What would happen if you took a day off from your life and only did the things you felt like doing? Self-care days or mental health days aren’t lazy – they’re good for your well-being! Take a should-less day and do the things you want to do without beating yourself up. If it’s good enough for Ellen Burstyn it’s good enough for you!
Last year I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Death, Sex & Money. The topic of this particular episode was an interview with Ellen Burstyn. At 83, the critically acclaimed actress probably knows a thing or two about life, and so I was eager to listen. She talked about something in the podcast when jolted me from my basket of laundry: the concept of should-less days.
What, exactly, is a should-less day? It’s essentially a vacation day for your body and brain, a rest from busyness and doing what’s expected. Here’s how Burstyn explained her should-less days:
“There is nothing I should do, so I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it. I recommend them. I have wiring in my brain that calls me ‘lazy’ if I’m not doing something. And that wiring is there, I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days. So when that voice goes off and says, ‘You’re being lazy’ I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, “No, this is a should-less day and I’m doing what I want.”
I think Ellen and me (and probably you) have the same wiring, the one that likes to call you lazy and isn’t there something else you should be doing? This is an unusual concept, considering we’ve been taught to prize busyness and efficiency above all else. This idea comes up again and again in my chats with other women and moms – the feeling that there are no days off. There is always something you could be doing. If it’s not taking care of your family, it’s the house, or work, or your body or your friendships.
I penciled in my first should-less day in mid-December. I knew a few things: if I didn’t schedule it, it wouldn’t happen. I also knew that, while on the surface, taking a precious school day in the middle of the busiest holiday season and making it a day of rest seemed crazy, it might also be the one way to keep me from going crazy over the holiday and winter break. I didn’t tell anyone about it. Quite honestly I was afraid of hearing what I tell myself: That’s ridiculous. You don’t need a break. Factory workers in third world countries need breaks, not you.
But we do. We all do, no matter who we are, what we do, or who we’re responsible for. We have two choices: we can ridicule people who take care of themselves, in the process making them feel worse and not making us feel any better, or we can take note and give ourselves permission to do the same.
So what did I do on my should-less day? Well, honestly I spent a lot of it arguing with the voice in my head:
I should call the firewood guy (No)
I should vacuum up that snowdrift of dog hair in the hallway (No)
I should run that errand when I’m out (No)
I want to fold laundry (Yes. I’m weird.)
In between arguing with myself, I treated myself.I made myself breakfast and a good cup of coffee.
I went back to bed with my book. I snuggled with a warm, snoring dog.
I didn’t exercise. I drank tea and enjoyed the quiet and the Christmas lights. I stayed in my pajamas all morning. I took myself out to lunch, and realized I’d forgotten my phone at home. It was delightful. No interruption, no feeling like I should check those emails or see what’s happening on Twitter (Nothing. Nothing is happening on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram that I can’t miss for an hour). I made room for silence and I paid attention to the thoughts in my head (which can be scary – hence the need to fill our days with stuff).
It was just what my mind and body needed. And here’s the best part: no one in my family noticed. The world as we know it didn’t fall apart because I scheduled 7 hours to take care of me. If anything, they noticed that I was calmer, more content, and not so grumpy.
How often should one take a should-less day? I can’t tell you. I haven’t taken one since then, instead taking a few should-less mornings or afternoons (baby steps). As I get to know myself better, I’m aware that scheduling a should-less day just before or right after draining events would be smart.
I would love to see should-less days become a thing, and I’m happy to start a little movement right here. If you can’t take a day, take an hour. Go out on a limb and let people know. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t meet with you on Tuesday. It’s my should-less day.” Share what you do on your should-less day and tag it #shouldlessday. I pledge that from this day forward I will no longer give anyone the stink eye or say snarky things inside when they’re choosing self-care over busyness and people-pleasing. Here’s to breaking old habits that wear us down and installing new wiring that builds us up.