Since Scott’s Cancer Diagnosis a year ago, I’ve existed in a state of low grade anxiety. Even when things were going well, I was still tense, living on adrenaline. Keeping it together was really my only priority, and often that meant taking care of everyone else except me. Scott’s in remission now and he’s back at work. The kids are OK. So, earlier this year I decided to take some time off. For 3 months I’d take on no new responsibilities. I would embark upon a relaxation regime to replenish my physical and emotional reserves. This would be a time to focus in, a luxurious gift to myself so that I might approach the rest of the year with energy and enthusiasm.
I work for myself and as I wrapped up some client work at the end of last year, I started the year with a blank slate apart from one long term client. In the real world ‘no new responsibilities’ meant continuing to work one day a week but not accepting new clients for a while. It also meant taking care of school drop offs and pick ups and doing all the usual domestic stuff. But between 9.15 and 3.15 four days a week I’ve had no commitments other than to relax. At first I really struggled. It was like an adrenaline come down. I was tense, angry and emotional. I cried and napped and fussed about my inability to properly enjoy the downtime. Although I stopped struggling and eventually fell into a pleasant rhythm, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the time off. I just couldn’t relax.
Here’s what I’ve learned about relaxation. I’ve had it wrong for years. I’ve always been quite good at taking time for myself. I’d book massages, go out for coffee, read books in the bath, treat myself to a bit of retail therapy, or spend time with friends. In reality though, I wasn’t relaxing; I was just taking time off work. I’ve never been a workaholic, so taking time off is easy for me. When I’m inspired and motivated I can put the hours in, but after a while I need to refocus and do something else. I thought that was me being all balanced, winning at self-love. Turns out I was just winning at distraction.
When I tried to properly switch off over the last few months I realised how absolutely and completely out of character that was for me. I don’t relax. I distract. I take a book to the bath. I wear headphones and chat on the phone when I walk. I book in a treatment – so someone else can do the relaxation to me (lazy much?). I watch movies, read books and listen to podcasts. I talk to friends, drink wine and go out for food (actually it sounds like I have a pretty good life..). And yes, reading is a source of great pleasure for me, but it doesn’t still my mind. Chatting to friends and going out makes me happy and builds connections but I’m an introvert and it drains my well. I do have a good life, and I do find joy in the living of it. But there can also be joy in stillness, peace and reflection. They should be the Yin to my active, busy and distracted Yang. What I do when I relax is no good at replenishing my soul. I need to stop and be still in my own presence. Find my Yin. And that, my friends, is hard.
It’s so hard I don’t allow it. That’s why I take a book to the bath. That’s why I look at my phone when I’m alone. I have a million and one strategies for avoiding stillness and peace. And let’s face it, I’m not the only one. We’re all up to our armpits in distraction and we’ll do anything to avoid a moment of reflection. Is your relaxation a gift to your soul, or a clever distraction technique? Are you living in a constant state of Yang overload?
What I’ve learned about relaxation is this. It doesn’t matter if you take 3 months off. It doesn’t matter if you quit your job or go on a holiday or sail around the world in a yacht. If you don’t know how to stop and be still, you’ll never feel truly relaxed.