Rest, Don’t Stress: Silencing the Madwoman

A few months ago, I felt on the verge of collapse. My thesis deadline was approaching, I was out of a job, and I was DIYing my wedding. Minor frustrations left me in tears every other day. Sleep eluded me, and no matter how hard I pushed, I couldn’t manage even a flexible timeline.

That’s when I learned something about myself: I am Not Lazy, but I can be Lazy about being Not Lazy. Confused? Let me explain: I stink at resting.

Don’t Stop Now!

My therapist reminded me that I have a deep-seated fear of Being Lazy. I’m not lazy, as she pointed out, but this fear can drive me. In fact, I can hyperfocus on tasks so much that I don’t eat, drink, or take bathroom breaks!

I work hard to accomplish everything on my plate on time. But I have a tendency not to give my mind, body, and soul adequate time off to refresh and restore. And if I do, I feel guilty or pressured by deadlines: “I could be doing X right now!”

Sound familiar? Even if you drive yourself in different ways than I do, you may identify with the pressure or guilt. Let me introduce you to its source.

“The Madwoman in the Attic”

I recently read the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. In it, sisters Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski reference the secret, insane wife of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. Like Mr. Rochester, they say, many people have a “madwoman in the attic” who influences their behavior.

Our inner critic can evolve from different sources. It may come from things people said or did to us as children. We may be listening to the entertainment world, church, or society telling us what we should be. Wherever it comes from, though, the voice can become a constant whisper in our subconscious.

Well, just get rid of that “madwoman,” right? Believe it or not, the Nagoski sisters state that people often resist silencing her. The reason? Many people believe that they owe their successes to their inner critic. In other words, the Nagoski sisters are saying that we think we need that crazy lady. If we don’t drive ourselves, how can we succeed?


Success is possible without the crazy lady, I learned. But, it requires a paradigm shift. Reframing can help us manage the madwoman without upsetting her.

For me, I had to change some labels.

“Lazy” days or afternoons are now “rest” days or afternoons. Perpetual motion? That is not the opposite of laziness. In fact, it could mean I am too lazy to make the effort to rest! And, if I have a few minutes of downtime, I now remind myself that if I spend them taking it easy, that is “productive,” too.

Grow Flowers, not Weeds

At a recent webinar, the topic of gardens came up. It went like this: imagine a patch of ground you want to turn into a garden. You remove all the weeds and prepare the soil. But, if you don’t put something you want in the ground, guess what? The weeds will come back!

From a scientific perspective, we need to find ways to change the neural pathways in our brains. Let’s say it another way: replace bad habits with good habits, bad thoughts with good ones.

I had to be deliberate about replacing both.

Now, I schedule times to read or watch movies. I also schedule breaks each workday to walk around the block, meditate, or do stretches. That’s not all, though. During at least one break, I read positive affirmations. After all, it isn’t enough to tell my madwoman that she’s lying; I have to replace her lies with truth!

Conclusion: Self-Love

If you’re like me, buzz words like “self-love” or “self-compassion,” may get on your nerves. Stick with me a moment, though. Love does not equal indulgence. Indulgence focuses on what its object wants at the moment, but love works for its object’s ultimate best interests. What feels right at the moment to move towards your goal may not be what’s best for you.

Take a step back and evaluate: is it worth it to “gain the world but lose your soul?” Remember, your madwoman may get you what you think you want. She may carry you to “success.” Problem is, she will destroy you in the process. What is the key, then? Love your madwoman; love yourself.

Learn from my mistake: don’t be lazy about resting!

#self-love #self-compassion #burnout #stressed

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