May 15, 2018

How to Relax When You Have No Time to Relax

(And how it will help you actually get more done every day)

Breathe in…breathe out…take some deep breaths and slow your mind and body.

This is your daily speed bump; a friendly reminder that the day doesn’t have to be rushed, and it’s not a sprint. Slow it down, even if just for a moment as you read this post. Taking the time for a break like this, today and in this moment, is the first step to feeling less stressed.

If you are wondering how to find time to relax, without giving up the goals and jobs that fuel your creativity and lifestyle, then this is the post for you.

Building relaxation takes, perhaps ironically, a little work. It’s an investment in living the life you want to live. And it is worth it.

Strategizing and incorporating relaxation into your schedule means you won’t forget about this important time or push it off until “later.” (Because “later” rarely comes.) And we’ve got some ideas for how you can accomplish this.

You have big dreams and goals for yourself that require dedication, persistence, and discipline, and a full schedule bursting at the seams accompanies that. But when you have a super busy schedule, the things your body and mind need the most are the first things to be eliminated, shortened, or shifted from your schedule such as:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Making healthy eating choices
  • Finding time to exercise and move your body
  • Setting aside down time
  • Working on hobbies or things that make you happy, like reading (for fun), gardening, playing music, etc.

You can only plan so much into your day and push yourself so hard before you risk squashing and sacrificing your productivity and your health. A sprint can’t be held forever. Giving yourself time to recharge ensures those ideas keep coming and your energy levels don’t fluctuate too much too often to the extreme ends of the spectrum.

You’re never too busy for a break

Because a good break actually makes you more productive, by recharging your mind and body.

It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to get more out of the 24 hours you have each day, taking a break will serve you better and maximize your productivity better than forging ahead without stopping would.

The consequences of not taking a break will actually slow you down in the long run. Burnout, stress, physical ailments and health problems, an inability to focus and problem solve limit your ability to do good work and get lots of things done.

In order to get more out of the 24 hours you have in a single day and maximize your productivity, it may seem counterintuitive to take a break when you really feel like you should keep forging ahead.

Studies show that when you come back from a break, you’re more refreshed, productive, and able to focus. Pushing yourself to your limits just doesn’t produce the same results no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that it will.

How to take a break

It’s part planning and part feeling. And everyone’s a little different.

First, look at your life/schedule on a macro level to see what relaxation time you can plan in advance. Then, brainstorm ways or things you can do in the moment when you’re not feeling your best, and practice recognizing when your mind and body are telling you they need a break.

Combining these two approaches forces you to take breaks and also be conscientious, adapting to the present moment and feelings.

Planning your breaks in advance

When you’re planning your week or the month ahead, take a look at the big picture. Are there specific weeks ahead that are super busy? Do you have a tough project that will be time consuming or overwhelming? These are the time periods you want to be on the lookout for.

Knowing yourself and what makes you feel your best and comforted, in addition to considering what your weeks and month ahead look like, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where in your schedule can you fit in relaxation? Maybe there’s a certain evening or day off that is ideal. Thinking big picture, look for specific days that you consistently have an hour or so free that you could regularly plan to set aside relaxation time.
  • When will you need relaxation? This takes some guesswork and foresight on your part, but imagine how you’ll feel after a certain day or week in your schedule and consider when you will need a break the most. Are you usually exhausted by a day full of meetings? Do you need extra special care once you’ve worked long hours hitting a deadline? Look for moments like these that will be coming up for you by looking at your upcoming schedule and thinking about how you’ve felt in similar situations in the past.
  • What relaxing things can you do with the time you have? Maybe you love to get massages – a great way to de-stress – but don’t necessarily have 60-90 minutes plus travel and wait time to do that this month. Plan equally satisfying alternatives that don’t take as long such as a bath, sauna/steam, or a short and targeted massage session. Use the time you have, even if it’s not as long as you’d like or doesn’t seem like it’s enough time. Fitting the time in is most important.

Next, schedule the relaxation time you’ve identified in your planner or calendar and make reminders for yourself so that you don’t skip it. Treat it as if it were an important, required meeting that cannot be rescheduled.

Do whatever you can to commit to this time; for example, blocking it out as busy on your calendar or incorporating it as part of your trip home after work (so that you don’t get sucked into distractions at the office) are good ideas.

And remember that the relaxation times you set aside for yourself and the activities you choose should be motivational. Pick something you look forward to and that encourages you to get through tough or challenging patches in your day or week, that won’t be easy for you to skip or ignore in the moment.

Day-to-day triggers and short breaks

On a smaller, day-to-day level, you also have to gauge how you’re feeling and be aware of triggers that indicate you need a break.

No matter how well you plan relaxation time in advance, things happen and it’s important to be flexible and adapt to how you feel in the present. But this can be hard to do when you’re focused on your work and super busy, consumed by the tasks at hand that the day goes by in a blur.

To avoid getting tunnel vision and forgetting to check in with yourself, use your phone, fitbit device, or electronic calendar to set up reminders for yourself approximately every hour, schedule permitting. Make a note to yourself to be aware of signs of physical discomfort, like fatigued eyes from using the computer for too long, stiff joints from sitting for too long, or dry mouth/chapped lips from not drinking enough water.

And don’t skip lunch, even if it’s brief and at your desk because skipping meals can make you tired, grouchy, and affect your ability to make decisions. Ideally, get up and go somewhere else for lunch, away from your desk and office, to experience a different surrounding to refresh.

When you’re in between two tasks or switching over from one time block to the next, this is a great time to take a quick break. By breaking during these transition moments, it won’t feel strange to take a break and it won’t disrupt your flow, like when you’re interrupted mid-thought, because you’re already in transition mode. It’s convenient, and helps you clear your mind for the next task ahead.

And if you’re contemplating whether or not to take a break, think you’re too busy for one, or if someone asks you to grab a coffee with them, this is when you need a break the most and don’t decline the offer!

Don’t wait for a break to simply appear in your schedule — odds are, if you are a busy person, a break will never just show up on its own; there are too many things demanding your attention. You have to take the initiative to give yourself one, even if just for a few minutes.

How to relax when you feel like you can’t

Scheduling your relaxation time in advance and incorporating ways to relax on the fly is awesome, but your plans to relax can still be derailed by an inability to actually relax — like when your mind is still focused on a conversation or project, or you can’t let go of the anxiety you feel for not progressing as far as you wanted to on a task.

This is when it’s hardest to disengage and allow yourself to enjoy the relaxation time you’ve planned for yourself.

If you can’t actually relax, you won’t feel the benefits and instead the time will feel wasted.

If this is the case, think of your relaxation time as active recovery and choose what you do during this time carefully. Active recovery is a type of physical workout but a good analogy in this case; basically, it is being active, but in a non-intense way that allows you to get the benefits of recovering without feeling like you’re doing nothing. You might go for a walk, take a phone call, or get in some work-related reading while exercising.

The goal is to wind yourself down and disengage a little bit at a time, easing yourself out of work mode and into relaxation mode.

Build in relaxation time even if it feels weird

When you’re going, going, going, full speed ahead for an extended period of time, a break feels very strange.

Going from 70 to 65 miles an hour doesn’t feel that significant, but 70 to 5 miles an hour sure does. It’s all relative, but don’t let that strange feeling deter you from taking the time to relax; you’re not weak or lazy for needing or taking a break.

And honestly, you’re never too busy for it even if you think you are. Like many things, it’s a balancing act between maintaining momentum and taking good care of yourself.

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