Yesterday my 11-year-old daughter had a meltdown. One of many we’ve seen over the past few months since she began middle school. With the never-ending pile of homework and projects magnified by a full schedule of advanced level classes, grueling cheerleading workouts, all-day practices, birthday parties, team-building events and sleepovers; my daughter’s life is busy. I watch her moving from one thing to the next with such little time left for creativity and imagination, much less sleep or rejuvenation, and I wonder how she does it.
In our production-based and ever evolving western culture this kind of life is considered perfectly normal. We turn the auto-pilot setting of our brains on as we mindlessly sail from one task to the next. And as adults, this is the double-shot of espresso life we have chosen. When I observe my 6th grader operating at a pace that her young brain can’t possibly keep up with (i.e. resulting in multiple meltdowns a week), however, I take pause. Seeing her young body worn down and matching my under-eye bags is heartbreaking. When did our society agree to begin inducting our children into the club of tail-chasing and rat-racing by the time they’ve reached middle school? Is it that we’ve become so accustomed to the chaos ourselves that we fail to recognize the toll it’s taking on our own youth? And are we preparing them to function in the greater society once they reach adulthood? Or are we actually condemning them to join the ranks of the overworked and exhausted until they’re in their 70’s?
These are questions I can’t answer, but as a mental health and addiction professional I can recognize the toll that living frantic and mindlessly has taken on myself, my clients, and now my child. In an attempt to keep the hamster wheel spinning, we rarely get a chance to land on solid ground. I have to look at myself, my daughter, my coworkers, and think about what the “counselor in me” would do to address burnout and over-scheduled lives.
Step One: Just take a minute and love yourself!
When my daughter was sitting at the dining room table with tears falling down her face due to frustration and exhaustion, it broke my heart. As a mom, I knew what I needed to do. She needed to understand that her needs were important and self-care is not optional, but necessary. She needed to learn that it’s not only ok to take a break, but it is necessary. I took her little hand in mine and pulled her over to the couch, where we proceeded to sit cuddled up for several moments, and then drifted off to sleep. I didn’t have any words of wisdom for her in that moment, but I hope my message was clear: rest and self-care are necessary. These are things that I try to instill in my staff and patients as well.
Step Two: Laughter can cure a thousand ills.
Thirty minutes after we drifted off to sleep, my oldest daughter walked in, talking loudly about how amazing her hair looks. We abruptly wake up, and laugh with her, while shaking our heads about how our nap ended with an impromptu fashion show. Laughter, for me, is just as strong as espresso. Some days are stressful at work; addiction is a mighty strong disease, which can take it’s toll on patients and caregivers alike. In my home, or at work, laughter can ease stress and anxiety. I choose to see the comedy in situations, instead of viewing them negatively, which gives me a better perspective on life. No matter what is happening, if I have a day with a lot of laughter, things always seem better.
Step Three: Disconnect.
The non-stop busyness of our world can lead to excessive stress, health problems, and relational problems. I try to ask myself what I can do to disconnect from the things that are causing me stress. Can we have a “no-phone Friday” as a family in order to spend more quality time together? Can I take the patients on a walk by the Bayshore in order to get up from my desk and allow them to explore our beautiful scenery at Hyde Park? Can we turn off the tv, the computer, and put away the dreaded homework to take a hike one weekend and connect with nature? I’m sure there are things that you enjoy, but it’s hard to make the time for those things. I always find that when I take time to experience some of the more natural aspects of life, I feel better and more energized…no espresso necessary.
I’m no expert in self-care, but like many of you I am trying. Trying to teach myself that its OK to have self-love, trying to teach my daughter the art of rest, and trying to teach my patients that when we stop and care for ourselves that healing can occur.
To learn more about how Hyde Park can help you or a loved one overcome addiction, visit the facility's website to chat with a care advocate.