Burnout, overstimulation, and giving yourself permission to relax.

Confession: I honestly don’t know how to relax. I don’t even know what it feels like. I’m not entirely sure what relaxing would look like for me. In theory, I should be “relaxing” and “winding down” before the work week starts, but here I am typing away on this blog I’m not sure anyone will ever read at 11:30pm on a Sunday.

For as long as I can remember, my approach to this has been that relaxation happens after the work is done. Not just the main things/work you have to get done today, but all the work. Let me give you a few examples.

  • If my partner and I are watching TV while eating dinner, I need to pause the show after we’re done eating and clean up before we can keep watching. The knowledge that I will have to “do work” later (in this case, clean up the kitchen) prevents me from being able to relax in the present moment.
  • I struggle to read a fiction book if I’ve got a non-fiction one on the go, because it feels like I’m “slacking off.”
  • I struggle to leave a project unfinished before going to sleep because sleeping would be somehow cheating or lazy. Besides, crawling into bed is countless times more rewarding after you’ve stayed up until 4am rearranging your closet for no valid reason.

Even if I find myself in a situation where most everything IS done (workday is over, meals are prepped for the next day, workout is done, dog walked, kitchen cleaned), I’ll look around for any possible thing that may at some point need to be done and do it – so that when I FINALLY get to relax, I can do so with the knowledge that there’s absolutely nothing else I have to do.

There’s just one problem. With that mindset, the only time would ever get to relax would legitimately be when I’m dead.

I think this perspective is also why I struggle with meditating regularly, doing yoga, or other slow and mindful things that don’t necessarily feel…necessary. I struggle to give myself permission to take 10 minutes and breathe or spend a half hour and do my mobility work because there’s always something else, something more productive, something more “valuable” that I could be doing.

And so I stay engaged, I stay busy, I stay overstimulated and connected and “on” from the second I wake up until I crash into bed at night. It’s no wonder that when I do finally decide to try and sleep, I can’t. My brain finally has a chance to slow down and instead it’s too busy processing everything I was unable to handle earlier in the day.

My “solution” to this issue has been to buy books and read about these problems! In the last few weeks, I started Practical Zen (then stopped after one chapter because holy shit, meditating for 25 minutes every day? Impossible). I devoured Brene Brown’s The Gift of Imperfection, and cruised through Michael Solis’ Lifescaling in less than a week. There are more on my shelf, too.

Chris, my partner, recently pointed out the irony of reading endless books about how to relax. The act of reading a non-fiction book and trying to absorb and internalize information is not exactly a relaxing way to spend time.

So he made me spend an hour colouring with no phone, no music, no nothing! Except my brain! It was so difficult!

Even writing this blog has felt like a challenge for a few reasons: it forces me to spend time with my mind. I’ve come to realize that I actively avoid stillness and reflection. I’m not sure why I’m so uncomfortable sitting with my own thoughts and emotions, but it’s really damn hard.

So this week, I’m going to make a promise to myself: I’m going to lean into my thoughts and emotions, accept where I’m at, and give myself permission to become better friends with my brain.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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