Slow Down–Or Life Will Catch Up To You

Curtailing stress before it leads to physical illness

Losing sleep was a small price to pay for becoming a successful filmmaker, Tchaiko Omawale reasoned, but her body soon taught her otherwise. “I always got myself into doing more work than I needed to,” says the 26-year-old, who ran an AIDS education nonprofit she helped to found in 2000, while working on three different films. She’d decided to quit her job as a legal assistant to focus on writing, producing, and directing films full time. To make ends meet, however, she had to work round-the-clock, as teacher, housekeeper, administrative assistant, and production assistant. Consequently, all work and little sleep forced her body to slam on the brakes.

“I felt like my body was falling apart,” says Omawale, who suffered from irregular bleeding between menstrual cycles. “It was scary that I was having so many issues with my uterus. I just knew something was off.” But doctors couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her.

After interning on the film Summer of Sam, a Spike Lee production, Omawale could have easily landed a job with his company, but she opted to work on a couple of other films, including a $2 million feature set in Cuba that eventually got shelved. She’d already borrowed $5,000 from her bank and $3,000 from her family to help finance the development of the project and for business trips. Making $500 a month on average, Omawale didn’t know how she was going to repay the debt.

At that point, Omawale’s roommate handed her a bus ticket to Massachusetts, where the Vipassana Meditation Center ( is located. For 10 days, Omawale participated in intense, silent meditation, a program that is free of charge. She was not allowed to talk, write, or use the phone or computer. “The ultimate goal is to sit still and listen to you,” says Omawale, “so instead of reacting to good and bad, you observe it and understand that everything passes.”

Omawale credits this reflective period with helping her to get more organized and treat her body better. “In general, I’ve just been a lot calmer,” she says. “I was beating up on myself for stuff I should have taken in stride.” Shortly after returning from her retreat, Omawale was awarded an artist residency extension, where she was able to write and receive a stipend for a month. She has also gotten more freelance work than she has in a long while. Omawale continues to meditate regularly, no longer overwhelmed by life’s fullness.

Approximately 19 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. “Telltale signs that things are going awry are still in the physical arena,” says E. Carol Webster, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Success Management: How to Get to the Top and Keep Your Sanity Once You Get There (Privileged Communications; $19.95). “What the body is doing is forcing you to slow down.” Webster offers these tips for doing your personal best:

  • Create a plan for your life; be in strategic mode instead of reactive mode.
  • Have people around you that you trust, so if
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