I ran into my apartment at my normal fast speed. I was late to a meeting, because my last meeting ran long. I exchanged a couple of items from my bag as I ran toward the door, already late for my next appointment. As I reached for the door handle, I paused for a moment and tossed up a quick prayer for strength and wisdom. In the brief moment that I paused I could feel my heart beating. Fast. In fact, it was beating a little faster than I thought was good. “Slow down, Stefa. Just breathe.” I stayed still long enough to feel my heart beat slower. And then I ran out of the door.
I have a strong work ethic. Some might call it fabulous (I do). Some might call it ridiculous (I’ve done that, too). I get it from both sides of my family—the hard-working Greek side (hey, when you leave your home nation like Grandpa did at 13, arrive in the U.S. at 17, work your way across the country, open your own business and successfully raise your family, you can’t have a work ethic that is anything less than stellar), and the plain old hard-working side (Dad left his home with five borrowed dollars in his pocket and then worked crazy hard to build the life he wanted). In other words, we don’t do lazy in my family. We work hard toward seeing our dreams come to life, and we love it.
But on that day, the day with the racing feet and racing heart, something caught my attention. I am not sure what heart palpitations are, but I think I was having some. My physical reaction to my crowded schedule suddenly became obvious. I realized just how often I raced through my day, and how much of a toll it was taking on my body.
I also realized that the physical reaction I felt that day wasn’t new. It was familiar in an uncomfortable way. As I thought about it, I realized that there were a lot of days that I “felt” the stress of my schedule. Racing around, with distracted thoughts and an ache in my head, neck, and shoulders. These were just a few of the familiar indicators. I also began to see I often did not feel really ready for a meeting, which caused another kind of stress reaction.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw there were all kinds of indicator lights flashing in an attempt to get my attention. It reminds me of the “check engine” light on my dashboard. If the light comes on, I need to pay attention and see what’s going on under the hood.
Back to the heart palpitations…
That day was a turning point for me. The rapid beats of my heart tapped out a message that I finally heard. Through their message, I learned to give credence to what my body, heart, and mind were communicating about my packed schedule and increased stress. I believe God made us to work (and even work hard), but I don’t believe it is sustainable or healthy to run at such a pace. It’s not healthy to ignore the messages.
So, where does that leave me today?
I am a better listener. When my body, heart and mind begin tapping out a message to tell me to slow down, I am much quicker to listen. I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit when He reminds me that He made me to live a well-paced life. I listen more to God’s Word to let Him carry the burdens—and my shoulders feel a lot better when I do!
My life now is a quest to navigate the path that allows me to work hard at this great calling, while helping me live at a pace that is both healthy and honoring to the One who made me. I also really want to be a good example to those I serve. When I read about my mentor, Jesus, I don’t see the Lord rushing. Outside of the Garden of Gethsemane, I don’t see Him stressed. He lived a well-paced, graced life, and “accomplished” more than anyone in history. I want to be like Him.
Does any of this feel familiar? Have you felt a racing heart and racing thoughts accompany your racing feet? If so, what can you do from here:
- Know Thyself: One of the things I had to learn was how I personally respond to stress. I mentioned the racing heart and tension in my head, neck, and shoulders. I also have discovered a lot more about myself, including the indicator that if I fall asleep on the couch night after night, then I am overloaded. When I’m too tired to get ready for bed at night, and I wake up on the couch in the middle of the night with the lights and TV on, I’m in a state of heightened stress. That may seem like a strange indicator, but it’s proven to be true for me. Every. Single. Time. What are your personal indicators?
- Know Good Resources: Here are a few things that have helped me on the path to being a healthy leader. Of course, all of these things are in addition to a healthy prayer life!
- Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson – I have learned (am still learning!) to create margin in my schedule so I don’t run from appointment to appointment (to appointment and on and on!) For example, I now never schedule more than two meetings in a row without some space in between. Everyone I meet with is happier when I have margin—I have so much more to offer!
- Adrenaline and Stress by Dr. Archibald Hart – This book was another important piece in the puzzle that helped me see how I physically react during times of stress.
- My local gym – I’m not even kidding. I handle the stress of everything better when I am physically active.
- A bold and loving friend – I have friends who love me enough to tell me if they are concerned about my stress levels or reactions. These friends are a gift.
- Know What Fills Your Tank: Something else I have discovered about myself—I am most optimistic when I have something on my calendar (apart from work stuff) that I am really excited about. These events could be dinner with a friend or vacation with my family. It doesn’t matter how big the event is—only that I am looking forward to it. These moments help me recalibrate my thoughts, and remind me to walk a well-paced, graced life with my Mentor Jesus.