As modern humans, ever-striving for the illusive “work/life balance”, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. We repeat the same routines day in and day out for months, if not years or even decades. Wake up → Go To Work/School/Activities → Come Home → Sleep. Rinse and repeat. The unrelenting tasks of making sure bills are paid, mouths are fed, and the house is (somewhat) clean are peppered in daily. Add to that, the occasional ballet recital, t-ball game, or drinks out with friends for some extra spice (or more stress). Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. Like a frog in a hot pot of water, we realize later than we’d like, that – “Houston, we have a problem.”
Now there are lots of listicles, books, podcasts, and videos that will bark out somewhat shame-y cure-alls like: EXERCISE MORE, REDUCE YOUR STRESS, RESET YOUR SLEEP, EAT HEALTHIER, etc. “I would if I weren’t so busy trying to balance my work and life, Samantha!!” While well intentioned and backed by science-ish, these “cures” can often be just as – if not more – stress-inducing than the stress you were grappling with already.
I’ll tell you a little secret: finding yourself in the throes of burnout is common and you didn’t do anything wrong to get here. If it were easy to unravel, there probably wouldn’t be so many listicles, books, podcasts, and videos trying to bark you out of it. Don’t resign yourself to now and forever being a resident of the city of Burnoutopolis. Since you’re here, sit down and have a rest, while I tell you there is hope because awareness is the key to change.
Realistically, chances are quite high that burnout will creep out of your life just as slowly as it creeped in. I’m sure you’ve already figured out that you can’t just “snap out of it”, and you might not be shocked to learn that an article on how to relieve burnout is probably not going to instantly fix you either. While yes, this happens to be an article on how to relieve burnout, I’d like to try offering this information differently, for you see I am a Feldenkrais Practitioner. We are facilitators of possibility and ease, purveyors of intention, and askers of non-judgmental, self-reflecting questions. Movement is our vehicle and awareness is our journey. As such, I have a hypothesis that what you are lacking is Joy, with a capital ‘J’ which rhymes with PLAY… you follow?
“I would be more joyful if I weren’t so busy trying to balance my work and life, Rachel!!”
I hear you. Right now, recovering your joy might feel impossible. How does one bring joy into what feels like never-ending monotony? The Feldenkrais Method can provide you the space to rediscover your sense of joy. I encourage you to start by seeking out opportunities for PLAY. Yes… like what kids do.
Now I know the headline of this article promised you 5 tips for bringing play into your day, and we ARE getting there. I promise. But just giving you some arbitrary number of tips without having laid a foundation for you to absorb this information feels click-bate-y and disingenuous. Allow me to address the elephant in the room, which is that most adults see the play of kids as frivolous, absurd, and a waste of time. If this is your opinion, no amount of tips I can give you will help you until we clear up some of the most common misconceptions adults have about play.
Misconception: Play is not serious nor focused.
Reality: Ever wonder why a child removed from their play gets so upset? It’s because they care about what they do. They are serious – and that seriousness begets focus (even if they’re running around like a maniac). Just because it doesn’t look serious, doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. Seriousness doesn’t preclude silliness or enjoyment. You can be serious and focused while you play.
Misconception: Play is nonsensical and random. It has no rules.
Reality: Adults feel the need to quickly make sense of things, so if it doesn’t make sense to us, then it’s labeled “nonsense”. Children are skilled at distilling information from chaos, and are similarly adept at combining seemingly unrelated information. This can result in play that is structured by rules that don’t always make sense to adults. Yes… we can split hairs about whether or not the existence of rules turns play into a game, but don’t get lost in the weeds. Rules, parameters, boundaries… Call them what you will, even an infant has expectations when it comes to their play: “I put this in my mouth.” Break their rule and woe betide you.
Misconception: Play is only imagining fairies and superheroes.
Reality: Whether they’re creating characters, objects, or situations, imagination is integral to play. Adults tend to think children only want to imagine fantastical things, but this isn’t always the case. Kids love imagining ideas grounded relatively firmly in the real world like playing doctor, driving a car, the floor is lava, don’t step on the cracks, etc.
Now before you start telling yourself that you can’t play because you don’t know how, let me tell you that play is not an on/off – you have it or you don’t – kind of thing. Play has four fundamental qualities.
- It’s experiential: it’s developed through experience.
- It’s experimental: it hones your experience through trial and error.
- It’s exploratory: it’s not confined to any one way of doing or being.
- It’s enjoyable: This is the most important part of play.
Any adult can relearn how to play if given time, space, and freedom. Now THIS is where the tips become useful. Without further ado, here are my 5 tips for bringing more play into your day.
1: Get Comfortable
If you’re feeling the weight of your exhaustion and/or overwhelm, then the chances of you enjoying what you’re doing are slim to none.
Ask yourself: “How can I be more comfortable?”
Sit and listen inwardly for a moment. Is there something that comes to mind? Maybe it’s opening a window, getting a drink of water, or taking off your shoes. Maybe it’s sending the email that’s been silently nagging you, moving your body, or having a full rest where you get off your feet for a spell.
Notice that I said “more“ comfortable – not “the most.” Don’t aim for perfection here. Just aim for better. Look for what is simple and doable. If it’s not something that you can feasibly tackle at this very moment, then put it on a To-Do list so that your brain can let it go for now.
This may not seem like play, but remember play is enjoyable. If you’re uncomfortable, then none of the rest of these ideas will do you any good.
