Sometimes the only way to move forward is to retreat.
Those were the words written on the wall of the health retreat I recently visited in Portugal.
These words struck me after leaning into my discomfort of permitting myself to actually go on the retreat (I wrote all about that here).
Moving forward has always been about taking action in my forever busy mind.
How can you possibly move forward by slowing down and stepping back?
My head doesn’t understand that concept…..but my body seems to understand it.
I got to experience a week in the Portuguese countryside on my own.
There were 40 other people on the retreat, but I didn’t know any of them before arriving.
I only had myself to take care of and think about! A complete luxury that I’m sure of, if you naturally take too much responsibility for others like I do, you can only imagine the strangeness in that feeling.
I thought I’d share with you my top three lessons from the retreat – so even if you don’t get to experience one, you can gain some of the benefits too:
1 – Rushing Woman’s Syndrome
After my burnout experience, I’m very aware of my stress system. Suffering from adrenal fatigue was such a scary experience that I never wanted to go back there. So I’d like to think I’m mindful of not living in my adrenal system. I not only take supplements to nourish my adrenal system, but I’ve tried to make lifestyle changes to soothe my nervous system as much as possible.
What struck me very early on in my retreat week was how strange it felt to not be living on adrenaline. It was a shock to realise how much my day-to-day life is fuelled by always being in a hurry. Always thinking about what needs to be done or where I need to be.
At first, the feeling of not having adrenaline and cortisol buzzing along in the background – no matter how quiet or secretive they try to be – was a bit unsettling. It then made me realise how I’d fallen back into Rushing Woman’s Syndrome trap. This is a term coined by Dr Libby Weaver to describe the biochemical effects of always being in a hurry and the health consequences that urgency elicits. Dr Libby states:
“It doesn’t matter whether she has two things to do or 200, she is often in a pressing rush to do it all.”
Being able to step outside of my Rushing Woman persona for a little while, allowed me to turn off this autopilot setting I can fall into.
2 – The Rise Of The Bad Habits
I’d like to think I’ve educated myself over the years on what mental, physical and emotional strategies support me to thrive. I also like to think I’ve got a pretty good amount of self-discipline and motivation. But stepping off the treadmill of normal life on this retreat made me aware of just how many bad habits have crept back into my life. Maybe lockdown didn’t help, but I can’t blame that alone, if I’m honest.
- Drinking far too much coffee – I know my body doesn’t like it but I do! I’d become addicted to having at least 2 cups a day but often more. It took me three days of detox headaches on the retreat to realise how dependent on it my body had become
- Not incorporating movement into everyday life – my desk can feel like a magnet. Running my own business and running it from home means there is always something that needs doing and a lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life. I had become more sedentary than I know is good for me. On the retreat, we did 4-5hours of exercise each day (yoga three times a day, hiking, spin classes and rebounding) and I was surprised how much my body loved it all and how little I actually do on a day-to-day basis.
- Letting my ‘Rushing Woman’ approach dictate my eating habits. When I switched off my stress system and listened to my body on the retreat I actually wanted to eat less and in a different way. I realised that my hunger is often underlying stress – I’m either eating to distract myself or to fuel my low-level stress that I seem to operate off. I also crave more unhealthy foods when I’m stressed.
- Allowing technology to have too much control in my life. I can too quickly get stuck on the treadmill of emails to respond to, text messages to reply to, WhatsApp messages to read – constantly feeling like I’m not doing enough to keep up with the demands. Then I find myself death scrolling on social media to numb out the feelings of not doing enough. As my stress system started to calm over the retreat, I naturally did not want to look at my smartphone. And when I did, I was more aware of how easily it was sucking me back in.
3 – I Like The Replenished Me
It can feel like there is always something to do or someone to take care of in everyday life.
My stress system can get tricked into feeling under threat; there’s not enough time and I’m not doing it all well enough. The background noise can feel like I’m failing.
This can make me feel tired, irritable and quick to react. Over the years of becoming a mother, I’ve tried to work hard at not feeling this way or living out my emotions in an unhelpful way. But they can still feel like the background noise of my life. I’d come to think that is just who I am, that this is just how I experience life.
But being away on this health retreat reminded me that’s not who I am and that this is just my human reaction to a busy life in our modern world with its never-ending demands for my time and attention.
I realised that the real me away from all the stresses of everyday life is calm, joyful and energetic.
I ended the retreat feeling like each cell of my body was radiating energy. As someone who has felt like I’ve had to work really hard at having enough energy to get through each day, that’s huge!!
I’d begun to tell myself a story that I struggled with my energy. That’s not helpful – I do have enough energy if I take away the stress of everyday life and I’m able to focus on rest, replenishment and nourishment. And recognising that I need to have more boundaries in place to protect and rebuild my energy in response to life.
Now, I realise not everyone will get the luxury of taking themselves off for a week on a health retreat. But hopefully, these insights might help you to think about your everyday life. What’s sustaining you and what’s draining you?
What are small shifts you can make in your habits and rituals that help you navigate everyday life’s demands? Because if this week away has taught me anything, life as a working mum demands a lot of us and rising to meet those demands healthily is so important.
Let’s keep reminding each other and supporting each other of this because we deserve to enjoy this journey with energy and vitality – even if sometimes that feels difficult.
We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!
We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.