Why I Don’t Rest Well

I don’t rest well. I’m jealous of those people I see on Instagram who are swinging in hammocks and reading books. My husband can sit down on a Saturday, drink a beer, and stare off into space for an hour. I watch in wonder and he closes off the outside world and just…sits. 

Though I love my time on the couch and my decades-old sweatpants, I am rarely relaxed. Even in pre-pandemic times, I am a pinball in the machine of goals and to-do lists.

My normally cheerful husband had some strong words last weekend when my need for constant motion collided with his need to sit on the couch. I asked for his help installing a sprinkler feature around the backyard trampoline. It went like this: 

  • Me: “Hey honey, I have assembled as much as I can by myself but I’m only 5’4” and the ladder on the actual trampoline wouldn’t be smart. Can you help me?”
  • Penn: “”Sure. I mean, I just sat down to watch the first baseball game of the season, but sure.”
  • Me: “This will only take five minutes.”

IT TOOK TWO HOURS. Plus, it was about 98 degrees with 100% humidity. Penn works really hard during the week and was craving time on the couch to watch an actual sporting event (thanks, Covid). Meanwhile, I had him stringing up an impossible hose to the top of our trampoline. And of course, it doesn’t even really work.

  • Penn: “This is not what I had in mind for today!”
  • Me: “This is what people do! They work all day around the house on Saturdays!”
  • Penn: “No, that’s what you do! The rest of us like at least an hour of rest.”

BOOM. He’s right. If I’m not in motion, I’m thinking about what I need to do next. I say things like, “I’ll take a break once I knock out this list.” Hot take: The to-do list is never-ending. Vacations? Forget about it. I can finally unwind after about Day 5, just in time to head home. Then once I’m home, the shock of re-entry is so jarring I wonder why I even bother trying to relax.

For the record, I do have a daily exercise habit. I meditate. I eat well. I get enough sleep (sometimes). But we have a swinging porch bed on our back deck and I’ve only reclined on it once. ONCE. We’ve lived here for five years. 

Why Am I Afraid of Relaxing?

I know there’s a scientific answer to this question. There are systems in my biology that keep me in motion. But I’ve been through enough therapy that I’m going to self diagnose and answer it: my nagging anxiety and depression. 

I have talked a lot about how I have to keep chasing the light for fear the darkness will creep back in. I have had such low, lows that I get anxious even thinking about being in that space. If I’m in motion, they can’t catch me. (I know this isn’t true. Sit down.) 

On top of that, I have a deep, constant need to achieve. I need to conquer the list, master a new skill, reach a new goal. On the night we turned in our final edits to our book publisher, Penn wanted to pop some champagne. I started a Google Doc with thoughts for the next book. I have a fear that if I stop moving, doing, reaching — then I will stop creating. If I stop creating, my brain may turn to mush. If my brain turns to mush, I can’t pay my mortgage and we are living with my mom. (Mom, I know you love me but we both know that wouldn’t be ideal. We live a very noisy life.) These are the tricks my brain likes to play. 

I know not being able to slow down is not ideal. It’s not good to model for my children and I run the risk of burnout. The constant motion is creating unnecessary stress in my life that will eventually impact my health. So, I’ve made a plan…I’m going to make a goal to RELAX. You know how some people do “Couch to 5K” plans? I’m going to do a 5K to Couch! No, I’ll never give up on my exercise, but true to form, I’ve made a list of how I’m going to build my relaxation endurance. I’m assuming, “rest” is a muscle I need to develop so here’s my training plan. 

  1. Up my meditation habit: Right now, I use the Calm App for 10-minute sessions about 4 days a week. Our house is loud and the kids always seem to have a question, so even that time is often interrupted. I’m going to claim some space, lock the door, and meditate for at least 20 minutes at least 5 days a week. 
  2. Schedule NOTHING: I live by my calendar, so I’m going to block time to accomplish NOTHING. I will start with one hour a week of finding space to rest. I will ditch my phone and always-dinging watch and slowly build on this time of disconnection. 
  3. Disconnect: Speaking of disconnection, I realize part of my constant stress is the phone I have sitting 4 inches from the keyboard I’m using. The dings and noises pull me from really focusing on one task. The redirection is exhausting. I will tuck the phone away during my above mentioned “Nothing” time and after dinner with my family. 

I am going to try this “relaxation training plan” for 30 days and then check in. I’d love to hear if this is something you’ve struggled with. If so, how do you cope? 

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