A few weeks ago, I realized that at the end of my work day, I was especially frazzled. My brain was buzzing with things to do, and I was more tired than usual. Instead of working more and feeling more effective, I realized I was working more hours, and feeling less effective.
In other words, it was time to put on the brakes.
I realized I'd been working hard, and I hadn't taken any breaks during my work day. For a long time. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I'd taken a break.
Yeah, sure. Breaks are important. Haven't I learned this already in my more than 10 years of being an SLP? Nope. Time to re-learn.
SLPs and Taking Breaks
As SLPs, we have a reputation for not being good at taking breaks when we need them.
Pushing past our limits? We've done it.
Staying late to finish that last task? We've done it.
Dropping what we're doing to accommodate someone else's schedule? We've done it.
As SLPs, many of us believe we are immune to the necessary break. We can push past! We can do more!
Why don't we take a break when we need one? For one, we want to be helpful. Being in a helping profession means that if we stop working to take that break, we might not be helping someone. That can feel bad. Secondly, many SLPs are also people pleasers (no judgment - we all do it), so taking a break may mean we don't get back to that email or phone call. That can feel bad too.
Pushing Past the Limit
Unfortunately for many of us, we don't really take that break until we have pushed past our limits. Once that happens, there's no other option but to take a break. The exhaustion - or burn out - seeps in (or both), and we simply have to stop. That takes a long, long time to recover from.
So, let's take a break before we get to that point.
After my who-knows-how-many weeks of no breaks, it was time for a change. Thankfully, I hadn't pushed past my limit...yet. But I knew it was time to do something differently.
My first goal: take a freaking nap.
I'm not a napper. I end up tossing and turning and never napping anyway. But this week I got home from work, and realized I need a nap. It was a quiet but persistent voice. So I listened.
I mean, I wish I could nap regularly. I've envied people who nap. They wake up looking all calm and rested, like they've just taken an hour-long hot yoga class and then had a green juice. And enjoyed it.
Nappers are zen. Nappers glow. I want that. Instead I'm typically frazzled and distinctly un-glowy.
This week, something changed. This week, I achieved the Zen Nap. Let me tell you all about it. (You know I will.)
I woke up with clear eyes, frazzled hair but a clear-thinking brain, glowing skin (OK, no - but stick with the story here), and new ideas and perspectives. It was awesome.
So, I'm here from the other side to say breaks are...awesome. Napping or not. Napping - for me - is grabbing the elusive tiger by the tail. Who knows when it'll happen again. I'll take it while it lasts.
The post-work nap involves a just-right combination of a certain kind of work day, possibly being sleep deprived the night before, the perfect amount of caffeine intake and timing (not too much, not too late) - and luck.
What's Napping Got to do With it?
Here's the thing - I didn't find the nap. The nap found me. Not to get too blissed out here (I've still got that imaginary nap glow), but sometimes an opportunity to take a break comes. When that happens, run (don't walk!) in that direction.
If it's hard to figure out when we need a break (nap or not), what about letting the break find us?
What if we say - when I'm tired, when I make mistakes, when the task feels overwhelming, I'm going to walk away. Treat your break as your friend and listen when it wants to find you. Listen to that quiet voice telling you to slow down.
If you are chronically bad at this, or worried your Work Brain will overwhelm your Break Brain, schedule it in. Then do it. The scheduling part isn't as important as the doing part.
I can't promise you'll find the ever-elusive post-work nap. Or that I will find it again, for that matter. But you will probably be a heck of a lot more effective (and make fewer mistakes you need to go back to and fix later) if you do let that break find you. Or schedule it in. Or both.
The important thing is to remember you can take breaks. For your own emotional and physical well being, you must take breaks. So, if as SLPs we tend to push back that break, let's welcome it with open arms instead. Let's encourage others to do the same. Let's stop wearing hustle as a badge of honor and start wearing our nap hair as a badge of honor instead. I'm right there with you.