A Guide To Relaxation (From Someone Who Couldn’t)

I’ve been described, rather diplomatically, as having “a bias toward action.”  From age 12-22, my most valuable possession was my agenda… and it wasn’t being used to keep track of all the super cool parties I was definitely invited to.  I scheduled every free moment and I wasn’t able to turn off the organizing, regimented part of my brain.  It was a struggle because I always felt pressure to be doing or achieving something, and I felt guilty when I wasn’t maximizing my time.  Trying to relax was actually a stressful experience.  Then I took a giant chill pill, just like everyone told me to do, and I was cured!  Just kidding.  The changes have been super gradual, but I have learned how to relax.  Below I’ve shared five self-care practices that have helped me discover the art of relaxation.


1. Prioritizing Exercise

Exercise has always been part of my life, but over the past few years, I’ve changed my approach.  It used to be just another item on my checklist, but the below shifts helped me turn exercise into a vehicle for relaxation.

  • I switched from working out solo (in a gym setting) to taking a variety of exercise classes.  In high-paced classes, I really need to focus on what the instructor is saying, and this means I can’t really think about anything else – this gives me a mental break.
  • I tried many different workouts to figure out which ones feel best for me (and I also discovered that Zumba classes are not all created equal…)
  • I started to think of myself as a runner, and to my husband’s chagrin, a “yogi.”  This identity shift made a big difference in how I approach working out.

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  • I use my scheduling skills to protect my exercise time.  I add all of my workouts to my calendar before making plans, so I can work around them.  I also try to regularly make plans with friends that involve exercise (Barre/Brunch is one of my favorite Sunday combos!)
  • My husband understands how important exercise is to my state of mind/sleep/attitude/blood pressure, and so he works with me in terms of our social plans, meal prep, and car use, to make it happen.

Classes are definitely a financial investment, but for me, the pay off is so great that I can justify it in my budget.  I leave every workout more relaxed than I go in.


2.  Regularly Scheduled “Treat Myself” Time

I make sure to use all of my massage benefits.  I book my massages well in advance to celebrate the end of a challenging week, or just to have something to look forward to.  The guarantee of knowing this time is already budgeted for removes any guilt I once felt for this kind of indulgence; now it feels like a luxury I’ve given myself permission for.

3. Over-Estimating How Long Things Will Take

There is something called the “planning fallacy” which basically means people tend to underestimate how long things will take.  I learned this theory in Intro Psych, and it was a game-changer for me.  Since then, I intentionally overestimate how long I expect things to take, and give myself significant buffer time between activities.  My rule of thumb is time and a half (ex: if I think something will take 30 minutes, I give myself at least 45 minutes, etc.). In doing so, I can account for “life,” meaning the unexpected things that pop up.  But here’s the catch – sometimes when we give ourselves an hour, things take an hour – but, if we only have 30 minutes to get the same thing done, somehow we are able to do it.  To avoid this phenomenon, I build in natural “rewards” for accomplishing things more quickly than expected (i.e. free time means I can watch an extra Friends episode).  Overestimating = relaxation.

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4. Under-Planning 

I used to wake up in high school, thinking about all the things I had to accomplish before I could go back to bed.  Don’t get me wrong, I was happy.  I loved being busy and everything I did, I did because I wanted to – I just didn’t realize how fast I was going until I slowed down.  In recent years, I have learned how to under-plan and intentionally schedule ‘time off.’  I consistently set aside time for doing nothing.  The once very loud, “get ‘er done” voice in my head now has to negotiate with the newly discovered “let’s nap” voice.  Typically, a balance is struck and I avoid over-assigning myself stuff to do.  The fact remains that I am most able to relax once  I’ve checked everything off of my daily to-do list; I just work harder to slow down.

5. Bedtime Routine

I love to sleep and  I make it my job to be in my bed for at least 8 hours per night.  I usually fall asleep around 10pm, and since I have a one-year-old baby, I get up between 6-6:30am.  The night routine I’ve established helps me get into a relaxing state of mind.

  • Invest in comfortable pajamas and nice bedding
  • Spray lavender essential oil on my pillow (and I only lived in California for a few years, folks!)
  • Watch a show on Netflix (something light!) or read from my book
  • When I start feeling sleepy, I turn on my sound machine.

My blood pressure certainly appreciates my newfound ability to relax, and I hope it will become easier and easier with practice.


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