2: Create Characters
As I said above, imagination is a big part of play. When tackling some of your most mundane tasks (cooking, dishes, laundry, etc.), try bringing some of your favorite characters into the mix. Imagine three different people. They can be people from the real world, people from literature/film/gaming, or people of your own creation.
Ask yourself: “How would [so and so] do this task?”
You can be as detailed as you want in these characters. Put yourself in their shoes. Do they even wear shoes?! Feel how you reorient yourself to become these people. What can this tell you about how you approach your tasks? Are there ways for you to relax or let go? Are there ways you can have more fun? Are there ways you can do more but with less effort? What can these characters teach you?
3: Break The Rules
Rules are essential to play, and yet sometimes breaking rules makes play even more fun. We live by a lot of rules. Those that are dictated by society and also the various cultures we spend most of our time in (our families, schools, organizations, hobbies, and so forth). Some of these rules are very important, but some of these rules have outlived their usefulness.
Ask yourself: “What rules do I rigidly adhere to that may not be so necessary?”
Now before you run off and do something crazy, let me clarify that I’m not condoning illegal behavior here. Keep yourself and others safe, please!
Some examples of rules that could use some breaking: Do you really need to wear shoes when you exercise? Do you really need to eat your dessert after dinner? Do you have to sit with your feet on the floor? Do you really have to make your bed in the morning?
As you break certain rules, notice what it feels like. Does it feel freeing? Does it feel scary? Does it make no difference whatsoever?
4: Do It Wrong
Now there are some rules that absolutely have to be followed, but many of us have been trained to adhere to these rules in a singular way.
Ask yourself: “What’s the worst way I can do this?”
Whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us have developed perfectionistic habits around our most simple tasks. You can learn a lot from doing things wrong. You might learn that you had a reason for doing your task the original way. Or you might learn that you can make your task easier or more fun. Or you might learn that it is in fact possible to make your task harder. Regardless, what can you learn from doing something badly?
I’ll give you the same warning as with breaking the rules: don’t break any laws and make sure you only try this with tasks that won’t hurt you or anyone else.
Here are some ideas of tasks that many of us can get very perfectionist-y over. House cleaning: Do you have to clean the whole room or could you only clean a portion? Cooking dinner: Do you have to cook an elaborate meal or could you just have breakfast? Laundry: Do you have to iron EVERYTHING?
As you attempt things doing wrongly (see what I did there?), notice how it feels. Does this feel liberating? Fun? Constricting? Nerve-wracking? Don’t judge what you feel, but notice what is true for you.
5: Find More Options
Continuing off of that last tip, sometimes the monotony of daily chores can be challenged simply by exploring different ways to do the task.
Ask yourself: “Can I find two or more ways to do this task?”
If you need to drive somewhere: Are there different routes you can take to your destination? Can you walk, ride a bike, skateboard, or take the bus?
If you need to eat lunch: Can you eat in a different room? Take your lunch outside? Join a friend?
If you need to brush your teeth: Can you brush with your non-habitual hand? Can you brush without having to look in a mirror? Can you stand on one foot?
With whatever you choose, notice these things: Which way feels easiest? Which way is hardest? Which way is the most fun? Is there one way you absolutely hate? Or love?
Don’t get bogged down in thinking that these need to be “good” ideas. I know this seems eerily similar to the previous tip, and to a certain degree it is. But the intention here is different. Doing things wrongly is about using play to loosen the bonds of perfectionism. This tip is about the quantity of ideas. It doesn’t really matter whether they’re good or bad. Having more than one option available to you allows for more room to play with what you enjoy.
Joy is the bane of burnout.
You were born into this world as a little bundle of joy, and along the way – overloaded with school, work, bills, taxes, commutes, and the like – you disconnected from your joy. Stress is unavoidable, but how we work to metabolize it is what can make all the difference. All of these tips are made with the idea that you find ways to do things differently and at the same time have fun. If you’re not having fun attempting any or all of these tips, then take a rest. One last aspect of play that I’ll mention is that when kids are done playing, they are done. When they rest, they rest with their whole selves. This is a wonderful way to be. If being playful is not sufficient to help with your stress in the moment, then rest. Rest fully and without guilt. Just a brief moment of rest can make a huge difference to you.
I encourage you to seek out a Feldenkrais Method – Awareness Through Movement class to experience all of the tips I’ve mentioned above in an embodied way. It’s one thing to know them, it’s another thing to feel them!
Rachel holds a Doctorate in Viola Performance, is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, and is the Chief Galvinizer at MindFelt Methods. Like many parents during the Covid Pandemic, she was forced to reconsider the effectiveness of schools and was introduced to the concept of unschooling. Its approach felt like a natural complement to the Feldenkrais Method. She has since garnered inspiration from the writings of Akilah S. Richards, John Holt, and Pat Farenga. In exploring the world with her children, she has focused on deschooling her own curiosity-killing habits acquired from decades of schooling. As the creator of The Unpractice Experiment, she brings the experiential approaches of unschooling and the Feldenkrais Method to musicians burned out from their own school experiences. She lives in Carpinteria, CA with her husband, two kids, two cats, a dog, two cavies, an assortment of fish, and a host of carnivorous plants.
You can contact Rachel via her website: www.mindfeltmethods.com
Photo Credit: DominantArts.Design