By Brenda Rodgers, Crosswalk.com
My eyes open to the tune of Early Riser on my phone, and my chest tightens. The morning sky still dark, my feet not even touching the floor yet, and already my mind spirals forward through my day, anticipating an impossible task list. My feeling? Dread. Before my eyes blink the night rest off, anxiety blankets me as I lay in bed. I sigh deeply, swing my legs to the right, and with all my might command my body to get up.
A morning like this signals that something is not right. Overwhelmed and exhausted before the day starts shows me to take a closer look at what needs to change. Far too often I have mornings like this, and after experiencing them I have noticed the warning signs that they are coming and that I need a break.
Sometimes that break is physical - taking something off of my schedule to rest. However, more often that break is spiritual - pausing long enough to remember God’s truth. It sounds simplistic to take a spiritual break. What I’ve found, though, is that the more I pause throughout my day for a few seconds or minutes to pray, meditate on Scripture, or read a Bible passage, the less often I experience overwhelm.
Can you relate? Maybe you've never considered what your mind and body are trying to tell you about your life. If so, here are 10 signs that your body and mind might be telling you it's time to take a break:
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1. Dreading the Day
Like I described above, a pattern of dreading the day is my first sign that it is time to step back and take a break. When I dread the day ahead I think to myself, “I don’t want to do it!”, “I can’t do it!”, or “It’s too much!” Life feels impossible and overwhelming. I feel unqualified, unequipped, or unprepared. I wish someone could take my place or I could just check-out.
But where does dread come from? The definition of dread is “to fear greatly” or “to feel extreme reluctance to meet or face.” It never occurred to me that fear could be the catalyst for my dread. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I feared the expectations set before me. I forgot Jesus’ words, “My grace is sufficient for you” (Matthew 12:9).
Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” Dread inevitably leads me to procrastination. I don’t start because I’m afraid I won’t do the task well enough or have time to finish it. This procrastination causes paralysis because the longer I wait to start, the more work builds up and feelings of dread continue. It’s a cycle that’s hard to break.
However, discipline helps me break the cycle. When I discipline my days by structuring them not only with times of work but also with times of rest, I don’t fear the day as much. For me, this “rest” includes getting up earlier than my family so that I have time to wake-up before the day gets started. It also includes daily prayer and Bible reading.
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3. Inability to Focus
A mind racing with to-do lists blocks my ability to focus. It’s hard for me to be present, I forget important information, and I can’t recall names of people easily. This is a sign that it’s time to take a break.
Proverbs 16:3 tells us, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” If I’m honest, I do not commit my work to the Lord often enough. I put on my agenda tasks that I think I need to get done instead of tasks that the Lord has laid on my heart to do.
To help with this I sometimes do a simple exercise in the morning of praying over each part of my day. This helps me to recognize what needs to get done versus what I want to get done. It also helps me to anticipate inevitable interruptions so that I do not become agitated by them as easily.
Another sign that tells me I need to step back and take a break is irritability. When I feel agitated in traffic, defensive on social media, or impatient with my kids I know that I need to make some changes. Once a counselor told me that these seemingly minor irritations are misdirected coping mechanisms. For example, in my road rage, I take my anger out on strangers with whom I can get away with it (They’re in their car, and I’m in mine, so there are no repercussions.) because it’s not productive to take my anger out on my calendar and it’s more complicated to take it out on someone in my life or address it with someone I’m actually angry with.
When I catch myself in these bouts of irritability, my first response is to be quiet. It’s when I start talking that the circumstance gets worse. “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11). Often times all I need is 15 minutes to be alone. This can be just sitting or sitting and reading. However, it doesn’t include scrolling on my phone. That creates more irritability. When I build small rest times like this into my day, irritability subsides.
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5. Not Meeting Deadlines
Another consequence of procrastination is not meeting deadlines. These can be work deadlines or simply paying bills on time. Ephesians 5:16 reminds us to make the most of our time. I try to schedule into my day small steps that will help me meet a bigger deadline goal. I also ask myself if there’s something I can take off of my calendar in order to make time for rest.
Lack of rest causes my mind to spiral into many questions and unknowns. My worry morphs from not getting my daily tasks done to real fears like my children getting sick. Anxiety is a sign that I need more margin in my life. It becomes necessary to step back and spend some time on my personal health. This looks like focusing on what I can do today to be healthy for tomorrow. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). That includes getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, moving in some way physically, and eating healthfully.
Since I was a child, my go-to in times of stress has been food. I use food to procrastinate, numb my anxiety and irritability, and deal with the dread I feel to move on to the next task. Overeating is a telling sign that I need rest. This rest does not usually include physical rest but spiritual rest. Jesus told us, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Instead of going to food for rest, I need to go to the Bible - to Jesus - for the food that will give me a sustainable life.
Sometimes my need for rest is because I took on too much. There are too many commitments and too many “yes’s.” Our culture prides itself on multitasking, succeeding, and accomplishing a lot in a little bit of time. In many ways, our self-worth is tied to the checks on our calendar.
Prioritizing is underestimated, but it shouldn’t be. Proverbs 24:27 tells us, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Prioritizing allows us to do a few things well instead of several things with mediocrity. It allows us to decide the most important and temporarily lay down everything else without regret.
At some point, our bodies slow down from lack of rest. This is their way of telling us that something is not right. When I get sick I ask myself if it might be because I haven’t rested enough. Maybe I haven’t gotten enough sleep. Maybe I haven’t eaten healthfully. Or maybe my anxiety contributed to my sickness. I have heard stories of Christians ending up in the hospital only to realize that it was God’s provision for them in order to give them physical rest. Paying attention to sickness allows us to discern whether it’s rest that we need.
10. Inability to Pray
Finally, the inability to pray is a sign that I need to step back and take a break. Whether I don’t pray because of misplaced priorities and lack of time or because I cannot calm my mind enough to pray, both are red flags. It’s also a sign that I need to exercise self-discipline and pray anyway. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The best practice we can have is to pray even when we don’t feel like it.
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on BrendaRodgers.com and follow her on Twitter.