasons it’s easy to push our bodies to the limit without giving them time to recover. Cross-cultural life adds even more stress to the mix as we navigate second or third languages and cultural dos and don’ts. Taking a vacation isn’t always as simple as hopping in the car for a road trip to the beach; sometimes it’s going to a conference or taking a trip to a different city or country for medical appointments and squeezing in down time between meetings or appointments.
While I’m still not amazing at relaxing, I’m growing in this area because I know my body cannot handle the stress of life without scheduled times of rest. So as I navigate learning how to best care for my body, I’m adding a few things to my daily and weekly routines.
1. Enjoying quiet time each morning. Instead of filling most of my time completing as many chores as possible before I head to work each morning, I’m spending more time reading the Word and talking with the Father. I usually have time to complete part of a chore, but I no longer cut short my time in the Word to make sure I have all of the dishes put away before I head off to work.
2. Exercising more regularly. After we moved to a new home last year, my exercise routine became far less regular due to a longer commute and a new neighborhood. However, for my physical and mental health, I’m heading out for a walk more often after I’m home from work. The fresh air and physical movement help me destress after a long work day before tackling my evening chores.
3. Guarding my schedule. My husband and I have learned that if we are overly busy on Sunday, I feel behind and stressed out before the week even begins, so most weeks we come home and relax for the rest of the day. I might try a new recipe for dinner, or we might run a couple of errands. However, we try to keep social commitments to a minimum, allowing me time to refuel as the week begins.
4. Giving myself grace. This is difficult for me because I still want to be the woman who can do it all, even though my body has clearly told me I can’t. The end of spring and beginning of summer are a busy season for me at work. This year, instead of spending my evenings doing chores at home and being incredibly grumpy, I left most of the chores for the weekend and sat and colored while watching TV with my husband. The coloring makes me feel productive and helps clear my mind, and as my mom regularly tells me, “The chores will wait.”
Most of us aren’t prone to adding “relax” to our to-do list each day or even each week; however, making a few changes to my routine has reduced my stress level and helped me relax, even though life is still fairly crazy and overwhelming most of the time. My prayer is that you will find time to relax this week; whether it’s an hour alone at a coffee shop or a twenty minute walk around a park, I encourage you to take a deep breath and cross “relax” off your to-do list.
How have you incorporated relaxation into your daily and or weekly routine?
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