We live under a set of cultural conditions that prize hard work over rest. We’re encouraged to be constantly progressing, being told to move onwards and upwards and believing that success and fulfillment can only be found through unending work and a commitment to our responsibilities. These responsibilities may be work, family, or a number of other external factors. While hard work is important and can be incredibly gratifying, we often forget about our responsibility to ourselves. An essential part of being responsible for our own happiness and wellbeing is being able to retreat.
In the technology centred world that we’re living in, the lines between work and rest can become blurred. Handheld and wearable devices are constantly at our fingertips, making screens, and consequently our exogenous responsibilities (which are often the cause of stress), inescapable. They’re useful, but they can easily remove us from real life and distract us from connecting to what we need.
When we are disconnected from ourselves and our minds are occupied by external stressors, a psychological phenomenon called anticipatory stress can occur. You begin to ruminate on things that are to come or might be coming, taking us away from the present. If we don’t ever unplug and pay attention to the now, we miss out on much of the beauty of life.
It is essential that we unplug and retreat on occasion. This isn’t only limited to unplugging from the digital world – it extends to mentally unplugging from stressors and going inwards to identify what will nourish your mind, body, soul and spirit. It is a well known fact that assigning dedicated time to resting and resetting will improve every aspect of your life, including your ability to fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your ability.
It is far easier said than done. It requires transgressing cultural expectations and challenging deeply ingrained beliefs. It means changing your perspective on what a “valuable” use of time is. It asks you to cultivate a deep respect and appreciation for yourself and your efforts. For many of us this is extremely difficult to do, and understandably so considering that narrative that we have been fed.
Reflect on how often you give yourself the space to retreat. This can be through a mindfulness practice that cultivates presence, through a getaway or retreat program out in nature, or through physical exercise that is enjoyable and manageable. Ask yourself what’s going to best allow you to live fully, to attach and connect with the beautiful people and world around you (right now) and experience everything life has to offer, including that which is away from the constant hustle.
There is no more important time in your life than right now, at around 50, to escape and prioritise spending time with your self. This is no easy feat at all and it will take fighting through rounds and rounds of resistance – both internally as well as externally – to get there. But it is so worth it.