If you have gone to school to become an occupational therapist, you’ll have heard the term “occupational balance”. Occupational balance is when your time throughout the day if balanced well between self care, leisure and productivity. When there is an significant imbalance, this can contribute to issues in your health. An example, for anyone not familiar with this term; I worked in a job once where I would travel to people’s homes and would skip eating until I got home at the end of the day, would work into the evening and then be so exhausted I would go straight to bed. I constantly trying to be productive, never spent any time on myself, and I was not taking care of myself, As time went on this way, my mental health was not good and my body was constantly in pain. Once I started another job where I could disconnect from work when I got home, and I was able to take a proper time to eat lunch, I was able to take time in the evening for myself and I started feeling much better.
As most things I learned in school, I was very able to apply the concept of occupational balance to all my clients, but never to myself. I am definitely that person that works multiple jobs and feels like I have to be doing things all the time to have a meaningful life. I could never just relax and exist, I always had to be pushing forward, learning things, being with people, creating, etc. Does this sound familiar to you? Our society is constantly pushing the “hustle” mentality, celebrating your hard work and your successes, celebrating the people who work longer hours and make more money. We learn in school that people with severe mental illness, with chronic pain, with physical disability etc have occupational imbalance, but in reality MOST of society does too. All of this to say, I definitely am not the only one feeling like I need to be the Energizer Bunny at all times.
…….And then COVID hit.
In the early days of this blog, a few months into the pandemic, I wrote a blog post about how my view of productivity changed (click here for that post). It has now been years (OH I KNOW…YIKES), we are days away from 2022…. and as of late, I have been reflecting on how the pandemic has not only changed my view of productivity, but also of self care and leisure.
A couple days ago, just after Christmas, my fiance and I had a full day of plans, including shopping for a gift, fully cleaning our home, and going skating. We woke up to an announcement that a drug store near our house was doing walk in appointments for booster vaccines – we live in Ontario where it’s basically the hunger games to get anything related to COVID protection…. so we jumped in the car and got in line. After getting our shots and getting the gift we needed, we decided to cut our day short and head home. We put on our OODIES (Yes it is a blanket shaped as a longsleeve dress with a hood… and absolutely delightful), made a drink in our new cups and watched tv. Despite all of our plans, we lounged, watched tv and napped all day…. and it was GLORIOUS.
Why is this story significant at all? Because it was a reminder of how much I have changed as a person since COVID and how much more I prioritize self care and leisure activities. And it was a reminder that we ALL can improve our health even just a little bit by trying to balance our days a little better.
Before COVID, I would have felt so miserable that I didn’t complete my long list of things that day, even though most of them were enjoyable to me! I would have felt like I was unproductive, like I wasted a day, and was a failure (even though literally no one cares if we clean our house except us). During COVID I had to teach myself how to relax. My fiancee literally had to trick me into napping when I was anxious because I felt guilty about not being productive, even though I was laid off work. As time has gone on, I have learned the beauty of slowing down; of reading books, of taking naps with my fiancee, and watching my cats watch bird videos on Youtube (it really is entertaining! Just watch that your cat doesn’t try to catch the birds haha). Everyday during COVID I watched the peaceful breathing of my napping cats and wished I could relax like them… as time went on, I learned I CAN I just have to LET myself.
I thought this was important to talk about as the world is very much returning to the same hustle mentality we worked on before COVID, even though cases are sky rocketing in some places. I think it is important to realize the lessons we learned during this shift in the world, and to share it with others so we can collectively make our lives a little bit better.
The human world is so focused on being productive and meeting goals, that we forget that as humans we also NEED to relax, to take care of ourselves, and to do things that we enjoy! Even something as small as a cat nap, can make all the difference 🙂
Have you learned something that has changed the way you go about your life? Or perhaps the way you complete your job as an occupational therapist or whatever other career you might be in? If you are comfortable, please share in the comments I would love to start a conversation!