Why Do We Find it So Hard to Just Relax?
When was the last time you treated yourself? I mean, like forgot your list of things to do and sat around and had a day all about you. For me, it had been quite a while. I hadn’t had a vacation that lasted more than two days in years, and on those short vacations, I was always traveling, visiting my very spread-out family and friends. So right now, as I sit on my mother’s couch in a sports bra and mint mask, watching Downton Abbey, it strikes me that I don’t remember the last time I sat and did exactly what I wanted to do. Due to some extenuating circumstances (the crappy economy and my useless degree in Psychology), I find myself unemployed, which means that I certainly have a lot of free time.
Now, my laundry is in the dryer, the cat boxes are clean, I went for a three and a half mile run, my bed is made, and I am working on one of my two articles due Friday. Basically, I have nothing else left to do but relax. Why do I still feel so awfully anxious? I feel like sitting here and doing nothing is an especially grotesque form of torture. But then I remember all those days when I was employed and all I wanted to do was make my nails a pretty color and watch all those great shows or read those great books that I was always too busy for. Now that I’m forced to have time for these enjoyable things, I simply can’t enjoy it. What the hell is wrong with me?
Really, though? What is wrong with me? I guess I have always felt a strong sense of pride and self-worth when I give myself to others. The modern woman is constantly confronted with the notion that doing something for oneself is selfish in a world where there is so much to be done for others. How can I feel good watching Matthew Crawley’s strapping body in a World War I uniform when there are things that need to be done? There are kids that need taking care of, e-mails that need sending, cleaning that needs doing, articles to write, jobs opportunities that could be slipping away in an instant, and isn’t there something or another that I can study? How can I be so lazy and selfish to have slept in and be sitting doing nothing? Better yet, why is sitting doing nothing selfish and lazy? Does this month of unemployment make me less worthy of care?
Why can’t women relax? Why do we always have to make sure that everyone else has what they need before we get what we need? Take the classic modern struggle of work-home balance. All day long, we give ourselves to our jobs, then at home to our kids, friends, parents, partners, and pets, all the while wishing that we had something left for us. But then when we get that, it’s so foreign and uncomfortable that all we can think about are all the things we should be doing instead.
But what if treating yourself is actually a necessary and productive part of life? According to an article, time off from work can lead to better performance on the job, improved interpersonal relationships, and motivation. Even short vacations can do wonders for one’s psyche. According to Adam Galinsky, a professor of business at Kellog Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University, “Detaching from a familiar environment can help get new perspectives on everyday life.” The basic act of relaxation has been shown to have health benefits, while stress is actually our biggest health concern in the United States. In heart health research, stress can be just as worrisome a condition as poor diet or lack of exercise. Studies have also shown that relaxing can reduce the chances of getting a cold, boost one’s memory, keep you safe from depression, and even lower your risk of stroke.
So, with all these benefits, how come the average worker in the United States accrues about fourteen days of vacation every year and only actually uses twelve of them? A quarter of Americans do not use any vacation time at all. Meanwhile, in Germany and the Netherlands, the typical employee gets between four and six weeks of vacation each year. With Germany’s unemployment at an impressive 6.8%, we begin to wonder if the all work, no play mentality is really helping us. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not require its employees to take vacation. It really makes one wonder if our health concerns are not highly correlated with out inability to relax.
In our modern world, obsessed with doing, giving, and making, vacation is treated almost like wasted time. Further research tells us that it is actually invaluable for one’s health and sanity. So I think I’ll schedule myself a massage and watch another episode of Downton, because I have one important job left to do this week, and that’s take care of me. Come on, Feminspire, let’s agree to practice self-care today– and whenever we feel we need it– without the guilt.
How do you find time in your life for relaxation and care? What’s your favorite way to de-stress? Share tips in the comments!
Written by Sarah Garner
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