Time to Slow Down
By Kelly Brevig
Greek philosopher, Socrates forewarned us when he said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Yet today, everywhere we go it seems that people are bustling around in a race against time. We live in a society where we glorify business and identify ourselves by our to-do list. “Hi, how have you been?” we ask, and the reply, “Oh, I’ve just been so busy lately.” While self-satisfaction can come with accomplishment, we recognize the need to slow down and take a break, thus inserting vacations and mental health days into our world. However, the real question is, “how do we create a world from which we don’t need to escape?”
Some people believe the Mandarin character for “busy” is made up of two words, “heart” and “death.” While the translation can be argued, this interpretation could mean that having our time consumed can be physically stressful to our bodies, or separate us from our loved ones, it can also mean that business helps us to shut off our emotions. While being too busy can lead to unnecessary stress, it can also have some positive results. Sometimes, keeping busy can be an escape from intrusive thoughts. Doing mindless tasks or tasks requiring concentration can be a great tool for self-care. What happens though when we create calendars that fill up faster than we plan for and we forget to process the “stuff” inside our heads?
Being “swamped” or “up to our ears in paperwork”, having our “plate full” for long periods of time can lead to high cortisol levels. While there is a tendency to “dig deep and keep going”, doing so can also bring extreme exhaustion when it is repetitive without a break. Too much cortisol in our body leads to anxiety, depression digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and memory/concentration issues. Sound familiar? On the flip side, when people take their “work break” that is required by MN state statute, it helps the pre-frontal cortex (the part of our brain that helps us concentrate and make decisions) recharge so it can carry on and complete a task. We need to take a break. We are designed to work in moderation. We are more productive and effective when we give our bodies a chance to slow down.
Looking at the Finnish culture for a different perspective, we can find that coffee breaks are part of the natural order of things and the law. Breaks are not spent on smartphones, running errands, or conversing about work, they are mostly spent in silence drinking coffee. Finns appreciate a true body and mind break that allows for thinking and processing. Chatter during this time is considered “noise.” Fins also have more sauna’s (pronounced sow-na) than cars, exemplifying the importance of self-care. While it is true that people in Finland are said to be better listeners than talkers, it can be argued that silence too, should be taken in moderation. Talking about one’s thoughts and emotions has been proven to be a healthy outlet and a necessary part of dealing with grief and depression.
So the question remains, how do we create a world in which we don’t need to escape? Planning coffee breaks (or just a chance to go outside and breath the fresh October air) is a great way to start. Many people have said to me, “Where did the summer go?” My goal for the fall is to enjoy each moment, being present to enjoy the crunch of leaves, the autumn colors, the laughter of my family and the love from my dog. Taking meaningful time outs in our daily lives bring moments we can look back on and remember. Someday, most of us will have the chance to sit and reflect on the years behind us. Will we say that we were busy, or that we found meaning in every day? It is never too late to slow down. Our families and work both need us. It is when we truly slowdown that our best and most productive selves emerge. Use those built-up vacations days; your future self will thank you.
Kelly Brevig is the Suicide Services Coordinator for Evergreen Youth and Family Services in Bemidji, MN.