9 Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty When You Relax
Does this sound familiar? You’re exhausted, run down, making sure you tick the next thing off your To-Do list, when all you really want is some time off? An hour of down-time, an evening of pampering or even a day off from the madness. But instead, you keep going because when you know, if you do stop, you’ll just feel guilty about it.
If you do manage to take a break, your mind keeps going at 90mph, thinking about all the things waiting for you, while the weight in the pit of your stomach keeps growing, until you finally give in and get back to it. Not rested, not relaxed but still keeping going.
This is an all too common scenario for plenty of people, me included, and as I’m sure you know, it’s not a healthy mind-set. Constant work can lead to burn out, where your body and mind just give up on you and put you out of action for a lot longer.
However, relaxation needn’t come with constant feelings of guilt and shame. There are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way which help me to manage any nasty negative thoughts that might crop up, and instead help me to enjoy and benefit from my down time.
Acknowledge you deserve relaxation time
Guilt is a feeling designed to help you identify when you’ve done something wrong, and is there to guide you to rectify something and make it right. However, why do we feel it when we’re relaxing? For a certain generation of parents, constant work was the norm. Especially in the UK, the Keep Calm and Carry On ethos was an integral part British culture for decades. Relaxation was synonymous with laziness, often something you were berated for, and this was probably something a lot of us were raised with. Therefore, these attitudes can seep into our thought patterns and discourage ourselves from taking time off.
Although hard work is no bad thing, life has changed dramatically and we face very different demands and pressures to those of our parents. Relaxation is not laziness and it is something we all need and deserve and should prioritise. Remind yourself of this whenever these unhelpful thoughts creep in by combatting them with affirmations such as “I deserve to relax”. Find positive wording that works for you and resonates with you, and repeat it to yourself whenever you need reminding. Remember - relaxation time is important, necessary and 100% ok.
Schedule your relaxation time in
Often a lot of the guilt we feel when we’re having time off is due to a lack of accomplishment. I’m sure you know the feeling – you have time off and don’t do anything of any substance, maybe just faff about in your PJs all day, watching Netflix and playing on your phone. And you’ll tell yourself “I’ve wasted a day” or “I had a day off and got nothing to show for it”. All because you haven’t technically achieved anything.However, if you schedule in your lazy time, and plan what you’re going to do, no matter what you actually do, you will feel that sense of accomplishment.
Us human beings love goals, we love having something to strive for, and ticking something off our lists, so next time you have some time off, schedule in an hour or two of aimless social media scrolling, or Netflix-surfing, or even staring at the ceiling. If you’d normally feel guilty about doing it, make it a task to be completed, and you’ll give yourself that sense of accomplishment you need.
Put your phone down and stay off social media
Social media is good for many things but it’s created a world of constant and unnecessary comparison. We see somebody doing something, going somewhere, meeting someone that we’ve always wanted to and subconsciously, or maybe consciously, those nasty feelings of jealousy crop up. Likewise, if we see our friend has just gotten a new job, a promotion, the unhelpful thoughts can pop up - “I should be doing more”, “I need to work harder”. It’s not healthy to be constantly comparing ourselves to others.
Find something else to do in your down time so you don’t give these thoughts the fuel they thrive on. Social media is designed to capture and hold our interest, often keeping us in a state of constant alertness, looking for the post or image to like. So wean yourself off your phone now and again, go out and enjoy some time in nature, or read a good book. Allow your mind to gently embrace other forms of engagement, ones that don’t leave us feeling as bad about ourselves.
Acknowledge what your body is telling you
If you’re struggling to relax your mind, I’m guessing your body is struggling to unwind as well. Constant fidgeting, restless legs, nail biting, playing with your hair – you can’t help but always be doing something. It’s almost as if your body has an electric charge going through it, keeping you active and alert constantly.
Your body knows you better than you may realise, so if your body is constantly moving, it’s a sign your mind isn’t relaxed. Acknowledge these signs, take control of what your body is doing and start to slow it down artificially. Get up out of your seat, stand up straight and move slowly. Walk forward deliberately slow, like watching somebody on a slow-motion video. Talk to yourself slowly too. Elongate every word, make every gesture and movement more gradual and calm.After a few minutes, your brain takes note of your physiology and the more relaxed pace you’re working at, and it will calm your thinking and feeling down too.
Change your scenery
The power of nature is undeniable. Getting outside and going on a walk might be the last thing you want to do when you want to relax, but if you’re unable to calm your mind, calming your surroundings could be just the trick.
When we’re stuck in doors, looking at the same four walls, we’re surrounded by the familiar. This allows the same thought patterns that crop up regularly to work their magic unhindered. When we change our scenery, especially by going outside, we allow our brains to be engaged and excited by new sights, sounds and smells. It fills our minds with new content and new information, which stops us giving so much time and energy to the same old negative thoughts. Plus of course a bit of fresh air and sunny vitamin D works wonders for the body and mind.
Relaxation doesn't have to mean doing nothing
The word ‘relaxing’ conjures up so many visuals of quiet time, sat on the sofa, enjoying some peace and stillness. But if you feel guilty slowing down, it could be because that isn’t how you need to relax! Relaxation can come in many forms – a hobby, something creative, exercise, meditation – whatever floats your boat.
For me, it’s baking. I imagine for some people the thought of spending their day off making a kitchen full of cakes sounds more exhausting than their To Do list, but for me, even though I’m doing something, it’s relaxing. Don’t be restricted by the standard definition of relaxation – although having a sit down at the end of a day is beneficial and very necessary, it’s not the only form of relaxation in the world. Plus it’s another way of feeling that warm fuzzy accomplishment-goodness that us humans love!
Take a more mindful approach to life
I’m sure if you feel guilty when you try to relax, these anxious, shame-ridden feelings probably rear their ugly heads in other aspects of your life. Adopting a more mindful approach to life in general is one of the best ways of reducing stress overall. Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you focus on the here and now, not letting yourself be distracted or overwhelmed by the past or present.
It’s a skill which requires practice and commitment, whereby you focus on your breath, the sensations in your body and your current thoughts and feelings.There’s only so much I can say about mindfulness in this blog so take a look at our collection of books which will give you more of an in-depth look at how to utilise and incorporate mindfulness into your life.
Reframe 'relaxation time' as 'recovery time'
Like I said, the word ‘relaxation’ is often synonymous with laziness, however it’s also often used in a luxurious, extravagant context. Advertisers will often encourage you to ‘treat yourself to some relaxing [insert thing here] …’, implying that relaxation should only be a treat, a once in a while gift that we should give ourselves as a luxury. The word is weighed down with so many unnecessary connotations.
So stop using it! Instead tell yourself you need ‘recovery time’, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s time for your body and mind to recover from a tiring, stressful period. Your muscles need to rest, your mind needs to slow down and you need to refuel your tank ready whatever’s next.
Make a commitment to feeling less guilty
Whatever you decide to do in order to tackle the guilt you feel when you relax, commit to it. Negative thoughts and feelings are formed out of habit, for any number of reasons, and the best way to manage them is to form new, healthier habits.Forming a new habit takes commitment, and won’t be easy at first as your brain will want to default to it’s go-to, typical response.
Don’t be despondent if feelings of guilt keep showing themselves when you try to relax, don’t beat yourself up or judge yourself too harshly. Acknowledge them, accept them and implement your chosen strategy. The more you encourage your brain to adopt the more positive thought pattern or habit, the more it’ll do it naturally and subconsciously.