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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BWRETLIND 5/28/2021
thanks Report
CECELW 12/2/2020
I'm retired now. I get lots of relaxation! Report
FRAN0426 11/16/2020
Great article. Now that I am retired there is much more time to relax some days Report
ROCKRS 10/7/2020
Thanks Report
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CD24069739 9/22/2020
Thank you Report
MUSICNUT 8/21/2020
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
SNUZYQ2 7/6/2020
Meditation is so helpful! Report
Great article, I found some things I need to try. Report
informative.. thanks Report
thanks Report
OH I don't know how old your kiddos are, but young kids do take a lot of energy. Older ones do, too, just in a different way! definitely I learned I HAVE to have at least 5-10 minutes of down time to just BE. It helps! Report
As far as I am concerned, we all need sometime to relax! Nothing to feel guilty about.We cannot keep going and going without relaxing! UNHEARD OF!!!!!! Report
I love relaxing. My household keeps it simple, with plenty of time for reading, snuggling and dog petting. Report
Great ideas! Report
This is one reason we only had two children...... Report
thanks Report
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
Great article! I need to learn to relax more, too often I'm in a fight or flight state. Report
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
Since I retired I have a lot more “ME” time! Report
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
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
Wonderful suggestions, thank you. Report
Thank you! Report
Great article! Report
Thx Report
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
Great article & great advice. Report
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
striking the right balance works best Report
I needed to read this article, thank you! Report
Thank you Report
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
Great Article
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
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
Guilty Report
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
Thank you Report
Meditation is my form of relaxation. Report
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