Project Louise: When The Best Thing To Do Is … Nothing

Stress can get in the way of doing the right thing. But stopping to breathe can help. (skyseeker via flickr)

Stress can get in the way of doing the right thing. But stopping to breathe can help. (skyseeker via flickr)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

Some days, all you can do is keep breathing. At least that’s what it feels like this week.

Both my work and home lives chose this particular moment to ratchet up the pressure by about 100 percent; I had some completely unbreakable deadlines, with a ton of work to be done in order to meet them. The professional ones I’ve (mostly) met, and the home-front ones I’m still working on, but so far things are more or less under control.

Meanwhile, the Project Louise commitments – you know, exercising three days a week; eating well at least five days a week; learning to love, trust and respect myself all the time – well, something had to give. And, as seems to be my lifelong pattern, when I have to choose between my obligations to others and my obligations to myself, it’s Louise who has to give.

I confess there’s a big part of me that considers this the right way to live. Selfishness is one of the sins I find hardest to forgive in others, so it’s also one I strive hardest to avoid myself. But I do know – and coach Allison Rimm keeps reminding me – that there’s a difference between selfishness and self-care.

Still, under stress, when there are just too many things screaming for immediate attention, the screams I ignore are the ones from myself. So I stay at my desk instead of going for a walk – or even taking a half-hour break for a healthy lunch – and I tell myself I’m too busy to stop and eat, and then I’m starving so I eat whatever’s in front of me, and then I feel crummy so I don’t feel like exercising even if I could find the time, and then I’m mad at myself so I reach for the chips …

In short, all I really managed to do this week is breathe. Which sounds like nothing, right? But what I mean is that, at some of the worst moments, I did make myself pause and focus on my breath. Just for a minute or two. Just breathe, just clear my mind and aim to think of nothing but in … out … in … breathe … breathe … breathe.

And you know what? That was better than nothing. For a few minutes, a few times a day, I was able to get away from all the things screaming at me, and I was able to just be. And it helped. I got through the week. And now I’m ready to get back on the bike – literally and figuratively – and get moving.

But first I’m going to have lunch.

Readers, do you have times when you just can’t do anything but stay afloat? And what do you do to help yourself get through stressful periods? Share your tips in the comments.


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  • lindam313

    When I get totally overwhelmed, I may drop one exercise event, but basically I keep to my routine. I do not see it as being selfish at all (well, most of the time) but I see it as creating a more efficient and effective self who is not going to be a drain on others because I get too stressed or run down or sick due to not caring for myself. I see it as maintaining my strength so that I can accomplish more in the long run. Honestly, if I drop dead tomorrow, my family will miss me, but work and everything else will replace me pretty fast, so I take care of myself for my family – this way I don’t cause them stress and pain because I am ill or need care, etc. If I try to cut back on sleep, then I get a migraine or get sick, if I cut back on exercise, I get stressed, tense and sometimes I think I pick up colds and things more easily (but I could be wrong on that). I know that when I do a yoga class or run after work, I feel more energized when I’m done and I can be more efficient. unfortunately, I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee about 5 weeks ago and so I’m off my running and my normal weight lifting routine and I really have had trouble getting back into it, but I am working around it and doing yoga, walking and never stopped the Pilates! I really think once you see yourself as an athletic, fit person who lives the benefits of these actions (which I believe takes years to develop, so hang in there) you will just know that it’s better to exercise and eat right than not. I do agree with the strategy of doing something instead of nothing and if I cut my routine in half that day, then that’s better than nothing! So do that instead of nothing for sure. But, self-care is not being selfish, it is essential to life. There is only ONE you!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you, Linda! Just back from vacation, I am happy to see this and will try to follow your advice. You’re definitely right that it takes longer than I was hoping to see myself as an athletic, fit person — but I will keep working on it!

  • Ray


    I feel so sad that you can reveal a life so committed. I hope this is not a long lasting period In your life. As far back as I can remember, I have been what I thought of as lazy. With longer perspective now in my senior years I realize that there were long periods of my working life when I was “up against it”, and felt a degree of guilt for the “time-outs”, when I felt like the load was slipping and that I needed to turn off and, as you say, breathe. Looking back, I smile, thinking that, for being a”lazy” person I consistently achieved more than my peers, more than I expected of myself, making myself more effective by taking time out and setting a solid pace.

    Louise, I sense that you are achieving more in your life than I ever did, but wish for you that you become increasingly comfortable with being “lazy” and profoundly satisfied with a life in good proportion of achievement and happiness.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Dear Ray, Thank you so much for your note. I didn’t see it until now because I was on vacation, but now that I’m back in my overcommitted regular life, I saw it at just the right moment. I truly appreciate your insight, and I will try to remember to be “lazy” in the wonderful way you suggest!