It's Time to Stop Feeling Guilty About Relaxing

By , SparkPeople Blogger
My days start early and are full of activity, whether it's working, getting my four kids to and from where they need to be, or squeezing in daily chores and errands. Most of the time, I like it that way. I prefer to be on the go instead of sitting at home with nothing to do, but it has gotten to the point where I find it hard to remember how to really relax.

I know I'm not alone. When I ask moms at school, "How are things?" the answer I typically get is, "You know, busy as ever!" Life can be really stressful when you're trying to juggle commitments to family, friends and work. Often, the commitment to yourself takes a backseat—but does it always have to be this way?

Yes, a lot of us have a lot going on. Sometimes I'm embarrassed by my inability to balance downtime for myself and work time for everyone else around me. It goes without saying that I'm busy juggling four young children, yet, there are people in my life (and probably yours, too) who seem equally busy and continue taking on more and more even though they seem to have reached their limit long ago. They aren't afraid to share the constant and suffocating stresses in their daily lives; some appear to wear their busyness as a badge of honor, constantly talking about how frazzled and stressed out they are.

The Harvard Business Review did a number of studies of the perceived business of Americans and in each one, the busier someone appeared to be, the higher their perceived social status. It seems that somewhere along the way, being busy took on a new meaning: It's not that you can't manage your time well or that you have a lot going on, but rather that you must be really important because your time is in such high demand.  

Lack of downtime leaves me feeling depleted, both physically and mentally. Plus, let's face it: Life is meant to be enjoyed! I don't want to look back 20 years from now when my kids are grown and wish I would have spent less time vacuuming and more time playing with them. I also don't want to look back and wonder what happened to the goals and dreams I was passionate about but had to set aside because I poured everything into everyone else. To avoid those feelings of regret, I'm proactively taking baby steps to become less frantic and more present now so that I can enjoy (or at least calmly manage) the craziness that surrounds me. Are you ready to do the same?

Implications of Not Taking Downtime


In addition to making you feel like you're constantly being pulled in 10 different directions at once—believe me, I've been there—there are also physical and mental health issues that can arise from no downtime. 

Prolonged periods of too much stress affects your hormones, increasing the level of cortisol—also known as the "stress hormone"—and decreasing the level of serotonin and dopamine in your body. These hormonal changes have been linked to depression in some people. Increased levels of cortisol can also affect your appetite, potentially leading to weight gain. Constant stress can also take a toll on your heart. Whether the stress is coming from work, family life, financial issues or other places, providing no outlet for those negative feelings can increase your risk of a heart attack.

Taking a time-out now and then, whether it's a quick nap or a moment of meditation, gives your brain a chance to refresh and replenish. It improves productivity, creativity, increases your attention span and improves memory. I often remark to my kids that I had a great memory before I had them, but now it's basically turned to mush. Committing to turning off the brain and really, truly relaxing every so often can help your brain to get back on track for the next hurdle. A relaxed state increases blood flow to the brain and shifts brain waves from a beta (alert) to alpha (relaxed) rhythm. This state helps decrease anxiety, stress and worry in the body. 

Getting Comfortable with Relaxing


Knowing that prolonged periods of stress with no relief isn't good for your health, how do you get comfortable with taking downtime? Why is it so difficult to give ourselves permission to relax?

Personally, I have trouble adding one more thing to a to-do list that's already overwhelming most days, even if that thing is just me time. It sounds crazy but carving out time for me sometimes adds to the stress. When you're being pulled in so many directions already, prioritizing yourself feels unnecessary at best and selfish at worst. I try to remind myself, though, that even though it's hard to find the time, after I'm done, I always feel like it was time well-spent. I've also discovered that I don't need to find two hours in a day to check out a yoga class across town. Even five to 10 minutes of quiet time meditating, reading or writing in a journal is enough to give me a chance to breathe and focus for the rest of the day. I also use one of these short "breaks" before bedtime to clear my mind from the hustle and bustle of the day.

Take a look at the tasks you have on your plate today. Can every single thing on that list really not wait? Are there any tasks you can delegate to others in order to free up small amounts of time for yourself? There is always going to be one more load of laundry to do or one more volunteer sign-up sheet, but sometimes it's okay to decide to put yourself first.

