It’s time to take a break.

I was in my early 20’s when I noticed this pattern. If I look down at my hands and find three or more minor injuries requiring BAND-Aids, I know I’m in trouble. Two are a small hint, three will require serious introspection.

When I see three, I know I’m not being present, that my brain is not in full-function, problem-solving mode.

That’s my hint to take a long walk, a long drive, or simply find a place to clear my head. Sometimes I go to my clay studio and play with mud for a while; more often than not, I choose to take a long walk. Whatever I do to find my balance again, to center myself, I do it with intention.

Years ago my best friend called me, full of frustration and anxiety as she was between work trips. She traveled a lot back then and as she arrived home at her apartment, she called me to share her anxiety. “I left my sunglasses in the rental car, my phone charger in the hotel room, and my book in the seat-back pocket on the plane.”

Her voice was angry, and a little sad. I told her to sit down.

I have a million things to do before I leave again in two days!

Again, I told her to stop what she was doing and sit. right. where. she. was. I heard her heavy sigh as she slid down onto the floor, legs crossed, purse thrown onto the chair.

Remember when I told you about the three BAND-Aids on my hands?

No. Seriously, Sarah, I have too much to do to just sit here.

Trust me. Stay where you are. When I have three BAND-Aids on my hands I know I’m not present. Those bandages are my hint to stop, take a breath, and re-center myself.

Okay. So what? Do you have three bandages on your hands?

No, love, I don’t.

But you do.

Losing your sunglasses, phone charger, and book are very small hints for something that could be much, much worse. Those are your three bandages, your warning that something much worse can happen if you don’t take some time to breathe.

Now. Get off the floor, put on walking shoes, and go for a walk around your neighborhood. You are going to walk for a minimum of 30 minutes, looking at details of plants, houses, and people. You are going to lose yourself, completely clear your head of your “to do” list, and focus on things outside your own brain. And when you return to your apartment, call me and we’ll walk through your list.

About an hour later she called me back, a substantially improved tone to her voice. She was back to her old self, confident and calm. We chatted away while she started laundry, cleaned up dishes in the sink, and started a grocery and errand list.

What are your three BAND-Aids? Are they small physical injuries on your hands? Are they lost items like keys, sunglasses, or wallet?

The next time you notice a few things out of step, stop what you are doing and breathe for a minute. Take inventory of the last few days to see if maybe you’re missing something — like being present. Walk, bike, do something creative; do something that clears your head. It must take some time, a minimum of 30 minutes, to be intentional about finding your balance again.

What are the consequences of not being present when you’re driving, spending time with your children, cooking with heat & sharp objects?

In my experience, if I don’t pay attention to those bandages, I’m risking serious damage.

Here’s what’s been said about this post:

Sarah, you have eloquently illustrated the need to reset ourselves after a sequence of frustrating events with your great story. It has also been my experience that if I don’t, the negative outcomes continue to get worse. For me, tennis is my escape. There is something about hitting that yellow ball and transferring all of my energy into every shot that is truly liberating. I can literally feel the stress leaving my body each time I hit the ball. By the end, all the tension is gone from my body. It works every time!” ~ Ben Walker, Founder and CEO at Transcription Outsourcing, LLC

How did my kids outgrow me?

Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

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