J.G. Chayko taking some downtime on Galiano Island/J. G. Chayko prend un moment de repos sur l’île Galiano

It’s a beautiful brisk morning on Galiano Island. The sun is making a slow burn through the misty haze and the ocean is calm, having made it through the King Tide a mere 12 hours ago. It’s a brief reprieve from the heavy rains sweeping across the south coast, a perfect day for a stroll along the shoreline with the sea air and the sun on my face. Afterwards, I’ll settle down with a book and a hot cuppa, listening to the fire crackling on the hearth. The hours roll by slow and easy — there’s no schedule to keep, only the winter twilight to mark the days. 

Every year between the holidays and the New Year, my husband and I take an annual retreat to give ourselves some quiet time to reflect on the past year and breathe life into a new one. Pre-pandemic we travelled to the warm dusty climate of Vegas to play — the last three years we’ve cuddled up in a private villa on one of our local west coast islands. We read, go for walks, enjoy the crackling flame of an outdoor fireplace, and listen to the waves rolling onto the shore — in essence, we do nothing. 

How Taking a Pause Helps Chronic Illness

I’ve been thinking a lot about downtime and its place in my life. Downtime is defined as a halt or a pause in activity. It doesn’t come naturally for me — I engage in it during vacations and holidays, but once that vacation is over, I fall back into my busy work and family life without a second thought. Downtime is not something I regularly schedule into my daily routine, and yet that break or pause in life is just as important for wellness as proper nutrition and exercise 

Downtime is a physical space reserved to repair our mental health and nurture our souls. Taking a pause in daily life is especially important with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or another type of inflammatory arthritis. RA is a full-time job — and downtime is important to give our bodies a chance to rest and heal a little bit. It gives us a greater awareness of how we connect to life in the moment; it eases fatigue and exhaustion; and helps control feelings of hopelessness and loss. Stress is a major trigger for flares, so I use this time to prevent it from taking over.  

We all need that respite, that quiet interlude or moment to suspend our daily lives and put aside all those responsibilities that can overwhelm us like work, family, financial stress, and the full-time job of battling a chronic illness. It allows us to pause, breathe, and find balance. Our lifestyles are starting to shift — the pandemic showed us how we can slow down and still be productive. We’re slowly catching on to that desirable European lifestyle we hear so much about, filled with siestas and fiestas, and yet, there’s no reason we can’t begin the process of integrating it into our daily lives.  

Making Downtime a Daily Practice

Downtime is a daily vacation we can plan for ourselves without the headache of travel and expenses. In that space we can do anything we want — reading, journaling, meditating, yoga — whatever you need to give yourself. Nature is a powerful healer so a daily walk can be so restorative. Not everyone has access to beaches and forests, and some may not have the accessibility to leave the house daily, but we can sit on our porch or patio and spend a few minutes connecting to the physical world.  

Make space for 15-minute, 30-minute, or 60-minute chunks — however it fits into your day. Fifteen minutes a day is a good place to start. We all have 15 minutes to spare — that 15 minutes of doom-scrolling could be 15 minutes of journaling or going outside for some fresh air.  

For some, 2022 was a rough year and even more challenging than 2020 and 2021. The new year is a chance to shed the negative energy of the past and start fresh by making space for downtime. The winter months can be dark and dreary. There’s little sunlight on the coast of B.C., lots of rain and the hours of daylight are extremely short. Downtime can help us through the winter blues by engaging in activities we enjoy.  

If we make it a daily practice, it will eventually come naturally, and we won’t have to work so hard to incorporate it into our lives or wait for that vacation that may never come. Let go of the guilt we carry when we step away from our obligations for a spell. We’re not doing it to run away, we’re doing it to restore and mend our physical and mental health. 

I watch the cold green waves of the ocean splash against the hull of the ferry. I’m heading back home with a new awareness of how much and where I spend energy on the things that don’t matter. In 2023, I’m going to exchange worry with peace, anger with patience, and sadness with joy by cultivating positive changes in my life and making the space necessary for my own well- being. I hope you do, too.  

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