How I Caught a Gnarly Stress Bug From My Addiction to Productivity

I never understood this seemingly cryptic piece of advice:

Slow down to go fast?

It’s taken a couple of meltdowns, anxiety attacks, and stress-induced gastritis to achieve clarity on the subject.

When Jeff Olson preached the idea of slowing down to go fast in The Slight Edge, he was referring to the long haul. Sustainability.

It’s not humanly possible to accelerate your way through life. Slow and steady wins the race, right? The fable of the tortoise and the hare is one we may recall from our childhood, but some of us blatantly disapprove of this concept. Or maybe, we simply forget. Driven by a fiery impatience, we act recklessly. Blindly, even. We sprint. We sprint because we believe that we’ll reap the rewards sooner. This temporary lapse of judgment, however, is what sabotages our long-term potential. Don’t worry, though. Just as a machine has its way of signaling trouble in paradise, your body will issue warning signs. That’s the beauty of the human body. Your mental and physical health are not separate entities. They operate in sync of one another.

Hands up if your physical health has served as a blaring stop sign, alerting you to slow to hell down and reevaluate your lifestyle! I was forced to do just that this week. What I assumed was a day bug soon unveiled itself to be gastritis. And no, this wasn’t a Google diagnosis. This was the product of consistently stress-filled days. Self-inflicted of course. I was cramming far too much into my day, striving to make every moment a productive one. My brain was operating at an unfathomable speed and my actions were driven by an aura of invincibility and an obsession with visible progress. I thought I could do it all. I was under the illusion that I was okay, until of course, my gut made the executive decision to slam on the brakes, forcing me to come to an unsatisfying halt. Now that I’m stationary, I can see that I was speeding through the year, hustling a little too aggressively, running red lights, oblivious to the fact that my speed and my addiction to productivity would eventually cripple me.

This sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach that is churning a regular episode of nausea – the heart-racing, stomach-twisting feeling that is rendering me unfit for work right now – has certainly taught me a lesson. I’ll be honest with you, feeling my heart beat as fast as it has been, is even more anxiety-inducing than the culmination of factors that has led me to where I am right now. How’s that for irony.

Having been instructed to take it easy, chill out, relax – anything to untangle the persistent knots in my stomach, I decided to go offline for 24 hours. I turned off my phone and access to the internet (with the exception of Netflix) in a desperate attempt to free my mind of unworthy distraction and focus every ounce of energy on my personal wellbeing. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was going to bode well for me or if it was just going to bleed irony and add to the unsightly list of factors that seem to elevate my heart rate these days. The thought of unread emails, text messages, notifications, potentially extending my future list of to-dos and cooking up an extra large serving of overwhelmed feelings, waiting to greet me when I logged back into the digital world… Ugh.

The verdict? Going off the grid is somewhat liberating once you move past the initial itch. I took solace in the fact that nothing external could pollute my mind. My focus wasn’t diluted by toggling between 8 different apps while my mind manufactured a separate thread of thoughts for each, all innocently spinning the wheel of exhaustion.

Instead, I used the time to meditate and swim – the things that were generally low on my priority list – the things that didn’t quite measure up to my deluded definition of productivity. I’ve since come to terms with the value of inaction and how it’s so important to give your mind a regular timeout.

Moral of the story: look after yourself. Don’t wait until you’re incapacitated, begging your body to fix itself. It’s not about quick fixes. It’s about looking after yourself consistently and proactively. Don’t let your addiction to productivity distort your priorities and persuade you to bench your physical and mental well-being because that’s when the trouble begins.  My ‘crash’ could have easily been avoided had I exercised the same diligence with my mental health as I do with everything else.

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