A rule of thumb that I have learned is that whenever I start hearing my inner voice complaining that I simply don’t have time for a break or a vacation, I take it as a sure sign that I NEED one and try to make space for it.  How about you?  Open your appointment book or digital calendar.  How much white space is there?  Are you putting the needs of others before your own and sacrificing your alone time?  Are you feeling burned out and exhausted?  I learned the hard way that making sure I had enough time for myself was the most effective way of taking care of others.

Sixteen years ago, when my sons were 6 and 8 years old, I had a bit of a health scare.  I seemed to be rapidly losing my memory!  I was suddenly missing meetings and events, some of which were quite important.  The event that caused me to seek medical help was when I forgot  that a new semester at the Early Childhood Family Education program where I taught had begun and I failed to show up for the first class. Devastation and embarrassment mounted as I forgot to show up for yet another class a few weeks later.  My supervisor was understandably very upset, as was I.  She said “I’ve known you several years and you have never forgotten anything.  You are always so reliable.  Something is wrong. PLEASE see a doctor”.

My doctor showed considerable concern and said that a sudden change in personality can be indicative of a brain tumor and suggested we get a CAT Scan at once.  I opened my appointment book to schedule the test and began to laugh.  I couldn’t find a single open space in my calendar for the next three months!  The absence of white space in my calendar was such an eye opener that I can still vividly see those cluttered pages in my mind.  My life was so booked up that I didn’t have time to take care of ME.  With relief I told the doctor that I’m quite sure I didn’t have a brain tumor, just an overly busy life.  It turned out that I was right.

My conscious mind had gotten as over- filled and crowded as my appointment book and my subconscious mind, in an effort to protect me,  without my knowledge or permission deleted some of my “to do” activities from my memory!  Simultaneously, some of the events I had written into my calendar seemed invisible.  They were there.  I just didn’t and couldn’t see them. My subconscious mind had taken over and created the white space IT felt I needed and, in doing so, I was in trouble of losing my job.

You see, at that time in my life, I strived to be Superwoman.  I wanted to be home and fully present when my boys were home from school and I also needed to provide an income for the family.  I linked several part-time jobs around my at-home time, including teaching parenting classes, building my private practice, volunteering at the kids’ school and other non-job obligations.  I wrote my class outlines in the early mornings around 5AM and did all other organizational activities when the boys were in bed.  I was exhausted and burned out and my memory was shot. And I didn’t even know it!

How did I get so out of control?  It happened quite innocently.  One teaching job led to another.  My client list grew.  My boys’ activities became more frequent and demanding of my time. Slowly, the white space in my life calendar became smaller and smaller until it was totally eliminated.  My life had gotten reduced to black penciled notes in my “bible”, my appointment book.

With this awakening, I took action at once.  First, I prioritized my activities and in one afternoon erased all but the most important.  I made a commitment to have some time to myself for an hour every afternoon before the boys came home from school.  I reminded myself that when the boys were grown I would have lots of time on my hands to do more teaching and volunteering.  I kept the school volunteering obligations, as it was time with my boys, but put the rest of non-essential activities into a “temporarily suspended” file.

Taking an eraser to my appointment book magically and  instantly restored my memory.  I felt a tremendous sense of relief.  And guess what?  The world did not end.  My life did not fall apart and people did not suffer because Kristin Volk Funk decided to create some breathing space in her life!  In fact, I was a better teacher, counselor, mother and friend when my life was in balance.

I invite you to take an eraser and erase the non-essential obligations in your book or take your index finger and start hitting the delete button of your digital calendar. With each deletion notice what happens to your heart and to your breathing.  Feel relief flow into your heart and mind, like water soaking into parched ground. Notice that  the earth does not stop spinning, the sky does not fall in.  In other words, life goes on as you give yourself permission to breathe and relax.

Many of my clients tell me they fear they don’t have time to listen to my 25 -minute hypnosis CDs.  This is surely a red flag, I tell them. It is a sign that they need exactly that which they have been denying themselves: time for solitude and relaxation.

Take, for instance, Robin.  When I first met Robin she was a full-time working mother of 2 sons and newly married to a man with 3 sons.  Her life was extremely busy and stressful as she tried to make her new blended family of 5 boys (and their extended families) work. Being Superwoman was taking it’s toll on Robin, however, and she was often exhausted, frustrated and unhappy.  Through the frenzied pace and stress a small, yet vital, thought emerged and began to blossom.  It was the thought that she absolutely needed and deserved some space of her own. Robin found a spare room in her house and claimed it as her “Woman Room”, her feminine sanctuary for quiet reflection, reading and journaling.   In Robin’s words “’staking my claim’ and creating the woman room was the first of many positive steps for me creating balance in my life”. She also discovered that the boys thrived as she became happier!  Today Robin takes frequent walks in nature with her dog, is becoming an avid amateur photographer and honors her desire for independence and spiritual learning.

Like Robin, I am now enjoying a more balanced life, with enough white space in my calendar that I can spontaneously go to a movie or a coffee shop with friends.  When I take the time to meditate and do self-hypnosis for even 10 minutes a day, everything seems to go better in my life.  I am healthier, slimmer, and happier and I no longer miss appointments!

Can you commit to more white space in your life calendar?  Try it.  You can always go back to the frenzied schedule if you want to. But I sincerely doubt you will.