BeWell: The Benefits of Throwing a Stick in the Hamster Wheel
Are you too busy to hang on to the things that matter most?
“You know how it is.
All the things all the time.
But that’s how it is, right?
We just keep pushing through it.”
When I was on the phone with a friend recently catching up on work and life, this is how she described hers.
Not out of the ordinary, right?
We hear it when we ask a friend how their day is, or during pleasantry exchanges on a Zoom call or on the sidelines of our kids’ soccer games talking about each other’s weekends.
It’s the sentiment that ultimately says, “It’s busy all the time and I don’t stop moving and I don’t even know what to tell you because I wouldn’t know where to start and my mind is exhausted.”
When I hear this, I usually say something like, “Totally get it — that’s our life, too,” right before we start talking about something we saw on social media that day, or we get on with the meeting or we have to pause to block ourselves from being hit with a rogue soccer ball.
But on this day on the phone with my friend, something in me just couldn’t bear another conversation like it. I was exhausted by how long I’ve been running the hamster wheel of this dialogue and looking around and seeing everyone else doing the same thing.
So many looking tired. No one seeming fulfilled. All of us accepting busyness as normal and just “carrying on.”
So I decided to throw a stick into my friend’s hamster wheel.
It was one that landed in a perfect diagonal between the rungs that her wheel couldn’t keep going even if she tried.
I said, “No. We’re not doing this ‘it’s just how it is’ stuff. Tell me what’s really going on.”
And for the next 20 minutes, we sat on the edges of our worn-out wheels talking about real-life things.
How hard marriage is with two working parents raising busy kids.
How hard it is to stay true to yourself in a world that tells you who to be.
How work-life balance is for the birds.
How therapy is the best and the scariest.
How motherhood can be thankless.
How nothing feels familiar anymore and how uncomfortable that feels.
And while no problems were completely solved, and the balance scale didn’t automatically find its center — I felt a release in that moment.
I felt my mind thanking me for taking it off autopilot. I felt my heart offering gratitude for giving it a chance to share its warmth of compassion with a friend. I felt my soul getting emotional as it got fed with human connection again.
And although I couldn’t see my friend through the phone, I felt her pressure valve being released with every thought she had been carrying on her own finally making its way into the air and onto the ears of someone else who understood.
And it was beautiful.
It’s been said we’re living in a loneliness epidemic.
I feel it. I know I’m carrying a lot — and when I look around, I see others running their hamster wheels with a pile of bricks on their backs, too.
And I think so many of us are lonely because so many of us are afraid to stop.
Afraid to take a break, fearing any pause in movement will only make the to-do list longer.
Afraid to reach out for help because we don’t want to add a burden to a friend who is also carrying their own.
Afraid to address the root problems that put us on this wheel in the first place.
So what do we do?
And we KEEP running.
We “all the things all the time.”
We “push through.”
And as we slowly let this become normal, we quickly let go of the things that matter.
But what could happen if we started throwing sticks in each other’s hamster wheels?
What could happen if we broke the cycle and started asking questions and showing we care about the real answer? What could happen if we disrupt the monotony by saying, “Tell me how you’re really doing.” What could happen if we don’t let each other keep running and instead keep standing on the side of the wheel with an offer to have coffee until they finally accept?
What could happen if we decided to leave the worn-out wheels behind… and instead let our minds, hearts and souls run to each other… and start to help lighten each other’s loads?
Brea Schmidt is a sought-after keynote speaker, social media influencer and consultant and Iris-Award-nominated writer who creates space for raw conversation about our approach to self care and mental health. You can check out her social media community The Thinking Branch on Facebook and Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn.