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November 28, 2023

Discovering Self-Care: An Exploration for the Compulsively Busy

Amber Chandler shares how she is learning to prioritize self-care by planning out and setting aside time to relax in her schedule.


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A few weeks ago, I was scrolling Facebook, and I ran across a quote that punched me square in the gut. I was already feeling meh for mindlessly wasting my afternoon, when I read these words: “The relaxed woman is the self we have been taught to hide and despise—the sensual, curious, playful, pleasure-loving self.” No one has ever described me as relaxed, not even as a child. People thought I was anxious when I was younger, but I learned that if I keep moving, keep pushing myself, I am generally better than when I’m idle. I’m happy when I am productive, slightly tired, and getting stuff done. I love to “take care of business” and seek accomplishments in all areas of my life. The fact is that Nicola Jane Hobbs—the woman behind the gut-punching quote—is a psychologist, coach, therapist and writer specializing in stress, rest and resilience, mental health and peak performance; and this quote has me thinking. If this sounds like you too—and I think many teachers thrive in productivity, then please keep reading. I also think it is worth noting that this is not a gender thing, despite the “relaxed woman” wording. This is about all people who find themselves compulsively busy and never relaxed.

Amber's planner
Amber shares her busy schedule via her planner.

That afternoon, now challenged to “relax,” I kept scrolling, texting a few friends, and basically vegging out after a long week of work. The weekend before, my union held its “Fall into Reading” festival as a part of the #RealSolutionsforKids initiative, and we’d given away thousands of books, partnered with the community, and had an amazing event. I mention this because there I was, sitting on my couch feeling uneasy because after another full week of work, I still didn’t want to let myself “come down” and relax. I decided that I’d mindfully approach the next few weeks. No promises, but I’d try to get to the bottom of my compulsively busy personality and maybe figure out how to relax. Here’s what I found.

Other People Couldn't Care Less

On one of my busy (of course) days the following week, I texted my husband: “The laundry is folded in the basement, but I didn’t put it away. The kitchen is messy. Sorry!” His response? A thumbs up. Then a heart. That’s it. I’d always kind of thought this was just a lazy reply, but as I thought about it, I realized he couldn’t care less. He doesn’t worry about where the laundry is or if the counters need wiping down. I do. I started paying attention to how much I explained when things weren’t perfect, and it was surprising. My daughter came home from college for the weekend, and as we pulled into the driveway, I started telling her why the Halloween stuff was still out, and we hadn’t taken down the cornstalks. One look told me all I needed to know: She was happy to be home, and she couldn’t care less about how the front porch was decorated. I do. These interactions got me thinking about the dynamic that I have perceived to exist in the world. I act like other people are pressuring me, when in fact, it is me. I am her! 

I Admire People Who Know How To Relax

Once this began to sink in, I started asking myself why I was holding myself to this standard. Did I dislike those who relax, take it easy and actually take care of themselves? No, it is quite the opposite. I admire those who have achieved balance. I love seeing which of my friends are spending the day reading. I look with envy at teachers who aren’t in such a hurry. If I admire them, why am I not trying to be like them? I thought of my friend Abby who, despite having three kiddos under 11, makes time for yoga. My friend Mimi has amazing day trips. My daughter Zoey, who schedules naps and time to do crafts with her friends. As I thought about all these amazing people, I realized that while I admire them, I still don’t prioritize relaxing. 

Prioritize Relaxing

I know. I know. You can’t pour from an empty cup. I don’t think that is my problem. I don’t think it is for many people. Many of us fill our cups by caring for others, by our achievements, and by our productivity. Those things energize me. However, as I think about the quote again, what strikes me is the phrase “hide and despise.” The part of me that loves to sleep in late, have pie for breakfast, and create Pinterest boards for my imagined cafe bookstore isn’t celebrated or advertised, amplified or shared. Instead, I do hide that part of myself, and though I wouldn’t say I despise it, I can see easily how taken out of context, I’d be embarrassed that I “wasted” all that time. 

So, here’s the thing. I know myself, and I know that if I don’t plan it, it won’t happen. I will not accidentally have time to relax. Instead, I need to worry less about what people think or expect of me because it is becoming more and more clear that other people couldn’t care less about my self-imposed compulsively busy agenda. In fact, they are likely to be sick of it. I need to look for people who prioritize relaxing and steal their ideas! I browsed my Instagram and found that I have friends who take walks just to enjoy a sunny day, another who did not get dressed all day on Sunday, and another who is binge watching “The Sopranos.” Do I look down on them? Not a bit. I envy these bits of joy, moments of relaxation, and opportunities to recharge their batteries. 

Amber's planner
Amber schedules in time to relax in her planner.

Mostly though, as I consider my little experiment in mindful thinking about my compulsively busy personality, I can see that I need to prioritize and pursue the things that help me (mostly) relax. Sure, I’m always going to be grinding because that is where I’m comfortable; however, if I make relaxation a planned, scheduled, prioritized part of my life, there’s a lot better chance that it happens. I’ve now written in my planner “Erway’s Christmas Tree Adventure” with my family, and then, because I really want it to actually happen instead of me finding something else I “need” to do, I’ve added “movie and make fruit decoration garland.” I’m looking forward to my “planned relaxation,” and though I wish I were more spontaneous, I’ll start with these baby steps! If this blog resonates, you might want to check out “Waffle Cones and the Construct of Time” and “Three Tips for Tired Teachers.”

Dimensions to Wellness: Self-Care for Educators

During this free, for-credit webinar, participants will delve into their own self-care practices, gaining insights to become more intentional about their wellness journey.

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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified middle school ELA teacher in Hamburg, New York with a Master’s Degree in Literature, as well as a School Building Leader certification.

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