How to Deal: When You're Too Stressed to De-Stress
I came to a terrifying realization the other day: Relaxation has become stressful. All week, my days are abuzz with activity. When I’m not asleep, I’m at work. When I’m not at my desk, I’m in a meeting. When I’m not in the office, I’m at the gym. When I’m not at the gym, I’m responding to the personal emails I ignored when I was busy at the office. And when I finally have some “free” time, I’m usually trying to catch up with friends and family, whether on the phone, on the town, or online.
So when I finally decide that I’ve had enough and am ready to indulge in a little “me” time, you would think that I’d be more than happy to turn it all off and focus on doing absolutely nothing for a few hours. But strangely, this is not the case. After about an hour of this so-called “relaxation,” panic sets in. What should I be doing right now? What is everyone else doing? I bet Alex is busy studying for the GMATs, Carrie is padding her already filled resume with volunteer work, and Joe is at some high-profile party at a swanky downtown bar no one has even heard of yet! And here I am, doing nothing.
Neurotic? Slightly. Unusual? Not really.
Through school applications, job applications, and resume boosting, many of us have spent the majority of our youth focusing on what we must achieve to get to the “next step.” But despite our efforts, the fear that we might not be able to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves seems ever-present. There’s a constant influx of skilled, knowledgeable people into a workforce with fewer and fewer opportunities. So we work harder. Our generation has been accused of complaining a lot, but really, who can blame us? We’re exhausted!
While I certainly don’t have the answer to these problems (many of which, I realize, lurk in my own subconscious), I do know that many of us out there could stand to take a breather every now and then. So here are a few ways I’ve learned to “let go.”
1. Go for a Walk
Getting out and about is the best of both worlds. You can tell your mind that you’re technically accomplishing something (low-impact exercise! Fresh air! Inspiration!), but really you get to take a break for a few and let your mind wander. Allowing yourself to be alone and move around—and I don’t mean kicking up your cardio regimen on the treadmill—can give you some much-needed time to de-stress.
2. Get Out of Town
If you live and work in a city, the “rat race” adage can feel a little too real. When the view out your window shows hundreds of people rushing around at all hours of the day, continually moving to get something done, it can be difficult to mentally and emotionally withdraw. Moreover, after-hours pressure from your friends to fill the time left untouched by your boss can be too enticing to ignore.
So, when it all feels too overwhelming, walk away. A change of scenery—however brief—can do wonders for your perspective. Suddenly, many of the things that seemed so pressing will begin to feel less so, and that in and of itself can be relaxing.
3. Don’t Compare Yourself
Not competing with your friends can be difficult—especially those you're constantly connected to via Facebook, LinkedIn, and all other online forms of “look what I’m not doing that you’re not!” But it’s also important for your sanity. Like it or not, a few “harmless” minutes of Facebook stalking can do ruthless damage, replacing your efforts to relax with the anxiety that you should be doing something else to keep up with the careers and social lives of the Jones’.
So to truly unwind, unplug the computer. And if you can’t fully step away from your news feed, just keep in mind that an online life is easy to manipulate. If a friend or follower just climbed Mount Everest, finished writing a novel, and redecorated her apartment all in one summer, it’s totally acceptable to wonder if that’s really the case (and to roll your eyes).
If you find yourself constantly feeling tired—physically or emotionally—it’s okay to recognize that life is sometimes like that. But remind yourself it’s also important to slow down. Allow yourself some time to relax, and you’ll be all the happier (and more successful) in the long run.
Photo courtesy of Adria Richards.
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