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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I got a lot out of this blog. Report
I am loving life and life is loving me back! I loved this article, nicely done. Report
It's not very sensitive you to go on about how being over-committed makes you look like a "crazy lady." Perhaps you should think of other people's feelings. Also, is it really quality time that you are having with your children when you tell them that they are the reason that you've lost your mental focus? I'm sure they need to feel bad for how you had them, not! You made your choices, so don't blame them. Even teasing them in this way is a form of child abuse. I'm sorry you don't see that, but I think you seriously need some counseling. It's not right. Report
I am knocking at the door of retirement age. I have a love/hate relationship with that thought. To bad it takes aging to think about actual down time Report
I am now retired and have down time for the first time in 47 years and I love it! Report
I used to feel uncomfortable with downtime. Now I enjoy it so much, I don't want to over go back to working, as in a job. How? By 'working' in things I love to do. Relaxing is a delight! A blessing. Report
Relaxing takes a little organization and pre-planning :) Report
I retired 12/31/2017, so am struggling with the "I should be doing something more constructive" mindset. But, I AM relaxed, LOL!! Report
I take at least 5 minutes of me time every day! Report
It seems like when I was working and raising a family there was never any "me" time, now that I'm retired, I allow myself some relaxation and feel better for it. Thanks for the article. Report
I am off for what I consider downtime today - quilting with friends. Quilting is not on my to-do list so when I go it is a treat for myself. Report
Funny, I never really felt guilty relaxing and after 42 years of working very hard, I enjoy relaxing even more in retirement. Report
Great reminder. I struggle with down time. Report
love this article Report
So true, all of this. Annnnnd yet, it’s waaaaaaay easier to think of the NEED to do this than to actually do any of it. I worked full time, took graduate classes three nights a week, mommed 3 teenage boys, and was married. It’s exhausting to write, more so to live. I didn’t take the time for me...or I failed to take advantage of opportunities that were presented like my commute time. I know, NOT the same...something beats nothing. The way I handled my extreme state of constantly being busy was to pack on pounds and try to eat away stress! Riiiiiight, ask how that worked. Looking back I wish I were kinder, gentler, more forgiving and realistic in my expectations. Today I often have time to spare, the trade off that comes with aging. Imagine. Regardless, if I could go back and grab those ten minutes as a reset for me? Hmmm, all I can do now is encourage others to do better than I did. Hard to do, so very worth it. Report
interesting article Report
interesting article Report
I know I don’t spend enough time relaxing meaning I’m on my legs almost the whole time I’m at home until bedtime Report
I'm an introvert. I've always needed time away from people - which often means quiet time with just a book, and maybe a cup of tea and a cat on my lap. Too many people drain me of energy - alone time reading and relaxing re-energizes me more than anything else. Report
Yes I do feel guilty when I don't do things Report
Excellent Report
Relaxing is part of staying healthy!! However, I have a hard time with it, too! Report
Interesting article. Report
Very timely for me. I took the weekend to enjoy friends and family and some volunteer work. I ignored my school work, but I will get it done this week. Report
I am considering reading this article every morning, because I need to relax and NOT feel guilty. I have a book I started reading almost 2 weeks ago, and I would like to finish reading it. Tomorrow is a new day. Report
No. I've stopped feeling guilty. So long as I'm giving it my all, I'm satisfied. Sometimes, that means doing multiple loads of laundry, working a full day at the office, preparing meals for the family. If I've not had time or the energy to jump on the recumbent bike or walk more than I do in the course of a workday, I'm good. Life is too short. Report
Awesome article Report
GREAT Report
I probably need to stop feeling guilty when I don't workout, but I do feel guilty. Report
Yup, we need to take time to "reconnect" to our inner self and take things down a few notches. Report
Really critical to recharge our batteries! Report
Really critical to recharge our batteries! Report
Wish I had read this years ago. Even now when I'm retired, I still keep busy---don't understand it, but it happens. But I'm much more relaxed than when I was working full time, had 2 sons, and volunteered for many years on the weekend as a docent and animal at our local zoo. Report
My rule of thumb is, if I don't take time out for myself, I won't have the strength or energy to help anyone else. Report
definitely need that down time to recharge! Report
I need to listen to my body and slow down... pregnant and needing to just accept I can't keep on! Report
Thanks for the article! Report
If you don't, SparkFriends, your body will make you! Please believe it. Take time out to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Report
That picture of that hammock makes me so jealous! I need one of those!! Report
aa GOOD READ Report
great article Report
good points Report
enjoyed the article--thanks! Report
good article Report
downtime is important to us all. Report
Important to nurture ourselves so we can nurture others too! Report