If you feel like it's important to stay too busy because of others' perceptions, ask yourself why. Wouldn't you rather people see you as a friend who is present and can take time to listen, or a patient parent who will spontaneously play dress-up or bake a batch of cookies with the kids? Even though it's not always possible to stop what you're doing and take time for more low-key activities, make that effort every now and then to keep yourself grounded and present in your life. Those around me don't envy my busyness—most of the time, they probably think I'm a crazy lady who just takes on too much.

How to Spend Your Me-Time Moments


Although the amount of time you have to spend on yourself varies depending on life's circumstances, sometimes it’s just about making the most of it. It's possible to spread quick relaxation "moments" throughout your day even if you don’t have large amounts of time all at once. Commit to spending a few minutes on one of these relaxation techniques and see what kind of difference it makes on your overall happiness.
  • Visualize. Picture yourself in a calm and peaceful place, perhaps at the beach or on top of a mountain. Use this imagery to mentally transport yourself to a place of relaxation.
  • Meditate. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes. It's hard not to let your mind wander at first, but the more you do it, the easier you'll find it is to focus on relaxing.
  • Breathe deeply. Deep breathing, also referred to as belly breathing, is easy to learn and can be done anytime, anywhere. Ever notice when you get stressed out you tend to breathe faster? Slow down your breathing and feel the tension release from your body.
  • Try aromatherapy. If scents are your thing, this might be right up your alley. Certain scents promote relaxation in the body, so surrounding yourself with them diffused into the air can create a more calming environment.
  • Progressively relax your muscles. After a hard day, it's common for people to feel aches in the shoulders and neck due to tension or poor posture. This technique tenses muscles as you breathe in and relaxes them as you breathe out, alleviating some of that stress. It's a great way to work out the kinks from your entire body.
Even small changes can make a big difference in the quality of your life. Remember that learning to relax is a skill, so your ability to focus and make the most of your downtime will improve with practice. If one technique doesn't work for you, try another until you find something that gives you the recharge we all need.

At the end of my life, I don't want people to remember me as "the one who was always so busy." It's more important that I'm remembered as "the one who took time for myself and others."

Do you feel guilty spending time relaxing? How do you overcome those negative feelings?

