By Master Sophie Atkinson
Earlier this year I took some time out. In fact, it’s true to say that at the beginning of this year I hit burn out! In retrospect I had been heading that way for quite a while but ironically I hadn’t realised until it was too late.
It all happened so slowly that I really didn’t notice how or when all the joy and energy I had once felt for giving and teaching NO HANDS Massage turned into such a burden. But suddenly I felt like I had nothing left to give: I felt utterly drained and exhausted. In case you’re wondering what the signs of exhaustion might be, they are rather easy to spot and then promptly ignore! In the months prior to my ‘crash’ I had felt like I had no time; that I was running on adrenaline the whole time like I’d had too many coffees. That I was ‘so busy’ that everything (even something like a dinner invitation) felt like an outrageous imposition on my precious time and energy resources. I had completely run out of compassion – for my clients; my partner; my friends and family and for myself. I was so overwhelmed by everything I thought I had to do that I couldn’t actually do any of it. I had worked for so long to create a successful business, but now felt resentful and trapped on the treadmill of juggling clients and training courses and commitments.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it when it hits, exhaustion actually builds up really slowly. In fact, it happens gradually, it happens over time, through repetitive behavior and because of not taking enough support! ‘I’ll just have to miss my yoga class this week so I can fit this client in’. ‘I’d better not say “no”, because I don’t want to let other people down’! Sound familiar? In order to re-build myself I knew it was going to take time, changes to my thinking and behavior and it would require a lot of support!
Luckily I had the incredible support of my partner and Gerry and the core NO HANDS team and so once I acknowledged there was a problem, I was able to stop. And I just stopped everything. I cancelled all my NO HANDS commitments. I cancelled all my clients. Literally overnight I stopped being an Instructor, a Trainer, a Therapist. And it was utterly terrifying! In the sudden silence that followed all my years of rushing around being busy, all I had was a big blank space and nothing left of me with which to fill it.
So with my energy at rock bottom, what did I do? Well, I started doing properly what I thought I had been doing all along. I started to look after myself. Slowly. I took time to sleep, to read, to walk in the park in the winter sunshine. I ate good nourishing food. I had a lot of acupuncture and Massage. I had some coaching and some therapy. I started to look after my body and I started to take a good look at my mind, and the negative thinking patterns I was running. Only one person had created this state of exhaustion and that was me. This was good news because it meant that if I had created it, I could change it, and I really would, just as soon as I’d figured out how to stop beating myself up for being so exhausted and for creating such a mess of it all in the first place…do you get what I mean about the negative thinking patterns?
I downloaded an app and started to meditate. I turned my attention inward and started to focus on me, and what I needed rather than on what I could be doing for someone else. I re-connected to my Hara and listened to what my body told me I needed. Everything was reduced to a basic yet fundamental calculation – does this nourish or drain my energy? How does this make me feel?
It took about 3 months before I began to feel my energy return enough to be excited by the prospect of massage again. But I also knew that things had to be different. I realized that I had been putting myself at the bottom of my very long ‘To Do’ list. I had been the least important person in my own life: other people’s needs, wants, their diaries, their finances … these had all been far more important than mine. I moved my treatment room into my large bedroom so I had more physical space to work in. I completely re-structured my diary, limiting my appointment days and times to ensure I could allocate time that had nothing to do with work, and when I could go for a walk or a yoga class or just out for a coffee. And finally, I increased my prices. One of the things I learnt from having a lot of regular treatments is that everyone valued their time a lot higher financially than I did!
Since my ‘time out’, I have also learnt that my energy is more precious and fragile than I had thought. That constantly ignoring the small signs of tiredness, irritability and “I’m too busy” can easily snowball into overwhelm, exhaustion and burn out. That life is about balancing the challenging and exciting doing with the quiet, still and inward-looking being. If I want to make an impact in this world and the lives of people around me then I have to start with myself. Self-care isn’t an afterthought at the bottom of a To Do list: it’s an essential part of daily living. It’s a constant reminder that I am important and I do matter – whoever I am!