A 32 year old woman, employed in finance, comes in for therapy due to various physical complaints and difficulty sleeping. As we talk together, it becomes clear that professionally, she is a very ambitious and successful person. She is busy “climbing the ladder” and has little time for play and relaxation. “I work hard and play hard” she tells me. However, this appears to translate to “I work hard and then drink a lot to manage my stress.” As we proceed further into conversation, it is apparent that this woman was unable to allow herself to actually relax and play. She harbored a harsh, inner voice that would berate her any time she was being “unproductive.” Forget about taking a vacation!
This scenario is a common one- people who are driven by a need to achieve and be “productive” but who cannot tolerate the anxiety of “down time.” Reading, watching TV, hanging out with friends/family or just playing evoke the harsh and critical voice saying “You are not being productive. You are of little or no value.” I often find myself in the position of explaining how important it is to relax and play. Taking time-off becomes equated with being lazy or wasteful of time. I have to explain that time-off is extremely important and productive. It is restorative to our total selves. Without replenishing our supplies physically, spiritually and emotionally, we become depleted and at-risk for stress, anxiety and depression. We become weakened and our mind-bodies remind us that we cannot sustain this kind of lifestyle.
What can we do to replenish our selves?
Spend more time in cultivating our relationships- Our contacts with friends and family are so critical to our emotional well-being (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-resilience/201409/why-positive-relationships-are-needed-emotional-health)
Explore inner space- Spending time with our selves helps us to keep in touch with important feelings that we may otherwise ignore. Feelings do not like to be ignored! They will find creative ways to remind you of that!
Watch a good show (or even a bad show) or get lost in a book-
Just last week, Looney Tunes was the most requested show on Netflix. Escapism has it’s place as long as we return. It gives our brains a chance to reset and lower the stress levels.
Exercise/play a sport- This exercises the mind/body. We achieve better blood flow and feed all the organs with what they need. It is helpful for management of anxiety, mood and self-regulation in general.
Listen to or play music- Good brain exercise, especially if you are learning new music or a new instrument. Also helpful for self-calming (calming, peaceful music) or self-motivation.
The activities mentioned above are just some of the things we can do during “unproductive” time when we are playing that are, in reality, very productive for our brains and important in maintaining ourselves and our ability to continue to work. Especially now.