Monday Musings: Relaxation is Hard

Last week, I ventured to Galiano Island for a mid-week girls’ getaway.  Over the course of two days, I was constantly reminded of my inability to just chill and relax. This is not a big surprise for me. Though I overwhelm myself easily, I am somehow more at ease when running from thing to thing and feeling as if there will never be enough time to do it all than I am when I am just sitting around supposedly ‘relaxing’.

Whatever this setting is...I'm missing it.
Whatever this setting is…I’m missing it.

I have decided that conventional relaxation is hard.  Moreover, I’m not sure it’s for me. I cannot just sit and “be”. My father is the exact same way. The man has to be doing something. Every. Single. Minute. Unless he is sleeping or eating, he is always on the move.  Clearly it runs in the family.

As I was thinking about it, though, I realized that perhaps we all just relax in different ways. For some, relaxation requires being physically at rest.  But my body doesn’t need to relax. It likes being on the go.  What I need to relax is my mind, which is always in full gear and an endless sea of chatter.   There are exactly two ways for me to relax my over-active mind: distract it with physical activity or occupy it with productive mental activity.

I’m sure it sounds contradictory to say I can relax my mind with mental activity, but hear me out.  My mind (and arguably most people’s minds) can either be full of productive thoughts or unproductive thoughts. I can have a tendency to get trapped in a hamster wheel of unhelpful (read: anxious or self-critical) chatter. I overanalyze things and rehash situations over and over again. If I can read or write or engage in meaningful dialogue, I can quiet all that chatter.  On the physical distraction spectrum, running or walking or hiking, or even cleaning or doing laundry or washing dishes, all help me feel infinitely more relaxed because they quiet the worst parts of my over-active mind.

It occurs to me that, for some, balance isn’t just about the balance between rest and play.  For some—clearly, including me—balance is more of a mental state in which I keep myself from getting sucked into unhelpful thought patterns. Staying on the go, whether physically or intellectually, keeps all of this at bay.

So I’m going to relax in my own way, with movement and focused intellectual activity.  And next time someone tells me to relax when I’m in the midst of running from thing to thing, I’m going to tell them “thank you, I actually am.”

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