Let me just come right out and say that I think the whole idea of adequate sleep, rest, and taking the time needed for recovery is a feminist issue. It’s a feminist issue because the chances of the majority of women putting themselves and their self-care ahead of that of others are slim. Feminist issues arise when gender inequality is the result of structural and systemic features of our social world.
There is a mindset of sacrifice and pushing ourselves. Now I know that the mindset of pushing ourselves is not just a woman thing. But it’s that guilt that’s associated with “not doing enough” that–if you’ll allow me to make a sweeping generalization with a fair bit of confidence–plagues women more.
I’ve seen this in my own case lately because I was really under the weather for a couple of weeks with a cold and cough that settled into my chest and made me feel miserable and tired. I had to take almost total rest. Though I only missed one session with my personal trainer, I missed four swims, two bike classes, and I didn’t run for two full weeks. Heck, I didn’t make it out to yoga, not even the yin class.
At first, I felt really guilty. For me, the guilt comes when I feel as if I should be doing something that I’m not doing. Nevermind that I could hardly breathe. Nevermind that I felt achey all over. Nevermind that I could hardly even Then I had a thought, “I’m going to appreciate these sick days and use them to get the rest that I obviously need.”
We’re not all that good about scheduling rest and recovery (you can read that as the royal “we” or as “you, me, and lots of our friends”–your choice). Even I, with my minimalist approach to working out, have very little rest scheduled into my ideal schedule–Long run Sunday, spin Monday, swim Tuesday morning, bike training Tuesday evening, personal training Wednesday, tempo run Thursday, swim Friday morning, personal training Friday late afternoon, hot yoga Saturday (and that’s only because I bailed on adding a second indoor bike class).
When Sam talks about her schedule, it’s always packed. Caitlin from Fit and Feminist has a paper calendar that is fuller than full with her workout schedule. Both Sam and Caitlin work on the premise that they don’t need to build in rest because life happens. That will take care of rest days.
Life is that thing that interrupts our ideal routine: illness, late meetings at work, family emergencies (or occasions), vacations, traffic jams and house guests, etc. Caitlin goes into the month thinking that at least some of what’s on the calendar won’t be happening.
My approach is similar, but I have what they appear to lack: guilt. That’s why getting sick works to my advantage. Even if I feel negative about it at the beginning, I can move into acceptance and, most importantly, permission. Being sick gives me the permission to take a break.
No other reasons work for me in quite the same way. And I think that’s a problem (at least for me it is) that’s connected to the difficulty I have with self-permission to slow down, take a break, get the recovery that’s needed. I’ve seen this with other women who even struggle against it when their swim coach or bike coach or triathlon coach insists that it’s time for them to do a lighter week or taper to prep for a race.
What I want to say is that it’s fine to use sick days as rest days. But if the schedule is so impossible that you’re counting on sick days for rest, that might be kind of stressful in a way that’s unnecessary. I hit a point during my two-week illness where I actually felt relieved that I was still sick because I really didn’t want to get out of bed to go swimming. Now, it’s true that perhaps, had I not been sick, I might have been more excited about the swim. But I loved the luxury of feeling as if it was perfectly acceptable, even necessary, for me to stay in bed.
When I used to attend an Iyengar yoga class regularly, I liked how we cycled through each month with very vigorous practices the first three weeks of a month, and always a supported, quiet, restorative practice in the last week of each month. Some people hated the supported week. They felt like it was a waste of time. But oh, how restored I used to feel after it.
Knowing that, you’d think I’d have an easier time scheduling in rest. Right now, the Monday spin class almost never happens. I’m sure it would be psychologically healthier for me to just accept that it’s not going to happen and call it a rest day instead of a day that I should be going to spin class but I’m not.
How about you? How do you do with scheduling in rest? Are you like Sam and Caitlin, who seem to have no problem over-scheduling on the premise that something will come up that forces them to take a rest day here and there? Do you suffer guilt when you miss a workout, or are you able to just roll with it?
And most of all, do you welcome sick days with a kind of relief, in that they are the only days that you well and truly have total permission to take a break?