We live in a society where we are taught that our worth is determined by our productivity, and yet at the same time instructed to have an elaborate self-care practice. It gets confusing, and can cause a lot of people to throw their hands in the air and say, “I just don’t have time to relax!”
As someone who has lived a great deal of their life having bought into the fallacy of work = life, these are the stories I told myself, and have heard from others, about why I “can’t” relax:
“I am too busy”
“Relaxing is unproductive”
“Taking a break is a waste of time.”
“If I relax or take a break, it will be impossible to get started again.”
“Relaxing is lazy.”
“Needing rest is a sign of weakness.”
There is a lot of “all or nothing” thinking going on there – many rules, absolutes, extremes, and judgements. This kind of binary thinking doesn’t account for the “shades of gray” that exist in life, and can be detrimental to our overall well being.
I often hear people describe their experience of relaxation as “anxiety-provoking.” The act of sitting still, or being unplugged is not something they are used to, and therefore is uncomfortable and something they want to avoid. The reality is, sometimes our busy-ness is actually a distraction or avoidance of our true selves and our thoughts. When we slow down enough, we may become more aware of the stressors in our life, or some of the sadness we may be holding onto. Relaxing can be vulnerable in that way.
When we flood our lives with tasks and to-do lists, without making any time to wind down, it may feel like it is shielding us from dealing with more personal challenges, but in fact, creates more stress, increases irritability, and decreases our ability to cope with difficulties.
The truth is relaxation is essential to our physical and mental health. Therefore, it is important that we rewrite some of the stories we tell ourselves about our relationship with relaxation.
Some more helpful ways to think about relaxation might be,
I am honoring my body by taking a break from working so hard.
Relaxation allows my brain to rest so I can gain more clarity.
Relaxation might mean taking 5 deep breaths, and then moving on with my day.
The work will still be there when I return to it after a break.
Slowing down will feel more comfortable the more often I do it.
If difficult thoughts or emotions arise, they will eventually pass.
Taking time to rest gives me strength to keep going.
I am deserving of rest and relaxation.
I can be productive and can also rest.
I am worthy even as I rest.
Take some time this week to relax and unwind, even if it is brief. A few minutes may be all you need to feel restored and revived. At the end of the week, if you haven’t taken those few minutes to yourself, I encourage you to ask yourself: Why? What got in the way? Life’s stressors and everything on your to-do list OR your perception of what it would mean to rest?