I sat with a patient this past month who is dealing with extreme stress and loss. In our processing, she realized that she had not taken a decent break from work in 25 years — absolutely no extended time off. Currently, life circumstances have led to loss and a high level of anxiety for her.
Our bodies cannot sustain extended periods of stress without damage occurring — either of a physical or mental level. Often both are included. Stress affects our health and our emotional reserve. It also can create diminished mental ability, affecting how we receive and process information.
I was processing with some of my European friends about how the stress of American culture challenges the way they were raised and bred, so to speak. Presently working in New York and Los Angeles, they truly believe that their bodies and emotions are not created to undergo the stress that American work culture delivers. As we discussed this, I truly understood that perhaps the rest and leisure they integrate with their work ethic is a much healthier way to live.
I, like so many of us, fall into the pattern of working many hours because I enjoy helping people. I often give to others more than myself — even though I practice good self care. But if we practice working too much for an extensive period, without some type of break to recharge, we can become depleted physically and emotionally.
When we hit that place, we harm ourselves and can potentially cause pain in our interpersonal relationships because we truly do not have anything inside us to give. Making too many withdrawals from our emotional bank account without making some deposits leaves us emotionally bankrupt.
It is with this said that I am going on a spiritual retreat. I am going to experience monastic life in Europe. It will be a unique experience of rest, reflection and rediscovery of who I am in God's sight, what he designed me to do, and how he wants me to give of myself as a minister, psychotherapist and writer.
There are so many people who need us in life; making time to stop the world and reflect can give us fuel to continue on the process of life. For those who are Christians, this can mean being able to do and sustain your part of fulfilling the Great Commission. From a strictly behavioral-science viewpoint, our bodies can be healed, as well as our emotions, from physical, emotional and mental respite.
When we take the break we do not feel we have time for, we multiply our time. For when we return, we have so much more to give to our families, places of employment, friends, passions and call.
It is rare that I can take time like this away. It has been years due to family, young children and work obligations. But there is a reason God created a way for me to do it now. I do not believe it is just for me. It is for those I will touch with my distinct call in life. I believe that we each have a unique call. God also has exclusive circumstances and creative ways to help us self care, and hear his voice. My prayer is that you would seek his face in this. Until next time, I will be thinking of our community and praying for you all from a monastery.
The Rev. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by mail at La Vie Counseling Center c/o the Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, La Vie Counseling Center, 650 Sierra Madre Villa, Suite 110, Pasadena, CA 91107.