I find it reeeaaalllllyyyy difficult to switch off. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that my mind protests vociferously every time I try to – have you ever tried ignoring your own brain? It’s not easy – it’s like an over-excitable toddler who’s been fed adrenaline then gifted with a drum kit and a klaxon. My brain seems most active anytime I try to relax. That’s when I solve problems, create new problems (it’s not just me is it?!), and come up with my best ideas. I’m mentally reviewing my day, planning my future, thinking of the perfect comeback to an insult hurled at me in the playground when I was six (I know you are…but what am I?) it feels like if I’m trying to relax and I’m not at least thinking about something, I have failed. At everything.
I think it’s because we’re always hit with messages about how to make every second of every day productive. In order to be good at life, you have to constantly be doing. Wake up an hour earlier and do things, stay up an hour later to get things done, learn how to use the time you’re brushing your teeth, commuting to work, or waiting for the kettle to boil to do a hundred things. Because if all you do when you get into the shower is shower (is that even legal?), you’re a failure. So, you learn to be on all the time – even if you’re supposed to be relaxing (because it’s bedtime, or you’re on holiday), you just stay on. Your stress levels rise, and your body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in which stresses you out even more, and you stay awake thinking about all the reasons you can’t sleep…on top of mentally reviewing your days, and thinking about your to-do lists which stresses you out even more…so you try to find some relief by going online…and that’s a hella stupid idea…now you’re even more stressed and thanks to social media you hate yourself a little…it’s a vicious cycle. And one you can’t keep up for long. There comes a point when your body and your mind just quit on you. They decide they’re done and they’re ready to relax – this usually happens at the most inconvenient time – like the morning before an important meeting or presentation when you actually want to be switched on…and you have a mini breakdown.
At least that’s what happened to me. I woke up one day, after a very long while of being stressed…but too stressed to relax to find my body refused to listen and my brain couldn’t be bothered to try force it too, I ended up signed off work for four months with the doctor ordering me to relax. And that has the same effect as telling an angry person to calm down – it just makes them angrier! But I persevered (I decided I wanted to do it without drugs). I took the mandated time out, read more, slept more than 4 hours a night, learned to eat (and finish) my lunch sitting down (if you haven’t tried this, it’s great!), watched a ridiculous amount of trashy television, and focused on myself for a while. It was awesome – even more so when I realised a lot my health issues cleared up (goodbye headaches, insomnia, random tummy aches and colds,). That’s when I accepted that I needed to make a conscious effort to destress daily. But as mentioned in the beginning I struggle to relax…here’s the two things that helped me:
- Obsessively planning a time to relax and/or adding relaxing and me time to my to-do list (no, it’s not counter-productive!!). I have the obsessive personally type that has to obey a schedule and/or cross things off of my to-do list.
- Doing something each time you start to wind down (journal, shower etc…) so that your body and brain eventually begin to associate that thing with relaxation and you eventually learn to wind down the minute you do the thing.
I’m still so jealous of people who can sit on their sofa at the end of their work day and just be relaxed. It’s not fair! But I think I’m a little closer to being one of them. It’s on my schedule.