Wednesday Missive: It’s Okay to Wait a Week (Inbox Self-Care)

Hello darlings!

First thing: I recorded a new podcast with creativity-focused life coach Helen McLaughlin about ways to bring more self-care and joy into the seemingly never-ending to-do list of being a responsible adult. Check out our conversation here.

Second: Save the date! The March Women of Color Self-Care Roundtable (now monthly!), led by Elsa Dure and Reba Thomas, will be this Sunday, March 17th from 10 to 11:30am ET. Please share this widely and freely with all women of color. I believe empowering the self-care of people of color is a great, beautiful act of resistance!

Finally: Last Friday, I led a free call about Self-Care and Early Motherhood. In it, I share the three pieces of self-care that have kept me afloat over these past two years. With that, I am currently gathering a Self-Care and Early Motherhood pilot group of 10 mothers (from early pregnancy to mothers of young children). This eight week-self-care immersion - from April 1st through May 26th - will support mothers in creating a strong foundation of self-care to serve themselves and their families. Read more about the program here, forward it along to other mothers who could use it, and please let me know if you have any questions!

And now, today…

I have a wonderful friend, let’s call her Leela, who takes about a week to respond to any non-urgent text message I send her. When we first became friends a few years ago, I felt a little anxious with how long she took to get back to me. Did I make her upset with my last text? Did the lag time reflect how she felt about me?

Alas, no. I (somewhat) quickly learned that is just how Leela responds to text messages. In addition to being an inspiring and loyal friend, she takes her time with her correspondence. This makes sense because she runs her own business, is close to her family, and has great self-care practices.

Watching Leela’s communication style was quite the education for me. In my own life, I was so busy rushing to respond within minutes to every message I received, that it never occurred to me I was allowed to take my time. Somehow, I had equated a slow response time with some kind of negativity.

I share this story for two reasons: 1) I think a lot of us are cutting corners with our self-care so we can respond quickly to every message that comes into our phone or inbox; and 2) All of us cutting those corners is creating a culture of hyperimmediacy, which makes it even harder to take a pause in our communication.

To me, what feels hardest about hyperimmediacy is that it’s self-perpetuating. The more we think we are expected to answer messages quickly, the more we feel something is wrong when others don’t. The more we equate a slow response time with perceived wrongness, the more likely we are to cut any corners necessary to hit “send” as quickly as possible. Thus, the pace keeps getting faster and everyone cuts more self-care corners to keep up.

A constant fast pace is hard on our nervous systems. When we feel we are in threat - as being rushed tells our bodies that we are - we naturally kick into a hypervigilant somatic response. Our cognitive decision-making function is impaired and we are more likely to perceive any stimulus as threat. Blood moves away from our internal organs - making both sleep and digestion more difficult - so we have the power and energy to run away from all these perceived threats. Once triggered, it can difficult to reset our nervous systems back to normal functioning. Thus, many people are living in a state of chronic stress and dealing with the health issues that brings.

As you read this, does a hyperimmediate society sound like the kind of culture you want to live in? Do the people in this fast-paced culture seem like they would make reasonable decisions with necessary foresight for future implications? Or does it feel like any response might be scotch-taped together in a defensive stance that only perpetuates any problem that’s happening?

(That last one is what I think.)

Once we have established a culture of hyperimmediacy, it can be very hard to roll the collective pace back to a manageable one. Many workplaces, especially where I live in Washington, DC, have come to expect that their employees should be watching their inbox most hours of the day. It’s not seen as unprofessional to be working at 2am - as I really believe it should be - but rather this “all hours on deck” mentality carries an odd badge of honor in the professional world. Deciding to slow down and turn off might have negative professional implications.

And yet, although it can be challenging to reset a pace, I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m on year two of facilitating a self-care series for educators at a wonderfully progressive elementary school in my neighborhood. As we’ve worked for many months to peel back the layers of collective staff self-care blocks, the staff culture of hyperimmediacy has been named as a culprit. During our last leadership meeting, we identified how stressful it feels to be expected to reply to any message RIGHT NOW and how much this expectation detracts from present moment attention in staff meetings and beyond.

We haven’t had our follow-up meeting yet, but I have a sense of how we will begin to counter the hyperimmediacy culture of their school. First, we will congratulate ourselves for coming up with easily-accessed vocabulary that describes the frenetic pace of communication and the stress that can bring. Once we have a word to name it, any affliction usually loses its power to unconsciously control us. Now, when any staff member feels overwhelmed by their messaging, they can say that “hyperimmediacy” is causing the overwhelm, not their own inability to keep up with an unreasonable pace of communication.

Once we have named it, we will have the power to decide if hyperimmediacy lines up the school’s greater values. As I mentioned before, this school is wonderfully progressive and full of immensely caring individuals. When asked, I’m sure each person would say that it’s ok for someone to wait until they are calm and present to answer their non-urgent messages, even if that takes a few hours, a day, or a week.

As we discuss this together, we will create a shared agreement that the school’s collective well-being is important and worth honoring. By agreeing, we will establish that there aren’t penalties for waiting to respond. As each individual accepts this agreement, they will become more present in their communication, whether that be in-person or electronic. This will slow the overall culture down and provide necessary self-care relief for everyone involved, including the children at the school.

What does countering hyperimmediacy have to do with saving our world? Well, our current cultural pace of non-stop information is overwhelming to our systems. When we are too busy trying to keep up, we forget to check in with ourselves. Disconnected from ourselves and overstimulated, we make decisions that are out of alignment with our deeper values of shared humanity and collective progress. We lose ourselves and allow the world to lose itself alongside us. In our efforts to go faster, we create a lot of unnecessary gridlock and self-care collateral damage.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can notice the pace around us and decide how many corners we are willing to cut in order to keep up. We can examine our fears of disappointing others as we pause to take care of ourselves. If we are in a leadership position, we can examine how a culture of hyperimmediacy is hurting the people we lead and courageously make the necessary adjustments. We can ponder how shifting our own communication habits could help everyone around us.

Because with time, not only did I become comfortable with my friend Leela’s pace in responding to messages, but I adopted a more relaxed attitude about my own communication. As I practiced this more spacious approach with a few other people in my life, I learned that it was completely fine to wait until I was ready to write back.

The part I love most about this story is how Leela’s self-care educated my own. Having a friend in my life who honors her self-care showed me how to slow down. This helped me make the decision to send out my Wednesday self-care newsletter every other week (instead of weekly), has instructed how I help this wonderful school find more self-care in their communication habits, and will probably inform other people’s self-care along the way.

So, now it’s your turn. Where are you struggling to keep up with the pace around you? Where can you practice courage and make the decision to slow down? How might slowing down revolutionize the many people and cultures that surround you?

I hope you take a risk and find out. My sense is that many amazing feats - from your own self-care to the care of those around you - may depend on your choice to pause and connect more deeply to yourself.

With care,