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Comments

FMAX168 11/17/2019
thanks Report
BILLTHOMSON 11/4/2019
I do 120 minutes of exercise everyday, if I feel like a nap (I call them power naps) or rest time I take it. I then feel as if I'm re-energized for the rest of my day. Report
4CONNIESHEALTH 9/19/2019
Great article! I need to learn to relax more, too often I'm in a fight or flight state. Report
OOKLATHEMOK 8/24/2019
Susan Beamon - stop playing oh woe is me card because I am a woman. It isn't flattering. If you have to do everything at home it is because you want to, and to play the martyr, or you need to make the people in your life stand up and take some responsiblity Report
CYNTHIAF1976 8/1/2019
Since I retired I have a lot more “ME” time! Report
CHRISTINEM80 7/30/2019
This is so important. I've always put others before myself until I'm so worm down I crash or snap. I'm learning to allow myself down time to decompress so that I can be the best me for myself and for others Report
SUSANBEAMON 7/12/2019
Just try relaxing. As soon as you sit down, the boss has six things that need to be finished right now. Be at home, and the hubby needs your help, the dog has a mess that only you can clean up, the kids suddenly have to have something, doesn't matter what, like yesterday, the yard needs work and the neighbors have to have help that can't wait until their kids get home. There is no relaxing if your a woman. Report
TERMITEMOM 7/9/2019
Wonderful suggestions, thank you. Report
CHRISINMIAMI 7/8/2019
Thank you! Report
HOLLYM48 7/8/2019
Great article! Report
MJ7DM33 7/7/2019
Thx Report
NIGHTGLOW 7/7/2019
What I love about this positive, caring article is that it's also a gentle re-direct from what a lot of us do to cope with stress - eat! Great way to point us in the direction of healthier selves without being a downer and food. Thanks! Report
SPINECCO 7/7/2019
Great article & great advice. Report
SWALLIS7 7/7/2019
Great article! I struggle with this so much. Today is my 51st birthday and I'm feeling a bit stressed because I'm staying home and not out doing things as I normally have done on my birthday. Its usually go go go from sun up to sun down. But this year we decided to stay home and just invite the kids over for dinner and cake. So far all I've done today is get up, to to church, pick up my few items needed from grocery store. Then my sweet sometimes cranky husband made roast chicken for lunch. Now I'm supposed to just relax until dinner but my mind keeps thinking about all the things I should be doing. Lol. Maybe ill get off the phone and take a little nap....maybe? 😳 Report
EO4WELLNESS 7/7/2019
striking the right balance works best Report
EMGERBER 7/7/2019
I needed to read this article, thank you! Report
NASFKAB 7/7/2019
Thank you Report
SILVAS7 7/1/2019
I find it a little humorous every time I see these articles about relaxing
and yet no where in our points are we given an actual rest day . But it’s the same with all of our activity trackers as well . Report
CHERIRIDDELL 6/27/2019
Thanks Report
NIKO27 6/5/2019
Great Article
Report
CEIGSTI 5/27/2019
I have problems with taking down time. I feel I have to constantly be moving. If work is overwhelming I am guilty of skipping lunch and working straight through. I know I shouldn’t do that but I do. I’m working at breathing and being more mindful of what is happening now rather than the future. Report
KOALA_BEAR 4/29/2019
I love relaxing & never felt guilty. Being lazy is not a bad thing. Having a perfectly neat & clean house is overrated. Ditto for my desk, but the work got done. Now just retired, ppl ask me, won't you be bored? NO, I plan to test hammocks & take naps in between traveling, visiting family & friends, and doing fun stuff. Can't wait to go on a canoe trip again & take long hikes in the woods & fields. Report
SXB990 3/31/2019
Guilty Report
PATRICIA-CR 1/6/2019
When growing up, my mom would make us feel terribly guilty if we lay down or read. The only way to keep her happy was doing house chores all the time! When I left home, I had to reverse how I felt every time I took time off to relax. I highly value time off. Report
MBPP50 1/6/2019
Thank you Report
SPINECCO 1/5/2019
Meditation is my form of relaxation. Report
REPUBLISK 1/5/2019
I didn't actually read this but I relax all day... Report
I am learning how to be happy to have down time.... Report
Children learn from what they see. We need to set an example of truth and action. – Howard Rainer, Taos Pueblo-Creek ~ 4/25/18 Report
I don't take pride in "being busy" all the time or multi-tasking as a number of folks feel should be our norm. I consciously take downtime, especially after a busy day. Report
Being retired we have too much relax time. Now trying to get more active. As with everything need to find the balance. Report
Great article! Thank you! Report
Great! Thanks Report
Thanks Report
CHRIS3874
thanks Report
I relax by reading in a good "cozy mystery" every night after I go to bed. During the day I'm a prof teaching "heavy" stuff, so the "cozy" gets my mind into a more relaxed and happy frame of mind for a good night's sleep and the next day of classes. Report
I spend "me time" usually knitting or spinning or some other fiber related project and then I realize this is not really relaxing. Now I try to spend 15-30 minutes reading because I like it! I look at my life now (not working) and wonder how I got everything done because at times I feel busier than ever! Report
Great article. Thanks for sharing. Report
At 75 and 78, we’re day care providers for our almost 3-year-old granddaughter. We spell each other off so we can het a bit of rest during the day, but are prety tired by the end of the day. Report
At 75 and 78, we’re day care providers for our almost 3-year-old granddaughter. We spell each other off so we can het a bit of rest during the day, but are prety tired by the end of the day. Report
A friend just suffered a heart attack yesterday. Today I'm listening closely. Report
I needed this. Report
ROBBIEY
Good information Report
Good stuff Report
perfect timing! Report
I like the article. Even when retired we need some permission to relax at times. Report
Good article. Thx. Report
Relaxing just makes sense. Good article. Report
Don't wait until retirement to learn to relax! Report
Great article! Report