Do you find it difficult to unwind and rest? Here's why we struggle to pause and relax, and how to overcome it. Discover the 6 steps for how to allow yourself a much-needed break.
By Roksana Fraczek | Dream-Career
Photo: Mario Kocipier via Canva
Do you allow yourself the time to slow down? Or do you push yourself to keep going, even when you're exhausted? Giving yourself permission to relax can be difficult. Especially when the voice inside your head demands you to be productive all the time. But, sometimes, the most productive thing you can do is... nothing at all. And yet, while you somehow know it, you still struggle to do it.
You seem to know the importance of rest when it comes to people you love and care about. When your friends or family members are exhausted, you tell them to go take a break, have a cup of tea, and put their feet up. You don't want them to push themselves too hard and risk burning out. But when it comes to yourself, you often fail to show the same level of compassion. Why?
Why do you struggle to slow down?
There are a number of reasons why it's hard to relax, even when you know you really need to. For one thing, we live in a society that values productivity and speed above anything else. Our culture tells us that the only way to achieve success is to keep grinding away. This pressure to be constantly "on" often comes from our bosses, our colleagues, or even our friends.
We live with an unspoken expectation that we should always be available and working towards our next goal. And if it's not the case, we often feel guilty when we're not doing it. We tell ourselves that we should be using our time wisely and that taking a break is just a "waste of time". But the reality is that we're not machines – we can't keep going at full speed all the time without eventually hitting a wall. Our bodies and minds need time to recover from the demands of work, or we risk burning out.
When you think you are doing yourself a favor
Have you ever told yourself that you'll just "finish this one thing tonight" or "prepare that other thing over the weekend" to get more free time later on? While getting ahead on your work may seem like you're doing yourself a favor, in reality, you're only putting more pressure on yourself and creating conditions for the quality of your work to go down. In fact, a study from Stanford University showed that working more than 50 hours a week not only doesn't help you do more but it also leads your productivity to fall down!
By not giving yourself enough time to relax you start your week off feeling exhausted. And when you're tired, it's more difficult for you to concentrate and your productivity levels go down. And since you're the last person who would ever allow that to happen, you start putting in even more hours to catch up on the work and have even less time to switch off and relax. And so, the vicious cycle of burnout begins.
It's important to remember that taking care of your mental and physical health is the very thing that will allow you to do your best work. And in order to do that, you need to make time for rest and play. That doesn't mean you can't go above and beyond in what you do - it just means that you need to consider relaxation as an important part of your work, and not an optional extra.
When you are addicted to stress
When you are operating under chronic stress for too long your body can grow dependent on the stress hormones that are released during times of unrest. Whether it's healthy or not your body craves the chemical rhythm of adrenaline and cortisol even when you're on holiday and want to rest. This can lead to feeling anxious when you're not working and agitated when you're trying to meditate or just sit and relax.
You might not even realize that you're addicted to stress because it can feel normal to always be on the go. And this is a problem because it means that you're not giving your body the chance to recover from the constant strain you're putting it under.
Thankfully, relaxation can be both active or passive, and it's important to find what works for you. If you want to break the cycle of stress addiction, it's important that you don't force yourself to completely change your lifestyle overnight but find a gradual way to introduce healthier habits that will override your body's unhealthy dependence on stress hormones.
When slowing down means you are not enough
A more insidious reason why we have a hard time slowing down is - perfectionism.
Perfectionism is the belief that we need to be constantly achieving and doing in order to be worthy of love, belonging and respect. It's an incredibly damaging mindset that can lead to all sorts of problems, including anxiety, depression, and even burnout.
And it's this perfectionism that often drives us to keep going, even when we're exhausted. We secretly believe that we need to push through and get everything done, or else we won't be good enough or people will discover we are a fraud. Perfectionism can lead to a never-ending cycle of working and pushing ourselves harder, even when our bodies are begging us to stop.
So, if you're struggling to take breaks or slow down, it's important to examine your perfectionist tendencies. Are you putting pressure on yourself to be constantly productive? Are you afraid to stop and rest because you think it means you're not good enough?
If so, it's time to examine the root causes of these harmful beliefs. Because the truth is you are worthy of love – regardless of how much you accomplish.
How to give yourself a break?
If you're struggling to slow down, here are 6 steps that can help you experience more ease in your life:
1. Make a list of your priorities
When you're feeling overwhelmed, it can be helpful to get clear on what's most important. This will help you focus on what really needs to get done and delegate or let go of the rest.
So, sit down and write out a list of your top 3 priorities. What is truly important to you? What do you need to focus on in order to meet your goals? Once you have your list, refer to it often and use it to guide your decision-making. This will help you stay on track and avoid getting bogged down in tasks that aren't truly important.
2. Set boundaries
In order to make time for rest, it's important to set boundaries with your work. This might mean setting a hard stop to your workday or saying 'no' to extra assignments. It's also important to communicate your boundaries to others, so they know when you're unavailable. Let your team, family, and friends know that you're not available 24/7. And make sure to schedule time for yourself – even if it's just 15 minutes a day.
Remember, your time is valuable. And you deserve to have some time for yourself. So, don't be afraid to set boundaries and stick to them.
3. Reframe the meaning of rest
It's hard to relax when you equate relaxation with "wasting time" or "doing nothing". But this cannot be further from the truth. You can still be active and get things done when you relax. It may just look like reading a book, drawing, doing sports or going for a walk.
Whatever form of relaxation you choose, it's important to remember that resting is just as important as working. When you take the time to recharge, you're able to come back to your tasks with fresh energy and a clear mind. And you're also less likely to make mistakes and more likely to be productive in the long run.
4. Establish healthier habits
One of the best ways to break the cycle of stress addiction is to establish healthy habits that override your body's dependence on stress hormones. This might include things like regular exercise, finding a compelling hobby, or journaling.
These activities can help you process stress, meet new people and promote relaxation. They can also be a great way to clear your mind and give yourself some time to think about things other than work. So, make a commitment to yourself to establish some enjoyable healthy habits that will help you take a break.
5. Practice self-compassion
If you're struggling to slow down, it's likely because you're being too hard on yourself. So, it's important to practice self-compassion. This means accepting yourself and being kind, in the same way, you would be to a good friend. Remember, you are doing the best you can, and taking a break will help you show up as your best self.
To practice self-compassion, try to adopt a kind and loving inner dialogue. When you feel tired, instead of berating yourself, try to tell yourself "it's okay, I'm human, I need to rest". Or when you're feeling overwhelmed, check if you haven't taken too much on your shoulders and remind yourself "I'm doing the best I can but is everything I do equally important?"
6. Get support
If you're finding it impossible to slow down or take a break, the fastest way to find relief is to seek professional help. A therapist or coach can help you understand and manage your perfectionism. They can also provide guidance and support as you work to establish healthier habits and create a more positive dialogue with yourself.
Take the first step today and reach out for help if you're struggling to take a break.
You deserve to have a break
While it might seem like a luxury, rest is essential to your well-being, both mental and physical. When you don't take the time to recharge, you're more likely to make mistakes, get sick, and experience burnout. So, if you're struggling to slow down, take a step back to clarify priorities, be kind to yourself and seek professional help. Knowing when to say "stop" or ask for support are signs of real strength - your body and mind will thank you for it.
We never know who might be silently going through a difficult time and might be in need of help. If you liked this post and found it helpful, be sure to share it with your friends. If you want to find out more about how to break the cycle of burnout and receive tips and resources to help you on your journey to recovery join the Newsletter below.