Doctor Neha: Hi and welcome. Today we have a special guest from one of my teen groups. I have the twenty-eighteen  group and she’s one of the originals. Welcome, Grazzia. You’re all the way out in Singapore, girl.
Grazzia: I am, yeah.
Doctor Neha: How’s that going?
Grazzia: It’s a big change.
Doctor Neha: I’m sure. You’re a brave soul willing to ask your questions so other people can learn as you learn. So I want to start by saying thank you for that. What has been on your mind?
Grazzia: So I just moved, and there’s been so much going on: soccer, a lot of homework, so much going on in my life. I am always on, and I don’t necessarily have time to relax and take time for myself. I’m just wondering if there’s something that I can do to help with that.
Doctor Neha: OK, tell me how you know that you’re on too much. Is your body giving you any signals? Are there thoughts in your mind? How are you feeling? What is triggering you wanting to relax?
Grazzia: I’ve recently had a concussion and some knee injuries through soccer and those incidents are not necessarily things that you would think would cause the major damage that they have. So I can tell and feel that my body is weaker than normal. It’s adjusting to a new environment, and I’m always on. I don’t know how to make time in my schedule to just relax.
Doctor Neha: Great question. I’m sure a lot of people struggle with this because this doesn’t end after being a teen, right? Then you go into your adult life, and all of a sudden, you’ve got a house to manage, a job to manage, a family to raise and relationships to be in. So the question you ask doesn’t just apply to teens.
You have this awareness that allows you to know that you’re always on and now that you’re starting to get physically injured is how you’re noticing that something is off.
Doctor Neha: You’re a soccer goalie, right? So hence the concussion and the knee injuries. So your knee is your ability to move, your ability to move forward. Have you ever heard of parts of your body being correlated to other aspects of your life. So why is it that in someone’s body a certain thing breaks down—like a heart attack or left hip pain or whatever? Right now you’re saying, ‘I’m starting to have injuries. How can I fix it?’ But you have this awareness that you’re actually going too fast. How do you slow it down? So let’s talk about what’s at the root of going too fast. So why do you have to do all these things? Why are you going all the time? What would you say?
Grazzia: I’ve always had this mentality to be the best at everything and work harder. I can always do better. And I thrive on competition. In soccer right now, there’s this big tournament coming up and everybody is trying to get a spot to play because there’s a limited number of spots. So people from the team will get cut. Ever since I even got on the soccer team…actually, since I got to the school—I’ve been in the country a month—I’ve been working really hard to get onto the varsity soccer team. And then after that, now I’m trying to aim for this tournament. I need something to keep me occupied I guess. I need a schedule. Like I need to know what I need to be doing at a certain time. So soccer helps me with that because I know I have a way to occupy my time.
Doctor Neha: So let me tell you what I’m hearing. What I’m hearing is No. 1, you value excellence and being the best you can be. No. 2, you like competition and it gives you structure. Soccer gives you structure to feel safe. Is that it?
Grazzia: Yes that’s it.
Doctor Neha: It creates structure around your time. The other thing is if you’re going to be excellent at everything, that probably means school too, right? And what will winning or being the best at everything give you? What does it give you?
Doctor Neha: And who would notice your achievement?
Grazzia: My parents.
Doctor Neha: And who else might notice your achievement?
Doctor Neha: Yes, what about your peers at school, and like you said, colleges and parents? And what about love? What does achievement give you? It gives you a sense of feeling worthy. It gives you love and accolades from other people. I have a lot of similar values as you: I care about excellence. I wanted and want to be the best at whatever I embark on. And I did it to the extent that I burned myself out. Do you know what it means to burnout? Tell me what you think burnout means.
Grazzia: You’re working so hard and, at some point, there’s a breaking point.
Doctor Neha: Exactly. And sometimes your body stops you in your tracks. If you don’t listen…in the beginning it whispers. It’s like “Knock, knock, knock. I’m a little tired today when I got up.” So even if you had a full night’s sleep, you’re waking up still a little tired. Then you just keep pushing through that and go on. And all of a sudden your knee started acting funny at your practice. And if you push right on through that, pretty soon you’re back is hurting while your knee is giving you problems and you feel tired when you get up in the morning. Then before you know it, you have a concussion because you couldn’t move as fast as you needed to move. And then you’re so exhausted that you have to take some time off!
Doctor Neha: If you ignore all the signs that come before, you’ll feel like someone hit you over the head with a 2-by-4. You’ll be knocked out, and you’ll be so surprised—how did this happen? So what I want to commend you for is that you are aware before that happened. You’re starting to notice things. Your awareness is realizing something is wrong. And you want to get a handle on this.
