I’ve been wanting to write this article for a long time. And, consistent, with the theme, it’s taken me a long time to get around to it!
One of the things that Covid taught me, particularly in the early days, is that the world could come to a wrenching halt, and some of us didn’t mind that aspect of things at all. It was common for me to hear that people felt, prior to Covid, that they were living in a rat race: working too much, over scheduled, rarely home. Everything, go, go, go.
And many of us realized—when we finally had more moments to think— that this pace was anxiety-provoking. And as we continue to emerge from Covid and transition back to many of our pre-pandemic activities, some of us seem to be asking ourselves if in doing so, we’re once again hopping aboard the anxiety train.
Many of you know that I’ve struggled mightily with anxiety over the years and I’ve tested my nervous system off and on, wondering how much I can push my limits and still feel ok. It turns out, not that much. And this is because I’m being honest with myself: I’ve been reflecting a lot on my limits and trying little experiments along the way, to see if they help.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that slowness prevents me from ever feeling anxiety, but I do notice a difference, day-to-day, in my anxiety levels when parts of my day are going more slowly.
Slowness strategies can sometimes be applied preventatively, and at other times, responsively. Here’s how it applies for me personally:
It’s been about 2 years now since I’ve been offering counselling 4 days a week. And it “only” took me about 4 years to allow myself to make this decision. An important point to make here is that my privilege allowed me to make this shift in my work schedule: I can work 4 days a week and contribute enough to support my family. I’m so grateful to my clients for that.
Why did it take me so long to go to 4 days? I had saddled myself with guilt around having to tell waitlisted folks that it would be a longer wait than originally anticipated. I also worried about my existing clients: would it would put too much pressure on them to make several bookings in advance, to ensure regular counselling? In fact, I still worry a lot about this.
Maybe I’m daft, but one of the unexpected consequences of working less counselling hours in a week is that I enjoy my counselling sessions even more. I look forward to working, I feel less rushed and more calm. I reflect more after sessions. I plan more ideas and take extra time to search for resources for my clients because I have more time.
This sounds a little silly because I’m not actually counselling more slowly, but the administrative aspects of my practice are happening at a slower pace. One of my favourite things to do after a busy day is to type slowly and answer my emails mindfully and carefully, not rushing a thing. I notice how my mind settles and grounds itself and lingering excess energy starts to dissipate from my body. It’s a great transition between work and home life.
I also like to experiment with other aspects of slow work including: taking my time to research resources, writing my clinical notes at a slower pace, creating my schedule in the Jane App as mindfully as possible, writing articles without pressuring myself to write a lot, listening to voicemails attentively, managing my resource lists in a focused and concentrated way, planning my newsletters carefully, cleaning my office slowly etc.
I’m not sure if other counsellors can relate to this but for years I’ve encouraged my clients to take breaks without actually taking sufficient breaks myself. In the last few years, I continue to refine my break schedule: now taking a longer lunch and looking, in the future, to take shorter, frequent breaks in between sessions, with the aim of refreshing my mind and slowing the internal pace. It’s my hope that clients will benefit too!
With working a day less a week, I now have a day to go to appointments that are otherwise harder to come by on weekends. I’m so fortunate to see my registered massage therapist most weeks and I work with a fantastic physiotherapist too. Dentist appointment? No problem. I wouldn’t be able to do appointments like these consistently if I were working 5 days a week. This extra day also gives me time to attend other types of appointments, go to government offices, run errands, fulfill family obligations and deal with household tasks—all things that have to be done but can now be spread out due to the extra day.
I also find that I gravitate towards self-care that is, by its nature, slower: knitting, sourdough bread (often made over 2 days), massage therapy, walking, films/television, writing. Doing slow activities also seems to help me avoid overloading myself with leisure (yes, it sounds like an oxymoron) as just one activity can take a while!
I recall hearing about a podcast called Nothing Much Happens, which focuses on bedtime stories to help promote sleep, and I remember thinking that it was a good description of my daily life. Having an anxious nervous system has meant that I’ve had to make choices that aren’t flashy or terribly exciting. And while I wouldn’t exactly call my life boring (at least to me), it’s pretty simple. There are lots of opportunities for doing everyday things at a slow pace: making supper slowly (unless the family really needs to eat ASAP), listening to drawn-out radio programs, folding laundry, driving mindfully, strolling, talking to friends on the phone as opposed to just texting, talking the time to listen to family members fully when they are talking, petting my cat…the list is infinite!
When I’m tired and burned out, sometimes doing the next thing seems too daunting. But, what if I put as little pressure on myself as possible and took the next thing as slowly as possible? Sometimes just that permission gets me to the place of taking the next step. Dishwasher to unload? Let’s try doing it in slow mo. Package to return to the mailbox? Why not walk there at a snail’s pace? There are so many options here.
Trust Your Slow
I had a very interpersonally intense day this week and I had previously planned to attend my Zoom meditation group that evening. Part of me was saying: “meditation…how slow can you get?” but inside I was resisting. It didn’t seem like the kind of resisting where I was avoiding facing myself. It felt more like going to meditation and talking/listening to people in my group felt too much. I was exhausted. So I switched to knitting and TV instead and I felt a sense of lightness come over me. After about an hour of that, I had the idea to make some kombucha which was something I had been dreading doing earlier in the week (I like drinking it but don’t always like making it). Why did I suddenly want to jump up and do this? I felt rested from relaxing my body and from letting down the burden of self-judgement that I somehow should have been meditating instead.
Sometimes Fast is Slow
Many of you know that I’m a bread-head and not just any old bread: sourdough. But unless you plan for it, it can be a difficult bread to make on the fly because if you haven’t planned in advance, sourdough is usually at least 12 hours away, more like 24 or 36. My historically perfectionistic self would typically say, “guess we’re not having bread tonight” and given up. However, I’ve recently started incorporating more ease in my life by returning to breadmaking with commercial yeast: something I haven’t done in over a decade. And although I’ll remain a sourdough snob for its superior flavour and its technical challenge, there’s something so gentle and ease-inducing about making bread that can be ready in a few hours. When I do, I find myself breathing a sign of relief!
Efficiency Isn’t Everything
A not-so-fun fact about me is that I love systems: especially things around improving efficiency. The admin side of Willow Tree Counselling has a lot of infrastructure, only typically detectable when something goes wrong! And I love the process of making incremental improvements to improve clients’ experiences. And I can’t ever see myself tiring of this.
But, I can also say that life isn’t just about systems efficiency. Sometimes the slower way is the way to go. It doesn’t necessarily help me to think that everything needs to be done for a reason or, systematically. Some of my happiest times have been when I have refilled a client’s tea twice or taken a few extra minutes, if available, to leave more time for a client to follow an arch of thought or emotion all the way through.
As I slowly re-read this article, I realize that it’s a bit random, a bit disjointed. But I’ve decided that I’m not going to “fix” it. Instead, I’m going to leave it right here and take it nice and easy! 💺
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