Sometimes, a break is needed. And isn’t it just that — a break? Stop and do nothing, think nothing, worry nothing, plan nothing? What art could there be in nothing? The truth is taking a break has become an increasing art in today’s day and age. The amount of things that could make their way into a break is huge, and even the ways in how each of us defines a break are more than many.
Setting the stage
A few facts matter for the break that I am about to describe
- This was a long weekend in London – one of those it would have never crossed our mind to stay in London;
- We were bound to stay home, given the closure of Little Girl C’s bubble meant that she is not allowed out;
- I had a dreadful reaction to the vaccine on Friday but could get no rest, so my condition on Friday evening was beyond exhaustion.
In fact, I have had the most intense weeks of my working life in the last 8 months and my body is begging a break. But let’s face it, a break with 2-children in the house and limited social interaction is unlikely to count as a real break. So how to take it from here? Here are the 5 things that are likely to constitute a real break for an active never stop the world person.
Sounds obvious right? But in all honesty, I haven’t always prioritized sleep. In times where the kids would wake up earlier I was not always diligent to get myself to bed with enough time to get a good stretch of sleep. As I control my bedtime closer every day, thanks to my watch and phone’s help, I have much room for improvement during the week, but I am certainly improving in the weekends. Stopping that extra series at the right episode number, not starting a movie at 11pm.
I am lucky that my children have started sleeping a bit later now (ages 8 and 4) and even when they wake up before 9am, they now understand that they can’t wake me up until then. Whilst it is not 100% efficacy on this rule, it works enough times that I can get some rest. Partly, because we have moved their weekend schedule to allow them in bed later – kills a bit of the grown up time but gains a fair amount of sleep time in the morning. So far it is worth it. Though I still can’t figure out why they always come around 9.05 with no real ask and often even go away and play on their own, as long as they are sure I am awake.
I also used an extra trick this weekend, given the first 2 nights of sleep were interrupted. Sunday night I granted them a sleepover, which means they slept together in Little Girl C’s bed. That usually means none of them shows up with nightmares in the middle of the night. Mission accomplished.
Ideally, a break means social time. Talk to people, go out, connect. That was not necessarily available for us this weekend, and I was not even much in the state of looking forward to zoom dinners. So we used the opportunity to talk more as grown-ups, about what has been going on, about what we want to do, making plans for our move, talking through whatever comes to mind.
In fact, whilst people assume that because you work from home you are always there and always up to date, the reality is that is not quite the case. It is even easier to spend days without having a real conversation, precisely because of that proximity. Whether with a spouse, friend, housemate, family, attention is often elsewhere. So we took time to sit down and just talk. Phones down yes. Crazy.
This was a tough one to achieve, especially as my vaccine effects were significant on my muscle pain and I had quite a bit of mobility issues.
With a fair amount of perseverance (and anti-inflammatory drugs), I got myself to a place where I could jump back on my elliptical cross-trainer and confirm this was one of the best large purchases I have done. Ok, I don’t do that many large purchases, so that is probably what makes is the best. But it just makes it so easy to go on, especially when I plan to go on it every day, except when I absolutely can’t (which happened the previous 3 days). Simplicity is key for habit formation. The fact that we have put it next to the bed (for lack of space rather than intention) is also a really good reminder every day that we don’t go on it. Like big brother watching you lazy up and sit in bed.
Now seriously, whatever you enjoy doing to get active, science has given more than enough evidence that it is essential for mental health. I am not talking about going to a strenuous work-out if you are on your last dips of energy. But just enough to get the body moving, the energy levels up and some blood flowing differently. Highly recommend it.
For me, a spa or massage rank in the top 5 of my favourite breaks. I did not have the energy to go anywhere and I could not really bring Urban to the house given the self-isolation situation for Little Girl C. I thought pampering was going to take a pass this weekend.
That was until the children were reminded that it was Mother’s Day (in Portugal) on Sunday morning. After breakfast, I was invited to go down to their room where a sign read “Welcome to your Spa“. There, they were preparing a bath (well trying as they can’t figure out the temperature properly), they set up amazon music to a piano playlist, and had even laid out my clothes for me to wear after (I had to make small adjustments). They had prepared stories to read for me while I was in the bath (second best to reading a magazine on your own ,I know) and I then got a massage, pedicure and hair-do set.
I admit it, it was not what I had planned for Sunday morning, but once I adjusted to this period of doing nothing but letting them pamper me, I must say I loved it. If they were ranked on TripAdvisor I would rank them 5-stars!
This is where you think I am weird.
Well, firstly, I am not talking about work. If, like me, you spend your time after all the things you never have time to do, you may feel like a good weekend break is one where you get many of those things done.
I started Saturday morning with a long list of things that my brain could no longer cope with having on the constant pending list. They were a mix of personal, family, podcast and charity stuff. I ran through the list, picked the ones I thought would make me happy and left out the ones that were just about getting them done. And then all I could do on Saturday was a small stint with my journal, spending time closing the month of April and committing to a more loveable May.
It is needless to say I was slightly frustrated on Sunday morning (when the above spa treatment hit). Hubby B said I should not have planned anything, and I would not be frustrated. But that would not relax me, to get to the end of 3 days and still leave behind so many things that are important to me (whether it is to talk to a podcast guest or to finally do a photo album).
So eventually, I did do stuff. In the way that I know best – 1 by 1 and in between moments of nothing and moments of lots going on. My original list was not that ambitious. It did not get entirely done, but I feel so much better about the balance achieved.
What else? Well, take a break and do nothing
Well, there is also one bit that is important when taking a break. The parts where you do nothing.
Where you sit in the sofa thinking you are going to do your emails and you find yourself laughing out loud watching “Yes Day”.
Or when you go and cook one of your favourite meals thinking you will use the time to listen to an audio book but actually just realise you are in the moment of cooking and enjoying it and that time has passed without you even picking up your headphones.
Or when you just sit for a moment, wanting to journal, wanting to write, wanting to.. Something. And then decide to just be and rest while the head roams free.
Taking a break means many things to me. And letting go is the one I need to work on more. Set the mind free. And let the mind go free.