April 6, 2013 in Stress and Sleep
The kids are whining. The dishwasher needs emptying. Dinner not only isn’t on the table, it’s still a solid block in your freezer. You’ve been on the go since dawn, and will carry on until well beyond dusk.
The list of responsibilities we have to complete in a single day seems, many times, to require feats of superhuman endurance and scheduling.
Time management gurus tell us to write our to-do lists, prioritize our items and work on those that generate the biggest payback.
Our list of responsibilities appears never-ending: The must-dos, the have-tos and the absolutely essential. Thing is, it’s all important. And often essential.
It’s all essential
Making dinner for the family is essential, going to work is essential, keeping the bathroom and the kitchen from being visited by the Board of Sanitation is essential. It’s all essential. Sigh.
There is simply too much going on in our twenty-first century lives. And it can lead to being on the go from morning to night. Add a sick child or a sleepless night to the equation and it can tip us into despair.
The result is we get irritable, resentful and start snapping at others. Our family members pick up on our irritability and tiredness and start their own little dramas. All manner of challenging behavior can begin to appear. Things are set up for a negative cycle of events.
Our endeavors to manage our stress, our sleep and healthy food go down the drain. We compound the problem by sabotaging ourselves with food. We don’t leave enough time to cook, we eat a quick, but unhealthy, pick-me-up to keep ourselves going, we eat for a treat. Or we eat to calm ourselves down.
By the time we’ve got to this point, all reasonable and rational thinking has gone out the door. The time for prevention has passed. Or it certainly requires powers of superhuman intervention.
We need to avoid getting to this point. We need to stay calm, centered and avoid becoming frazzled. We need to start before it begins.
In my book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, I talk about how stress and sleep are the first building blocks to address when adopting a paleo lifestyle. Start with these two elements, build up your skills here, because if your stress and your sleep aren’t handled sufficiently, food behaviors are far more difficult to handle.
One inexpensive, easy-to-organize technique for handling your stress, keeping you calm and simply more happy is to set up regular “Don’t-Have-To-Days”. Judicious use of “Don’t-Have-To Days” is a technique to prevent the well of stress from building up and overflowing into a cascade of family drama.
What is a “Don’t-Have-To-Day”?
Good question. They are something that most women, all mothers and some men need to incorporate into their schedule. They are days, or hours if you can’t make a whole day, that you take off to spend how you please. Here’s how to set one up and reap the benefits of a easy, cost-effective chillax.
Step 1. Schedule a day, or half a day if you don’t have a whole day and certainly at least an hour to spend at home, alone.
Step2. Relieve yourself of children, work or other demands on your time for the period you’ve set aside.
Step 3. Turn off the computer, TV, phone and any other device likely to be a call on your attention.
Step 4. Do nothing you don’t want to. Nothing. At. All. For the whole time. This includes getting dressed, washing dishes, brushing your hair, etc. Let’s rephrase that. Especially not getting dressed, washing dishes, brushing your hair, etc.
Bonus Step. Plan to eat out for dinner or have someone take over bath night (or skip it entirely!) that day – unless these items are so pleasurable for you, they make you happy.
The “don’t have to” part comes in because this is time when you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. The idea is to relieve yourself of the burden of the sense of obligation and responsibility for a small period of time.
They are mini-vacations from your regular life and they allow you to rest. You schedule them in your calendar. Organize your time so that you are free of work commitments, children or any other responsibilities. Preferably take them at home when no-one else is around.
You don’t have to take a full day or even half a day but make sure you take at least a whole hour. During this time don’t do anything you don’t want to – get dressed, answer the phone, do the dishes, workout. Avoid social media and any and all guilt. Just do what you like for the time you’ve allotted – anything that makes you happy or relaxed.
Benefits ensue even before you start – you’ll anticipate and look forward to your time – and afterward, you’ll feel more relaxed, and happier. Schedule these times regularly to keep your stress levels lowered before they get to screaming point.
Whenever I take this time, I find that I let chores pile up. Dishes aren’t done, teeth aren’t cleaned, I don’t even contemplate working out. I spend time in the house where I can’t see the mess and do whatever takes my fancy. (I usually have to sit and think about it, it is so rare to have such a slice of time.) Usually I journal, read, listen to podcasts I otherwise never listen to, sit in the sun, nap, drink tea and stare out the window.
You may find that, given enough time, you’ll eventually stop vegging, and spontaneously and willingly start completing the minor chores you neglected earlier but now your feelings of being put upon, over-burdened or just plain ennui have evaporated. When I do this, I have more emotional and physical energy, I’m more relaxed, happier, perfectly chilled and enthusiastic about life. And I’m planning my next “Don’t Have To Day”!
Permission to be permissive
Give yourself permission to spend this time how you please because it’s my guess that you rarely do. And it’s amazing how just being relieved of the need to clean our teeth one in a while can make such a difference.
So when the world and his mother is calling upon you, you have the whole civilization to save and everything to do, instead, as counterintuitive as it sounds, do nothing. Notice how your perspective changes, life gets lighter, a spring enters your step. Schedule your next “Don’t Have To Day” right then before it gets away from you and the kids come banging through the door.
And the best part?
Everyone benefits. Not just you but your kids, your spouse, even the mailman. Everyone. Focus on you. Everything starts here.
So now you know what to do, go do it! Protect this time, it is for you, you need to keep your awesomeness shining through.
Alison Golden is a writer, blogger, coach and mother of two. She has been an avid advocate of healthy eating for years and paleo since 2010. She is the author of The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a book described by Mark Sisson as “one of the best tools I’ve seen yet to get you started and keep you motivated throughout your paleo journey” and blogs at Paleo/NonPaleo about living paleo in a non-paleo world.