I’m 33 and I think I’ve forgotten how to relax. Highly-strung and energetic by nature, and nurtured with a Protestant work ethic, I’ve always enjoyed drawing up then ploughing through a to-do list; sloth-like stints in front of the TV were few and far between for me, even as a teenager (apart from when hungover, obvs). But the older I get, the less able I am to physically and mentally take time out. Try as I might, I can’t relax. Even when my body is still, my mind is running, running, running…
It’s down to a combination of factors, I know. Living in London – a city where everything happens that bit more quickly than elsewhere in the UK – has reinforced the part of my personality that nags at me to cram as much activity as possible into each minute. Career-wise, I held down a demanding job that trained me to multi-task endlessly, and even though I’ve since gone freelance and part-time, I’m still locked in the same mindset, unable to switch off. And of course, having a small child means that I have much less time available for myself than ever before, even if I could remember how to enjoy it. (Plus, there’s this little blog I do, which kind of eats into my down time…)
But still – does this mean, for example, that I have to run everywhere? I have always done this. At secondary school, my friend and I raced to the dinner hall every day to be first in the queue for lunch. When Rachel and I worked together, she used to laugh at me for always sprinting through the open-plan office to reach the loo, the photocopier or our next meeting. And nowadays, I find myself rushing from the office to the Tube, from the Tube to Oscar’s nursery, and back home, his pushchair juddering in front of me. The irony is that I hate running as an actual sport.
I’ll intend to relax. When I’m feeling stressed out, I promise myself I’ll book a massage soon, but I never get around to it. I’ll run a bath for some ‘me-time’, get in, get bored (or cold) immediately, debate whether to top up the hot water, then get out again. I’ll bring a magazine into the kitchen to read while cooking, before remembering that the knives need sharpening, or spotting something that could do with a good scrub, or deciding to audit and rearrange the contents of the fridge. I can’t just ‘be’.
It’s not that I’m unhappy – getting things done calms me, I suppose, and I find activities such as cooking and swimming pleasurable. I know this is the way I am, but when life is stressful, being able to switch off in a meaningful way (rather than just conking out when my head hits the pillow) is a gift.
Both by circumstance and design, there is never any end to my to-do list. Perhaps the only way to actually get myself to relax would be to add it as an item on the damn list.
Do you find it easy to relax? How do you relax? Give me some tips by leaving a comment below.