One of the top complaints I hear from coaches is that “I’m busy and stressed and don’t have enough time to get it all done!” I think we all understand the importance of taking care of ourselves and focusing on stress relief if we need it. But I have to admit, I used to feel like “self-care” was one more thing on my to-do list! “I’ll have time to get a massage and relax after we get through homecoming week.” Or “I’ll have time to go take a hike outside when we get home from Nationals.”
The good news is, stress relief doesn’t have to take long. In fact, research shows the #1 way to reduce stress takes 5 minutes. And taking care of ourselves has to be a priority. It’s like the airlines always tell us. We have to put on our own oxygen mask before we can help anyone else.
Learning to juggle your own work-life balance is the first step to keeping your sanity and health while also teaching your athletes to do the same. Only then can you model good choices for your team and help them learn to cope with their own stressors. We live in a world that is focused on output and production. It’s always now, more, better, faster and we often work ourselves to a breaking point. I think every coach has that time in the season when she just knows she is going to get sick. The week after Nationals anyone? When you get home from camp and actually have a summer? Boom, you’re sick. Rather than chasing the desired end-game, sometimes we need to focus on self-care and stress relief in order to be a better coach.
The #1 Stress Relief: Take a Recess!
So what do you do to bring balance back into your life? Go back to elementary school… I mean it… remember recess? It was a beautiful time where you were told to put down your pencils, stop all work, go outside, and just laugh and play. Unfortunately, as adults, we are taught to believe that recess is childish. Who has time for a real recess in the middle of the day? If I actually get to eat lunch away from my desk, I’m sure I’ll probably use it to finalize our plans for the homecoming assembly on Friday. I know it’s tempting to just tick off something else from your to-do list rather than taking a break, but I promise recess is a better use of your time.
The Research on Recess – yes there’s proof you need to take a break!
You may think that taking a small retreat from your day will only serve to make things worse in the end because your to-do list just won’t allow it. And there’s no stress relief in that! Well, I have some good news. Research shows that taking a small break to do something that brings joy to your life will actually make you more productive in your day!
This research started in the 1970s when a Hungarian psychologist asked his research subjects to go about their daily lives as normal but to take out anything fun or restful. They were allowed to do normal things. Get the kids dressed and ready for school, go to work, have that lunch meeting. They could get to the grocery store during their child’s soccer practice, and get through the dinner and bedtime routine. Everything they ‘had’ to do on a normal day, but nothing extra or fun. No calling a friend after the dishes were done, or flipping through a magazine while they wait for the next after-school activity to end.
While the original intention was to continue this for a week, the researchers noticed such pronounced decline in mood amongst the research subjects after just 48 hours that they decided to call off the study. Everyone expressed feelings of restlessness, fatigue, irritability, increased sluggishness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and muscle tension.
Bottom line, we get anxious when we aren’t having any fun!
We experience the psychological and physiological components of stress when we take away the fun and adopt a mindset to just “get ‘er done”. So even though we may believe that taking a break will make us look lazy to our colleagues, family (or even ourselves) taking a break is essential.
Maybe you’ve told yourself lately “I just have to keep my head down and get it done, then I’ll be rewarded for my work.” That sounds fine. But what that really means is resting is not acceptable for anyone who really wants to be the best. If that’s how you approach life, and probably how you approach your season too, you will inevitably experience an overwhelming level of stress. And when we are stressed there are all sorts of lovely consequences that come with it. Like losing it on your team when they won’t stop talking. Or struggling to concentrate during practice when your team needs you or that never-ending headache that makes the basketball game feel like an eternity.
Here’s how to stop and take a break and find some stress relief:
So what does it mean to take a break? Research shows that every 60 – 90 minutes, you should take at least a 5-minute breather. If you can’t do it that often, then take a longer 30-minute break in the middle of the day. You can do anything that brings a little joy to your life. Addicted to Pinterest? Go ahead and walk away from your desk. Pull it up on your phone, and find the next book you want to indulge in or a new recipe you want to try. Love the outdoors? Take a few minutes to actually go outside and sit in the sun. Walk around the block with a coworker and don’t talk about work! Anything that makes you happy is fair game, as long as it’s not something from any to-do list!
Our Most Productive Pace is a Constant One
No matter how hard we try, we always go through bits and spurts of intensely focused work ethic, followed by vacations or complete breaks. While that’s normal, our most productive pace is a consistent one. Instead of cramming in extra practices, long hours of resetting formations, or staying late after school to update the team’s financial spreadsheet, we do better when we make consistent daily progress.
So especially when it’s your busiest week, and you feel like you have no time (and if you’re like me your to-do list doesn’t even fit on the planner page so you had to add sticky notes). That is exactly when you need to find some stress relief by taking a recess! You will be more productive all week, actually handling your stressful week better, if you make sure you take breaks. Schedule them in; don’t wait for a headache to start or until you catch yourself asking the barista for two extra shots just so you can function. When you plan your week, plan for those small breaks and make sure they happen. Your team will thank you and you might actually be able to enjoy that trip to the championships!