Should-less Days: What They Are and Why You Need Them

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!

Shouldless Day

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.)

Shouldless Day

In between arguing with myself, I treated myself.I made myself breakfast and a good cup of coffee.

Shouldless Day

I went back to bed with my book. I snuggled with a warm, snoring dog.

Shouldless Day

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.

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! Simple Living | Stress Relief | Self Care For Moms


Self-Care for the Dazed and Confused (of the Bird or Introverted Human Variety)

A few weeks ago I heard a thunk against the kitchen window, and my heart sank. I knew what that sound meant – a bird had flown into the window. I stepped outside and sure enough, there was a bird lying motionless on the deck. There’s not really much you can do in this situation, other than to keep the bird safe and wait. So we kept Gus inside and checked on the bird every fifteen minutes.

Dazed bird

At first he was out cold. The next time I checked he hadn’t moved, but his eyes were open. A few minutes later he was sitting up, dazed and confused. Further observation found him cautiously checking out his body. (Am I still in one piece?) And then he was gone.

I feel a bit like the bird right now, in the dazed and confused phase. While I haven’t run head first into anything, life has bonked me around a bit. The upside is that life is throwing lots of good stuff at me. The downside is that my first inclination is to power through, neither enjoying the moment or giving myself time to pause. As I learn more about myself and my personality type (ISFJ), I know that I need time to rest and reset after major events. Major events, for me, are things like holidays, big social gatherings, family vacations, schedule changes, and visitors. Since late November, all of those things have happened on a near weekly basis (some of them multiple times).

This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy having visitors, organizing events or spending time with family and friends. I enjoy them immensely, and I would be so sad not to have these interactions in my life. But where some people (such as my extroverted husband) are energized by going, doing and seeing, these things suck the energy out of me. If I don’t take the time to rest and refocus, then things get ugly. Sometimes it makes me physically ill, but it’s more likely I’ll get cranky and snappish with the people I live with.

I used to get frustrated with myself – why couldn’t I handle these kinds of things with the grace and ease everyone else does? Why do I find myself in a fog after Christmas break? Why can’t I get it together? Now I know that it’s just who I am. I can make myself (and everyone around me) miserable, or I can be patient and take care of myself like my little bird friend. He’s a good reminder that when life hits us on the head, we shouldn’t be too quick to move on. Instead, we should give ourselves time to shake it off, rest and refocus.

What does self-care for the dazed and confused introvert look like? Well, it looks like going back to bed after the kids are on the bus. It looks like making space on the calendar for the next day or two with no planned activities. It looks like choosing quiet over sound. It looks like extra cups of tea and a book that doesn’t make me think too much. It looks like baking cookies or eating ice cream straight out of the container. It looks like watching the birds or petting the dog. It looks like going to bed at least an hour before you think you’re supposed to.

Self-care for the introvert

I’ve learned that if I’m willing to give the time, permission and space to take care of myself after something that depletes me, I can bounce back within a day or even a few hours. But if I ignore it and tell myself to quit being so lazy/silly/crazy/selfish (feel free to insert all the lies we tell ourselves)? Then I’m dazed, confused, resentful and more than likely awful to live with for days.

I’m coming off a fantastically fun event that I planned for weeks, the NFL Combine Tweetup. On Sunday I leave for a 4 day trip to New York City. Spring Break is around the corner, and soon after we’ll take our big family trip. I see those things and know that in order to enjoy them, I’ll need to give myself some space to recharge. I know that now, and as a result I think I enjoy myself in the moment more than ever.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are more than a few of you out there that know exactly what I’m talking about. Like me, you’d never guess it from the outside. We’re exceedingly cheerful and pleasant and readily at your service. I wouldn’t change this about myself for the world, and I hope you won’t, either. Just remember that you can’t give of yourself if you’ve depleted everything that’s wonderful inside. Taking care of your introverted self isn’t just for the birds, and there’s nothing bird-brained about it.