The interesting thing is the body’s biological rhythm of rest and exertion cycles relies on feedback loops. So your entire hormonal system—thyroid, adrenaline and other hormonal systems—relies on feedback loops to know when it’s enough. But what we do is use our mind to override those because we’re seeking approval from peers or parents or colleges. Now I want you to imagine graduating from college. Who will it be now ? Tell me whom you would be hoping you can be excellent for?
Doctor Neha: Your boss and your colleagues at work and then you might have kids and then it’s going to be your partner’s family, and on and on. Then it’s about money and a promotion, and the treadmill can feel endless. If you get this at this point in your life, you’re not going to be in this endless cycle where it feels like the treadmill of life keeps going faster and faster. The important thing is to include yourself in the equation. So get really clear: Why am I doing these things? Why would I not listen to my body? Why would I push through? Why do I think I have to be the best at everything? Who am I competing with? Do you understand what I’m saying? So what would your answer be to some of those questions?
Grazzia: I’m working hard and pushing myself to my limits because I’m seeking approval from my parents and my friends. And I want to put something good on a college application and feel worthy.
Doctor Neha: So all of those things are natural; they’re completely normal. They’re all good things. Any strength that you have only becomes a weakness when you overuse it. So what weakness is just a strength overused? Is it important to achieve? Is it important to want to make your parents proud? Is it important to want to belong with your friends? Is it important to want to be the best you can be? Yes. All those things are amazing. But when you forget to take care of your own body in the process, when you forget to rest and have downtime, then there’s a problem—because now your body’s going to stop you from it all. And if your body does what mine did, which was to physically stop me…what do you think happens next?
Grazzia: You write a book.
Doctor Neha: Well, many many years later, I did do that. But before that I started to feel like a failure. I thought, I’m a fraud and I’m not the best. I’m the worst and I failed. And I worried what everybody was going to think about me. I pushed myself so hard that it then transferred into my greatest fear, which is that I am unworthy, that I’m a failure. I didn’t even give myself a chance at winning because I was so busy worrying about what everybody else thought.
Now, here’s the other thing I want you to keep in mind. When you are worried about getting your approval outside of yourself, then every room you walk into, the game changes. With one circle of friends, you know what to do to get approval. Except at some point you leave that circle and go to a different classroom or a different gathering or a different social event or a different soccer team. All the rules are different, and there you are doing this exhausting dance to try to make sure everybody likes you. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Doctor Neha: All right, so, Grazzia, I think we should do a Part 2 for your question. But first let’s start with your takeaways here. Before I can give you some tools to relax and make this practical, we want to first shift your mindset and get to what’s underneath your busyness and need to rest. Otherwise, you’ll continue this pattern and not be aware of it. If I only give you some tools that’ll help you rest, you’ll realize that they only work for five minutes. So we have to get to the root of what’s happening first. Are you up for part two?
Doctor Neha: So let’s wrap up this part by telling me your takeaways from our discussion just now. What are the main things you remember?
Grazzia: I remember the reason why I am pushing myself so hard. Is it really for me, or is it for somebody else? And if it is for somebody else, is it really that worth it to have an injury and to have a concussion? And then finding the root of why I am always feeling like I need to be the best.
Doctor Neha: Did I say that excellence or competition are not good things?
Grazzia: No, they’re healthy.
Doctor Neha: So achieving in competition is a good thing. When does it become a negative thing?
Grazzia: When they’re overused.
Doctor Neha: And then it becomes a weakness?
Doctor Neha: I want you to remember this too, because anytime somebody gives you feedback on something that they call your weakness, you should be interested. Because a weakness is not a negative judgment on you or something bad. It’s just a strength overused. So you have to ask yourself, what strength am I overusing here? That’ll help you with the approval piece as well. I want you to have your approval. I want you to have your body’s approval. I want you to have your heart’s approval, your mind’s approval. I care that you are also in the equation as you pay attention to getting into a great college and listening to your parents and, and knowing what it takes to belong with your peers. This will help you with your choices when you go into different rooms and the people around you change. You’ll have a compass pointing north. You value and you matter. That’s how you decide whether you say yes or no, thank you.
Grazzia: Makes sense.
Doctor Neha: All right, thanks so much.
When You Need Rest
What’s driving you to push through your body (e.g., achievement, obligation, competition, pleasing others, avoiding conflict)?
How is this affecting your physical body?
What’s the payoff you’re getting?
What’s the price you’re paying?
How can you pull back in order to turn this quality back into a strength?