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Give Yourself Permission to Unplug

4 ways you can ward off relaxation-induced anxiety.

Have you heard the term “stresslaxation” before? It affects some people, especially high performers, who have a hard time relaxing. It strikes when they’ve finally taken time away from work and other responsibilities to engage in self-care activities – but can’t get in the headspace to actually enjoy them.

Stresslaxation is nothing new. This phenomenon, more formally known as relaxation-induced anxiety, has been studied for years. One study concluded that it affects worriers because relaxation interrupts the act of worrying. A different theory suggests it’s an association between relaxation and lack of control. Yet another blames it on an addiction to productivity.

The bottom line? Stresslaxation is not healthy. Trying so hard to fit in time to “relax” that it becomes yet another stressful exercise leads to, at best, what some call the Sunday scaries.. At worst, it can lead to complete burnout. Here’s how you can combat stresslaxation.

Understand the connection.

Sometimes just understanding that you have a hard time getting into the mindset to relax is enough to help you overcome the feeling. Taking time to reflect on why you’re experiencing anxiety as you approach relaxation (and even writing down your observations in a journal) will help you better address the feeling and break the pattern.

Consider a chill activity (one that’s productive).

You can trick your brain into thinking you’re still being productive by choosing a low-key activity that will give you a sense of accomplishment. Some ideas include teaching yourself something new with a book, recipe, documentary, or website; creating something artistic from start to finish in one sitting; or completing a light stretch or walk.

Be active but unplugged.

Downtime doesn’t need to be physically relaxing. Often, removing yourself from your environment (especially if you work from home) and doing something active or adventurous will force your brain to take a break. You may feel more accomplished getting outside and taking a bike ride or hiking a new trail.

Keep a list of go-to activities.

You may feel stressed just thinking about what you should do to relax. Having to plan can add to the pressure. Creating a list of your favorite calming activities takes the brain power out of deciding what you should do with your downtime. The key is to make these blocks of time – pencil them into your calendar if you can – as easy and enjoyable as you can.

Turning off work mode can be challenging. But the benefits of prioritizing downtime and making space to reenergize will pay dividends when Monday rolls around. These tips will help you overcome relaxation-induced anxiety and give you permission to achieve a healthy, more fulfilling balance in life.

If you tend to have trouble turning off your mind and enjoying a little “me” time, try these methods for getting in the groove of relaxation:

  • Block off your calendar to indicate this is time you planned to take it easy
  • Plan ahead by creating a list of go-to activities you enjoy for relaxation
  • Consider active or adventurous downtime, like hiking a new trail


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