I am naturally quite a lazy person. I enjoy activities and rushing and getting stuff done, but I definitely need rest, and preferably one day of every weekend would involve not really leaving the sofa and certainly not leaving the house. I need more sleep than I ever, ever get, and I have the constant suspicion hanging over me that I could achieve rather great things should I ever actually feel well-rested and fully functioning.
I just don’t have a Type A personality. I’m not particularly competitive (friends and family never get bored of me saying so), and I have reasonable levels of what you might call ambition in that I want to progress, I want to be well thought of, and I get bored easily. But I’m not willing to work as hard as I need to in order to achieve my ‘dreams’; I value my work-life balance and relationships too highly to reach for the stars, so I just sort of reach a little above me in a way that is achievable but still feels like I’ve made a modicum of effort.
But unlike the classic Type B personality, I do very much let stress get to me. I have found increasingly that I get agitated and tired when I have a lot to think about, and I can’t really work out why: every job I’ve had has been busy and pressurised. My current role gives me plenty of autonomy but I have the support available, for the most part, when I need it. So I don’t understand why I seem to apportion seriousness to occasions that don’t require it; I take pride in doing a good job but I think it goes beyond that.
In September I took two weeks off to catch up on some sleep and generally unwind. We hadn’t had the quiet time at work during the summer that I had hoped for and I was feeling seriously frazzled. I planned a few activities but my main aim was really to rest and recharge, hang out with the Puss and potter about a bit. During my time off however, I felt like I was sitting on an anthill. My mind raced, I struggled to focus, and I was constantly distracted by what I ‘should’ be doing or what ‘needed’ to be done. I was overwhelmed by the small things- washing up, spraying some cleaner around the bathroom, putting a few items of clothing away- and how much there was to do, but I didn’t manage to get any really big projects done because I felt so trapped between trying to relax and being haunted by chores. My fortnight did not feel as enjoyable as I expected it to as I just came back to work feeling that I had forgotten how to relax.
Sali Hughes wrote a great piece for The Pool about the effect her smartphone was having on her life, and how stressed it made her. I have really been thinking about whether this could be a factor for me and while the reference to the small hits of dopamine we get as a result of an interaction on social media really resonated, I don’t feel that it is my phone that’s causing me to be so frazzled. I don’t rely on it as a tool for my work so I can keep it separate (I think!) and just enjoy downloaded episodes of The Bold Type on the Amazon Video app. Smartphones definitely don’t help us to wind down and I think there are strong arguments for not keeping them in the room in which you sleep; I also think that they’re always there to give that little hit of stimulation during a boring moment. I just can’t help but feel that my iPhone isn’t the problem, or it’s only part of the story.
This I do know: I recharge around people so I need my quiet time at home with my significant other, and I also need to hang out with friends and family, and to get out of the house. I need dumb TV to offset being busy at work, but that often doesn’t leave me room to feel intellectually nourished so on top of the podcasts I listen to- which are generally reasonably intelligent- I’ve signed up for a course through edx, which is a provider of online courses from universities all around the world. You can choose from hundreds of courses in the sciences, arts, law, technology, and it’s free so wonderfully democratic and inclusive. I paid £40 so that I get a certificate at the end, and it helps to support the programme, which is truly phenomenal. Predictably I haven’t got very far with my women’s history course yet but I know I’ll feel so much better when I pick it up again.
So the plan from here is to be sociable but not to the point that I’m exhausted; make sure that I’m continuing to learn challenging things; get some exercise in (I’m starting to walk more again but I need to be more consistent); and make sure I get a few more nights when I haven’t used wine to unwind. I still feel at this moment that I will struggle when I next have some time off from work to refresh, and at the moment I’m just not sure that the Headspace app is going to cut it. I do know that this intense woman will need to have a plan in place to get just the right level of activity and rest, a flexible plan that provides structure but not too much structure. I know I can’t be the only one, but I’m also not sure where to start. It definitely begins with taking my supplements on a regular basis, and finding a way to quiet that busy mind of mine, but beyond that relaxation for me seems to be a project all of its own.
Picture credit: relax by Saeful Muslim from the Noun Project