Q. I run my own business and find I just always want to be working on it. Even when I stop and try to spend time with my family I have ideas and think ‘I could be doing just one more thing’. It’s like in addicted to productivity and can’t stop. It probably doesn’t help that I have a few businesses on the go and true is a lot to do. Have you ever experienced this? What do you do?
A. One thing I learnt about a few years ago as part of my art therapy studies that I hadn’t realised before is that the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response activated) doesn’t turn itself off automatically. There are lots of things that trigger it to fire up (eg. Sitting at a computer raises cortisol levels over time, rushing around, stories about what we find stressful, sense of urgency etc), and so unless we actively do things to ‘swap over’ to our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recover) it just stays switched on!
Combine that with the feel good hit we get when we tick tasks off the list and the sense of virtue from being productive, ‘getting ahead’ etc and it’s easy to understand why working on our biz can be very alluring and hard to stop indeed! Slowing down can feel boring at first, while we are still ‘wired’. To help to move into the rest state, try a progressive muscle relaxation (squeeze and release all your muscles down the body), a hot shower, a slow -eyes wide open looking around as you walk – walk around the block, or something that focuses the mind on the here and now but feels calming (maybe do something with your hands). Stretching, yawning, releasing through tapping or journalling, these are all great too. This will help the stress hormones lower and it will be easier then to change pace.
Longer term you might find it helpful to look at your stories too (this is not always easy or comfortable and can be usefully explored with a counsellor, therapist, coach or healer). Put on your detective hat and see what stories are underneath your actions. Do you believe that down time is wasted time? Are you telling yourself that you can’t afford down time until you hit X income target? Maybe you think resting is lazy and morally bad, and that someone will come and tell you off if you stop working. Maybe you feel like you’re not a good person and only by staying active you prove you are ok and loveable. Or maybe you’re terrified the business will ‘fail’ and you’ll have to go back to that cleaning/ office/ executive /whatever job you don’t want to do anymore. And so when you stop working the ‘bad feelings’ come, and the quickest way you know to avoid them is to keep working.
Sometimes deep under those ‘bad feelings’ is pain. That pain needs to be heard and felt and honoured. That clears the decks ready for us to have a bit more choice and voice in making our own decisions.
Can you introduce some new stories about self care, quiet time, being present for your family etc? Eg ‘rest is when I recharge’, ‘I deserve time to rest and play’, ‘self care is at the heart of my life’, or ‘slow is when my ideas grow’? Play with something that works for you.