Do you ever find hard to relax? By relax I mean, to the point of doing nothing? I certainly did, and now because I recognise it in myself, I have to be fairly intentional about doing it. Intentional about doing ‘doing nothing’? Yep. And here is why.
I grew up in a family where everything was made by two very competent, creative (post-war) parents. My dad made wine, did all electrical and plumbing DIY and even built the furniture (literally. One of his many creative hobbies is woodturning). My mum made everything from the curtains and reupholstered chairs, to jam, dresses and cakes. ‘Doing nothing’ just wasn’t a concept I encountered. Even while ‘relaxing’ in the evening watching the TV, my mum would inevitably be knitting someone a jumper.
So I grew up believing that my ‘do-er’ attitude was a huge advantage; constantly striving to do, achieve, learn. And don’t get me wrong, it has been. But like everything, I’ve learned that moderation is the key.
Too much ‘too muching’ leaves you depleted not elated.
2020 has turned our lives upside down. Everyone is affected in different layers and in different ways; but everyone has been affected. Amid chronic uncertainty, home-schooling, cancelled plans, holidays and fun, ‘normal’ life is continuing; in my immediate circle I know women also dealing with marriage breakups, cancer, menopause, teenager eat disorders, divorce, business failings, and depression.
The initial high energy enthusiasm for language learning, bread baking, and yoga yoga-ing slowly seeped away leaving many of us frazzled by the uncertainty, the slog and the relentlessness of it all. There is still a long road ahead as we desperately try to get schools back, and face into winter. So now, more than ever, it’s really important to know we can face the brace position, by making sure we are at our best.
How to be your best? Rest.
This year of lockdowns and office shut-downs, the work/home blur has left many blurry eyed. I’m seeing it with clients, friends, and myself. I’m also seeing a reluctance to really check out and relax for fear / inability to feel lazy. But being lazy is the best rest you can get. Here’s why.
Yet it is often seen as a luxury. We don’t prioritise sleep. We take on too much. We think if we sit down our world will cave in (or we may just not get up again.). Rest is more than just going to bed earlier (although that’s good too). It’s about consciously carving out real time to switch off. Any athlete will tell you that the intentional rest days are as important as the active training days. Life-affecting professions like pilots, surgeons, truck drivers are forced to stop working and rest after a certain period because they will put lives at risk if they don’t. We all need to give ourselves that same permission. Rest isn’t lazy or a luxury; it’s a vital part of performance.
Always on the go, our chattering mind continues churning and re-churning the same old shit in constant on-mode, rotating worries, to-do lists and pressuring thoughts on an endless conveyor belt. Only when we rest, can the chatter begin to stop churning. It’s amazing what the newly created space allows in. Not only does it cease the relentless chatter, but it opens a space for new, fresher thoughts.
I used to think I was relaxing if I read a book after staring at my screen all day. Thing was I was still using my brain (and my eyes). Changing up the use of our senses is a great way to shift gear which is restful in itself (change is as good as a rest and all that). Now I make sure I walk the dog or sit in the garden or go chat to a pal just to shift the gear in my brain (and then reading the book is a good option).
So given we are so bad at resting, how do we actually do it?
Do something that makes you lose yourself. Psychologists call this Flow… those moments when you are so consumed with an activity you forget time and place. (No I don’t mean a bottle of wine; I mean a hobby).
Disconnecting means different things to different people and it might sound contradictory but actual moving, or walking in nature is restful (provided you’re not scrolling your phone!). Moving changes the dynamic of our brain’s flow. Regular exercise both decreases and prevents depression, helping the body and brain to relax and de-stress. Add nature to the mix and you’ll automatically feel better as it boosts happiness and reduces stress making it easier to relax.
This is the hardest aspect. We can get very busy trying to be restful that actually it’s not restful at all. Sometimes, (and I struggle with this too), it’s ok to just be. Lie in bed and not read. Sit down and not scroll. Go for a walk and not listen to another self-help podcast. It takes practise but doing nothing can often be the best doing you can do for yourself.
The next few months are going to be tough for everyone. It’s not lazy to rest, and especially during these times of uncertainty on top of the normal pressures of life, stop looking at what you need to do, and listen to what you need. Often it’s the opposite of what you think you ‘should’ do. Rest is about showing up for ourselves by slowing ourselves down enough to feel, think and be a human being, not just a human doing.