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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

Self Care: You Have Permission To Stop

Last week was what I call "Hell Week". Hell Week is simply the week that leads up to something big, in this case, the Special Holiday Performance at CPDW, the dance studio where I teach.  Hell Week is usually filled with a heavy mix of rushing to finish costume construction for all my students, keeping parents informed and reinforced on the weekend's schedule, coordinating who needs to be where, preparing to spend 48 hours locked in a theatre, and worry that the performance will go off without any problems. Add on top of that dealing with every day issues such as family, kids that still need to get to everything, husband's work needs, the approaching holidays, and oh yeah, my regular job. It is a week where I live off of daily lists of schedules to keep my brain straight, don't sleep well due to stress,  and drink a LOT of wine. (Yet, when it is all over, I gleefully look forward to preparing for the next one. Go figure.)

So one day last week, I did something very strange for me to do during one of the busiest weeks of the year - I went back to sleep. This week usually includes lots of late nights dealing with work and costumes that can't get done until the kids go to bed. That morning, oldest child had to be up half an hour earlier than usual, so after getting her sent off successfully, and after youngest child was securely sent off on the school bus, I went back to bed and slept for about 2 1/2 hours. After waking up, I felt amazing. My list was still there, and I was rapidly running out of time to get stuff done, but I felt so good, I didn't care. Usually when something comes up that sucks 2 1/2 hours out of the busiest week of the year, it doubles my stress, but when I woke up, I felt great - and realized that it was ok that I felt like that.

Also that week, I made a conscious decision not to ride our new exercise bike. Seems silly, but at the beginning of December, I realized that if I kept up with riding through the month, I could hit a milestone 200 rides by Christmas*. I had riding on my daily list of things to do this week, but early on, I realized that riding would stress me out too much if I either tried to squeeze it in, or if I skipped and left the unfinished checkmark on my list. So I flat out decided not to ride at all this week. And I felt good about that. Not about not exercising, but that allowed myself to remove something from my schedule without feeling guilty about it.

I haven't felt so unstressed about decisions in a long time. It has made me realize that stopping is a good thing. It is not easy. I'm the go-go-go type that always has so much going on, I never rest. Despite all the studies and research that say "take time for yourself", "calm your mind for a bit", "it's better for your overall well-being",  how often do we really do that? I know I don't. And if I do, I usually feel guilty about it because I'm not go-go-going, and that is what everyone expects of me, including what I expect of myself. So this Hell Week, I finally gave myself permission to stop.

Why has this concept escaped me for so long? Fear and guilt are the two things that spring to mind immediately. Fear that I won't get everything done, and guilt that I'm not working hard enough to to get everything done. However, looking back at the week - I did get the costumes done in plenty of time. (Enough time to actually repair a bunch when the first design failed). All the kids got where they needed to be, and the world kept turning. And I actually felt physically and mentally good about it. Maybe I really just did need the sleep. After Hell Week wraps up, I generally get sick - maybe my body saw this as an opportunity to ward off the inevitable illness that will hit me sometime in the next 2 weeks (So far, so good - knock on wood).

So from here on out - one of the reasons I'm writing this is to remind myself, come next Hell Week, or whenever, it is ok to stop and take time for myself. And for you - if you need to hear it, You have permission to stop. Whether it is a nap, a detour to a few quiet minutes at your favorite coffee shop, or a weather-permitting walk outside. No fear - it will get done. No guilt - you are not doing yourself any favors by destroying yourself. Nobody will think less of you. Take a little time for yourself because it is ok to stop.

*Update: one day later than planned, but I did it!

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