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Paint Your Own Finish Line

We did a relaxation and stress management two hour session recently with a group of very hard working nurse managers. It was a wonderful 2 hours with so much opportunity for practicing relaxation techniques, sharing stories and creating space for ourselves to discharge stress.

Going around the room at the start of the session, a thought struck me that many of the assembled are so perpetually busy that their lives they seemed almost like are like long distance runners without a finish line. “ I never seem to be finished” “there is always more to do”, “My daughter has exams and I am looking after my mother also”, “I never switch off” were some comments by the assembled.

When the runners cross the finish line, we watch them bend forwards placing hands above their knees for support and then to go into rest and recovery. The white line is the point to be reached which signals the chance to recover. Because of the effort put in something, somewhere, some point has been reached, and by crossing that line it is now time to go into recovery. But it struck me that the weekly work output of so many nurses, doctors, carers, social workers, physios etc is so busy and so energetically and emotionally demanding, however for many people there doesn’t seem to be a finish line. Many people talk about not being able to switch off, not taking down time for themselves. Some people even see this as a badge of honour. “My mobile phone is never off”.

As Rick Hanson PhD author of the Buddhas Brain tells us the pace of modern life is making us all live life ‘on simmer’. The lack of crucial relaxation and recovery time means that our resting stress levels never really get down to zero, ever. The amygdala is part of the brains hardware which operates our flight or flight response. Also know as the smoke alarm of the brain, our primed amygdala response is causing our bodies to stay in a semi flight of fight mode which means our bodies deal with stress in an overstimulated way as if we were in physical danger. However, our bodies give us signals if we are aware and prepared to listen: that annoying headache that comes, trouble getting off or staying asleep, stomach problems, shallow breathing, tension in limbs, mind chattering insessantly and feeling unable to switch it off, frozen shoulder, oversized glass of vino or Friday night, being narky and irritable or insert your own symptoms of overstimulation here_______________________.

It’s time to start drawing finish lines in order to conserve energy and build ourselves back up again for the next circuit.

Building in quick and easy to do relaxation exercises is key to allowing our bodies to relax. Many of us don’t even realise that we are so overstimulated until we are given the chance to relax and we run a mile from it. “I can’t switch off”, “What will I do if I relax?” If I switch off I might not switch back on again” Don’t worry you will or you ill!

This means drawing finish lines and making a conscious decision to switch off. Some examples of this were one nurse said that her drive home from work is really beautiful and she gets a chance to see lakes and wonderful scenes in nature and doesn’t have must traffic congestion. Becoming aware of her surroundings and getting a bit lost is in fact a really clever recovery skill. Another nurse says that she closes her door and doesn’t allow herself to be disturbed while she has some relaxation time.

What would be your finish line?

Could you build a few into your day? Small ones like 10 minutes quiet talk-free time at the start of your break (and no you can’t use your phone). This could be used for gentle stretching, tapping or deep breathing with hand over heart/ chest area. All wonderful ways to recover and bring the body to rest.

Could you park up somewhere for 10 minutes of a morning meditation using any of the wonderful free apps out there? Recommend Christopher Germer’s Mindful Self Compassion App (MSC app) he has a wonderful soothing voice and loads of great free meditations.

Could you avoid the canteen for 1 lunchtime each week and instead take time for yourself?

Do you have a stressful weekly meeting you dread? Could you organise to have your break afterwards so that you can unwind and process it rather than going straight back onto the floor?

Can you carve out a 2 hour evening break for yourself once a week not in front of the TV. Either a walk, or a visit to a coffee shop or quiet place with your book or journal to catch up with yourself. It is it time to organise an evening out with your pals again? Time to take up Yoga again or join a reading group, so what if shift work means you miss out occasionally, you’ll gain overall and it’s a chance to switch on to something totally different.

Maybe on Thursdays you park outside for your 15 minute break and have an ice cream.

Being aware that you’re having this break and this time for yourself is important. So remind yourself that you’re consciously taking this time for yourself , thus signalling to your body to go into relaxation mode. This is important.

We all need time to recharge our batteries, planning this and keeping to the plan really can help you to feel great. Think about your life at the moment and the things that you are working on. When you should see your finish line coming up? This evening, on Friday, a mini break next month. Whenever it is take a break, rest and recover yourself – you deserve it!