The Psychological Reasons why Relaxing Leaves you Stressed


(v.) Being stressed that relaxing makes you more stressed because you’re not working on what’s making you stressed.

Raise your hand if you’ve foregone working on a project, writing a medium article or working to watch ‘the last season of a certain Netflix series.’

You binge-watched the series and instead of feeling relaxed and entertained, you felt guilty of the time you wasted, and the project you never finished. Raise both hands if you’ve scheduled time to relax and unwind only to end up feeling guilty the entire time, or thinking of work.

While you might have been looking forward to your time off or holiday, it’s hard to relax when the holiday rolls in.

Here are the psychological reasons why relaxing leaves you stressed:

1. Relaxing leaves you more worried and anxious

I first noticed this when it was almost Christmas and I would map out the books that I’d want to read during the Christmas period.

Most of these books were business-related and I’d use these to map out projects for the coming month and the following year. Instead of sleeping, eating and watching Christmas movies with the family, I’d dig into what was not successful and what did these books say about these areas? This problem persists because we live in a capitalistic world of getting things done and being in work and beast mode all the time.

When you finally plan to relax, you’re unable to relax as your mind tells you of the things you could be working on instead of ‘sitting down.’

This makes you worried and unable to relax. Another reason why you’re unable to relax is that you’ve read so many articles and books on building business and solving problems, that you’ve conditioned your brain to always be in this state. Scientists have found that relaxing techniques such as meditation and yoga actually makes people with relaxation-induced anxiety worse.

The more relaxed they get, the more they worry.

2. Relaxing makes you feel guilty

Guilt can take the form of negative self-talk and self-blame.

This is why I don’t achieve much as other writers, I’m always lounging.

I’m sure other successful x in my industry don’t lounge as I do.

You’ve been conditioned to believe that you alone are responsible for your success or lack thereof. Your environment plays no role in your success. You can do it, if only you do more and put in more hours. Scheduling time to relax is betraying your future self and stealing hours from your success.

This is hard if you work in a crowded environment competing with other competent players.

What you forget is that while you started from zero or the negative, they might have started from 1 or 50. Give yourself more grace and let go of the guilt you feel when you schedule time to relax. Let’s face it, we can tell whether we are relaxing or being lazy. Laziness can be fixed by playing a favourite playlist and getting something done.

On the other hand, relaxation is needed especially if we have been working for long periods of time.

3. Stress is how you punish yourself for the anticipated failure

I might as well lounge as the effort will not count.

I never get a big break so why try.

When I anticipate failure in my writing, especially when the algorithm is up in flames and doomsday conspiracies are flaring, I don’t write.

Why write when the effort won’t count?

I dive in to a series of Korean drama only to realize that when I was lounging, others were writing and getting bonuses. I did not write because I anticipated failure. I anticipated failure so I can watch a Korean drama without the guilt attached to stresslaxing.

Scientists called this contrast avoidance. That

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder avoid negative emotional contrasts (shifts) by creating and sustaining negative emotions through worry, and the main fear in these individuals is negative emotional contrasts.

One of the therapists I worked with said that anxiety is how we avoid taking action and knowing the result. Instead of taking action, we nurse the worry and anxiety instead of taking action because of fear.

If a negative event happens, in this case, failure, we don’t feel bad as we already anticipated it. The alternative would have been to put the effort into the work and then wait for the results.

Individuals with anxiety don’t follow the latter as this would mean negative emotions in the event of failure. Their emotion regulation strategy is ‘to keep themselves in a negative emotion through worry so that they will not experience a sharp shift in negative emotions.’

The past 1.5 years have taught me how to move from the #beastmode work life. To give me more grace and move at a pace that doesn’t bring burnout. To allow me to relax and be present.

As someone who has suffered from anxiety in the past, and to some degree in the present, I find great joy in reading and writing of ways to help my mind.

I hope you do too.

This article first appeared in Mind Cafe.

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