Why Some People Cannot Relax Is it challenging for you to find time to relax without losing your drive? When in constant work mode, we can feel like a production machine, but we can also feel afraid to relax for fear of falling into a non-working rut.

Nonstop working can work for a while, but it can become extremely exhausting, stressful, and unhealthy, and may put a strain on us and the people we care about in life.

There may be several invisible assumptions that cause us to be afraid to relax for fear of falling into a non-working rut. Here are a few that you may have that’s keeping you from achieving with ease, along with some helpful tips.

If you are beginning to feel like you’re burning out, doing other tasks that give you a sense of mastery can help you overcome the need to use work as an excuse for productivity. Learn to make a new dish, take a class in something that suits your fancy, or tackle a non-work-related task.

Productivity Versus Relaxation

Productivity is a feeling that comes from accomplishing something, and is not necessarily fulfilled by work alone. Sometimes it just takes finishing something that has been put off for a while. The next question to ask yourself is what would it mean to you if you think that you’re not productive? Which leads us to the next assumption.

Are there people that you know who aren’t productive but are still worthy of respect, attention, and care? Just because you’re not caught up being busy doesn’t make you unimportant. There are plenty other areas in life — like your relationships with family and friends — that could use your attention and can make you feel just as, if not more, important. To dig deeper, a question you can ask is why would it be upsetting to you that you’re not valuable, worthy, or successful?

The advantage of believing this assumption is that it will motivate you to work hard and be very disciplined in accomplishing your goals. At the same time, the disadvantage of believing it is that if you don’t achieve as well as you’d like, you may interpret this as there’s something wrong with you. One alternative way to approach this assumption is to tell yourself, “Yes, it’s important for me to be productive and do my best.

Congratulate Yourself on Your  Successes 

Sometimes, I’ll do well and sometimes things won’t turn out as well as I had hoped. I can enjoy my successes but they won’t make me better than anyone else. Likewise, my less successful attempts will be disappointing, but I can learn from them and they won’t make me any less important or worthy.” Talking to ourselves in this way will also ensure that we celebrate our progress in shades of gray, rather than all or nothing, so that we maintain emotional resilience.

True, having approval does make you feel good. In fact, it makes me feel good. The trouble comes when we are dependent on it to feel good about ourselves. Are there ways that you can validate yourself right now to feel good? My friend Nicholas keeps track of each task he’s done by keeping count on his stopwatch throughout the day — equivalent to giving himself gold stars. By monitoring each success, you may be more aware of what’s going well and less likely to discount the positive things going on in your life.

If you’re reading this and nodding your head vigorously to each assumption, it may be useful to challenge your own attitudes and beliefs and revise them so that you’re not caught up in self-defeating behavior when it comes to work and productivity. Sometimes, what we tell ourselves may help in times of productivity, and sometimes, they need to be questioned and reframed so that we don’t get down on ourselves when things don’t work out.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

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References

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Lahmann C, Schoen R, Henningsen P, et al. Brief relaxation versus music distraction in the treatment of dental anxiety: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2008;139(3):317–324.

Lang EV, Berbaum KS, Faintuch S, et al. Adjunctive self-hypnotic relaxation for outpatient medical procedures: a prospective randomized trial with women undergoing large core breast biopsy. Pain. 2006;126(1–3):155–164.

Medlicott MS, Harris SR. A systematic review of the effectiveness of exercise, manual therapy, electrotherapy, relaxation training, and biofeedback in the management of temporomandibular disorder. Physical Therapy. 2006;86(7):955–973.

Smith CA, Levett KM, Collins CT, et al. Relaxation techniques for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011;(12):CD009514. Accessed at www.thecochranelibrary.com on May 1, 2014.

Vickers A, Zollman C, Payne DK. Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001;175(4):269–272.

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