I Have Forgotten How to Relax
I’d avoided reaching out for help for as long as I could. But I was desperate, and there was only one person in the world I trusted to dish out the hard truths I couldn’t seem to force upon myself.
“You know that thing called ‘relax’?” I texted my best friend early Sunday evening, avoiding the use of full sentences in an attempt to hide my panic. “How I do that? What wear? What do? Please advise.”
There may or may not have been an upside-down smiley emoji to finish off the plea.
At that point I’d been working almost nonstop for an entire week, finally far enough removed from my own personal brand of ‘pandemic anxiety’ to catch up on my overflowing to-do list.
With another long week ahead, I knew I needed to take a night off and let my mind and body rest. Except I had no idea where to even begin.
Luckily, my go-to self-care adviser came through within minutes. She recommended yoga pants, snacks, and my favorite TV show, either in that order or simultaneously.
OK. I could do that. Comfy clothes, noms, Gilmore Girls. Easy. Right?
I didn’t own yoga pants, so I settled for leggings with Death Stars on them. I didn’t have my favorite TV snack, so I made myself a cup of coffee (for the flavor instead of the caffeine, for once). Things only cruised downhill from there.
Deciding what to watch wasn’t as simple as a quick navigation to Netflix.
I actually never made it to Netflix, though by this point that probably doesn’t surprise you. I somehow instead ended the night having endured half a season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, complete with several pages of notes on my phone to bring with me to the virtual office —
Yeah. I failed. Relaxation attempt unsuccessful. Do not pass Go. Achievement not unlocked.
Having been down this road many times before, I accepted defeat and prepared for yet another night of tossing and turning. What would keep me awake this time? Stressing about how I couldn’t wind down even for an evening. Naturally.
I am always busy. It’s not just a bad habit: It’s a poor lifestyle choice, the extreme of which has landed me in the middle of the infamous Burnout Zone more times than I can count.
I’m not proud of that. But I did grow up in the age of A Thousand Miles an Hour Isn’t Fast Enough. The second I learned how good it felt to impress adults with my borderline obsessive overcommit (as much as you can manage as a 9-year-old), I forgot not signing up for every feasible club and activity was actually an option.
I spent my mid-teens doing what all the honor society girls did: filling my schedule, showing up to school early and staying late, bouncing from one extracurricular to another … for what? Stellar recommendations to a private college that didn’t even require an entrance essay? Scholarship money? My name printed on as many senior yearbook pages as possible?
It’s been a decade since I first tried to leave that life behind having barely survived it, and I’m still just as hooked on the notion of being busy as I’ve always been.
Except now, instead of striving for noteworthy grades and glossy yearbook pages, other rewards await my inability to slow down. A book deal, maybe. Another interview with someone semi-famous. Impress the bosses, the editors, the masses, because why not?
It’s the same game we’ve been playing all these years. Only the stakes are higher now. The potential for success is so much greater. The possibility of falling to pieces is so much riskier.
Burning out at 17 might trigger the first of many panic attacks, tip the scales dangerously close to double digits and get you the only D on a progress report you’ll ever dare to see. But burning out at 27 can cost you precious opportunities, your job, your paycheck, everything you’ve worked so hard for, gone in a matter of weeks.
Busyness is an addiction. The adrenaline rush that comes with committing to just one more thing is real, and the more you supply your brain with that rush, the more it craves it. It is a drug. It is Bad.
And this is me talking about it. Being honest. Dragging the truth kicking and screaming out of the closet and laying it down in the middle of the room. Looking it straight in the eye.
Somewhere, somehow, someone in your life convinced you that being busy was the key to eternal happiness. And you believed them. You didn’t know any better. You didn’t know you were being lied to.
It’s not their fault. Because chances are they were told the same exact lie and never caught on to the scam.
But you can break the torturous cycle. We all can, I suppose. Perhaps all it will take is one night of yoga pants, junk food and reality TV after the other until it replaces the habit we never knew how to disown until now.
What they say is true: Working longer hours does not guarantee success. Having more than one pending deadline does not make you more marketable. Being busy does not make you more admirable.
It only makes you miserable.
We are busy but we aren’t fulfilled. We are involved but we aren’t fully invested. You can fill your schedule by the hour, but you won’t enjoy a single minute of it. You can begin to stack your commitments, but when will you start collecting accomplishments? And even when you do, when will it all prove worth it?
If I had all the answers for you I would have written a different headline for this post. The truth is, none of the advice psychologists normally give commitment junkies has worked for me so far. I write based on facts, but also based on experience. My experience is that an inability to relax can’t always be solved with comfy pants and staged depictions of American royalty.
Not in one night, anyway. Changing your ways, taking care of yourself, making your health and happiness a priority, takes weeks, maybe months, if not years to master.
Maybe one day I won’t have to ask my best friend for self-care advice — I’ll have an entire arsenal of strategically arranged tools readily at my disposal whenever I feel myself nearing my breaking point. Long before that, even.
But not now. Not yet.
For now, at least I know I can count on those who have struggled with me to show me struggling is a choice — and I can choose to stop. I can choose to slow down. I can choose to thrive.
After buying myself some yoga pants, of course.