I recently found myself with two days completely free from responsibility. No children to tend to, no deadlines or homework assignments and no plans. The non-stop hustle of working mom life came to a complete standstill.
I dove straight into relaxation planning mode:
- Find a cool patio
- Bike ride to patio
- Cook a fantastic dinner
- Write something profound
Then, I immediately caught myself mindlessly scrolling my phone and felt the sting of betrayal. How was I already failing at relaxing? I could scroll my phone any old time!
The hours passed and I had yet to accomplish anything from my list. As the day progressed, my behaviour became more frenetic. Pacing the house, mentally reshifting the day’s arbitrary plans and goals, and casting judging eyes at my husband who was happy to sit on the couch and do nothing.
Why can’t I relax? I am incapable of doing nothing.
If the “shoulds” were a disease, I would be the poster child. I should be more productive, I should be preparing for the week, I should be doing something I can’t normally do. I was shoulding all over myself.
And the real mindf**k is how much my shoulds contradict each other:
- I should find a cool patio. I should drink less caffeine and alcohol.
- I should write something profound. I should spend less time on a screen.
- I should cook a fantastic dinner. I should spend less money on food.
Ok, yup, as I write this I realize my “shoulds disease” is called Anxiety. Ha! Maybe I should have become a psychologist after all!
I should research this further.
[Adds ‘research why can’t I relax’ to today’s arbitrary to do list]
So here I am, on a gorgeous obligation-free Saturday, researching why my anxiety has reached a crescendo at a time when I have nothing pressing to do. And the best explanation that I can find is that I am literally in a state of fight, flight, or freeze.
My brain has somehow connected idleness with danger.
When I do nothing, someone invariably interrupts me.
When I do nothing, the kids try to kill each other.
When I do nothing, something important gets missed.
The solution? My therapist (Google) suggested that I tap into my logical brain by providing myself with evidence that relaxing is healthy and safe.
Alright, here I go.
- Relaxing has health benefits. It lowers stress hormones and blood pressure, improves digestion, muscle tension and pain.
- While I sit here writing, no one has broken any bones or called me crying.
- When my son fell off his bike, when my daughter got her hair caught in a toy, I did not cause these injuries by relaxing. And if I had been relaxing, these injuries would have happened anyways.
Ok. Maybe this is kind of working.
[Strikes ‘research why I can’t relax’ from the list]
Brain: psst you haven’t scrolled your phone in a while
Fingers: *scrolls phone*
My anxiety: WHAT AM I DOING
Brain: Ha, got you