How do you rest and recharge yourself after big events, or prepare yourself for big things on the horizon?


The February Despair (and What’s Saving Me From It Right Now)

“The day and time itself: late afternoon in early February, was there a moment of the year better suited for despair?”
Alice McDermott

Optimist Pessimist Stemless Wine Glass

I’d like to think myself an optimist most days, but for twenty-nine days in February I struggle. The winter months just don’t suit me. Once the anticipation of the holidays and my birthday have passed, the thrill of that first beautiful snow ebbs, and the grey gloomy days seem to outnumber the sunny ones, my inner pessimist prevails. I have two choices: I can wallow for an entire month and make myself and everyone around me miserable, or I can search out and embrace the positives to get me through the tail end of the winter season. Most often I choose the latter. Reading Anne Bogel’s recent blog post (The things that are saving my life right now) made me realize that it’s embracing the little things that save me from February’s despair as well. So in the spirit of optimism (and the knowledge that spring is just a little bit closer every day), here’s what’s saving my life right now:

Wood-burning fireplace with gas starter: best home improvement decision of all-time.

1. Burning things. We’ve been lighting a fire almost every night. It’s so cozy, and something about having a fire just draws everybody into the family room. We’re also on a candle kick, lighting them every night as well and picking up good and lovely ones whenever we spy them.

2. Taking a reading break mid-day. I used to only read just before bed at night. Thanks to another of Anne’s brilliant suggestions, I stop what I’m doing about 45 minutes before Elena gets home and take a reading break. Not only does it give me something to look forward to, it helps my end-of-day attitude tremendously. I lovingly refer to the hours between after school and bedtime as the second shift – it can be so busy and long! You wouldn’t work a double shift without having a little break, right? Take the break.

3. Football. Even though my Colts haven’t played since early January, playoff football gets me through the rest of January and part of February. When the Super Bowl is over, I have the NFL Combine (my hometown of Indianapolis always plays host) to look forward to.

4. Podcasts. I’m relatively new to the podcast game, but seeing a new episode of the podcasts I love pop up in my notifications always gives me a little thrill. My favorites right now are Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Death, Sex and Money, Serial (though not as gripping as last season) and What Should I Read Next.

Cafe au lait at Cake Bake Shop Indianapolis

5. Drinking all the hot drinks. In warmer months I typically only drink a cup of coffee in the morning and water the rest of the day. By February I’m drinking a cup of coffee first thing, a cup of tea when I get in from walking Eli to the bus stop, a cup of decaf tea during my afternoon break, and often a cup of cocoa, tea or a hot toddy before bed. A book, a warm drink in my hand and a fire? Maybe February isn’t all that bad.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Binder Christmas Gift

6. Trip planning. No matter how dreary it is in Indiana, I can be California dreaming in an instant as I plan our upcoming trip. We think we’re going in early May, which is oh-so-close!

7. Great British Baking Show. The kids and I are hooked on this British baking competition streaming on Netflix. We don’t even know what half the things they’re making are, but they all look amazing. The personalities are fantastic, and there’s none of the bad manners or tacky, over-the-top drama of our homegrown reality shows.

8. Chocolate Covered Almonds from Trader Joe’s. I have the dark and milk chocolate mix right now, and I’ve also had the Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds. (Which I can assure you are from the devil, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.) I have no problem eating my February grumpy feelings through a handful of these puppies.

9. Working out. I can eat my February feelings (mostly) guilt free by keeping up with my Bikini Body Mommy workouts. I wrapped up the 4.0 Challenge last month, and now I’m tackling the 6 Week Mini-Challenge. In roughly 20 minutes a day I can squeeze in a workout, and I’m always in a better mood when I’m done.

Angie Six

10. Silly hats and warm scarves. If you can’t beat the weather, you might as well look good in it. I’m in love with my Colts knit beanie hat, and will wear it in the house long after I’ve come in from outdoors.

What’s pulling you out of the winter doldrums right now?

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