Staying in the present moment and limiting social media are just two of the ways you can enjoy relaxation time.
Ah, the weekend is finally here. You settle in to watch that new show you’ve heard so much about. But no more than 5 minutes into it, you start to feel uneasy — maybe even a little guilty.
Your brain starts listing off everything you could be doing right now instead of relaxing: All those dirty dishes are really piling up. I should probably begin that new exercise program I was supposed to start last weekend. Why am I so lazy?
What’s going on? Why can’t you just relax and enjoy the show?
There are likely several reasons why your brain won’t let you relax. Some of these are conscious, but others may be subconscious — embedded into your psyche since childhood.
You have an overactive or anxious mind
Are you constantly worrying about past or future events? Do you have anxiety or depression? Staying busy is a way for some to focus on something outside of their own minds. This is often the source of workaholism.
Then when you have a moment to sit down, all those intrusive or negative thoughts come rushing in. This can keep you constantly trying to stay busy, so you’re not alone with only your thoughts. In fact, for some, the need to stay busy to occupy their mind can be a type of trauma response.
Hard work is ingrained into our culture
Most of us live in a culture that idealizes and promotes hard work. In fact, the concept of the American dream is based on how hard you can work.
Your parents may have also confirmed this starting from early childhood. Because of this, sitting down to relax may feel oddly stagnant or uncomfortable.
Your identity is linked to productivity
For most of us, work is a big part of our lives. Not only do you need a job to survive, but you may even have a side job to make ends meet. Productivity makes us feel accomplished and good about ourselves, and relaxing may even make us feel “lazy.”
The benefits of resting aren’t obvious
While you’re probably well aware of the benefits of working, the benefits of resting are more abstract.
When we’re working, we can witness specific tasks being accomplished and tangibly see we’re moving toward a final goal. In contrast, relaxation may feel like wasted time.
In reality, however, relaxation can have significant mental health benefits, including
You have trouble staying organized
If you’re disorganized and frequently jumping back and forth between tasks, then simply sitting down to relax might exacerbate that feeling that you never really accomplished anything.
Instead, you may feel you are wasting time and haven’t actually “earned” a break.
Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your relaxation time without guilt.
- Stay in the present moment. If you find yourself always thinking about the past or future, it can be difficult to simply rest. Make an effort to stay in the present moment: Try to stay focused on work while you’re working, so that when you get a chance to relax, you can simply focus on that. Consider practicing mindfulness meditation.
- Make a to-do list. Staying organized and crossing things off your to-do list can help you feel like you earned a break. For instance, tell yourself you can have a break after you check off two items on your list. Then sit and relax for a set amount of time.
- Know that you’ll never finish your to-do list. Although it’s healthy to aspire to complete your to-do list, try to be OK with not always finishing everything on your list. Don’t let it haunt you while you’re trying to relax. You can better learn to cope with an incomplete to-do list by practicing self-compassion.
- Remember the benefits of relaxation. Your brain needs to take a break in order to function at its best. One
studyfound that short breaks in between segments of learning a new skill can strengthen memories. Giving your brain a break is important for focus and allows your brain to “reset” itself.
- Limit social media use. Social media can waste enormous amounts of time. If you spend 30 minutes mindlessly scrolling, it can give you a feeling of wasted time, so that when you truly want to relax, you feel even more guilty.
Feeling guilty while trying to relax is extremely common, but it’s not necessary — nor is it healthy. To learn to enjoy your deserved breaks, there are several things you can do.
Try staying in the present moment. Make an effort to focus on each task at hand, so that you can feel more accomplished when you’re finished. This will allow your brain and body to truly rest during relaxation time.
Also remember that your brain needs to take breaks—whether that’s a five minute break every 30 minutes or a weeklong vacation after a busy year. And finally, spend less time on social media, as it tends to scatter your focus and makes you feel even more guilty for “wasting” time.