I don’t necessarily enjoy down time. It’s not because I don’t love hanging out with friends, going out for dinner, or binging on Netflix. Those are some of my favourite things. But every time I engage in this down time I start to think about all the other things I could be, or should be, doing. The more important things. Down time is something that I treat myself to. Something I typically reserve for the end of the day once I’ve earned it. I have a problematic relationship with down time.
I am a living illustration of those frantic women in rom-coms who run around like a chicken with its head chopped off; trying to get everything done and struggling to say no to people. My inclination to give 100% all the time, coupled with my struggle to relax, means I also fail to devote time to self-care.
Self-care is arguably the most en vogue term on the internet right now. Every website, company, Instagram account and lifestyle blog is talking about the importance of self-care.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many articles that talk about how to utilize self-care as a means to help alleviate anxiety. Most articles I read talk about buying ice cream, getting your make-up done, or taking baths with multi coloured bath bombs. All great things, of course, but often my anxiety doesn’t need pampering, it needs help. I also haven’t seen many articles that speak specifically to Type A people: perfectionists who need to be in control and are obsessed with productivity. Me in a nutshell.
While dealing with anxiety, I have learned that big steps are sometimes impossible, small steps are better than no steps, and no steps are sometimes a reality. This has been a hard notion to grasp, especially since consolation prizes have never really been prizes to me at all. But I have been working on changing my mindset – deconstructing my ‘winning and losing’ attitude towards every aspect of life – to recognize and accept that life is messy, chaotic and sometimes very stressful.
Here are a few things that have helped me, and maybe they will help you too.
1. Exercise, but do not compete.
Many studies have shown that exercise can reduce anxiety and depression. As someone with a competitive streak, I have learned there are better ways to use exercise as a tool for mental health. Personally, if I am dealing with anxiety, I find going to a workout class does not help me. The same goes for gyms. Being surrounded by people, or having someone constantly telling me what to do, does not serve to reduce my anxiety. I find exercising by myself works better for me. When I am experiencing anxiety, I stay away from high intensity work outs. I prefer to do yoga in my home or go for a nice long walk outside. These slow peaceful activities help me to clear my head and steady my heartbeat.
2. Don’t engage in ‘productive' activities to alleviate your anxiety.
If you need a break from one source of stress (ex – work) try not do another activity deemed productive, like cleaning the kitchen or doing your taxes. When giving yourself a break, make it a real break. Make yourself a nice meal if you like to cook. Call your friend to reminisce about old memories. Read a book or do some art. Play a game of pick-up basketball.
3. Check something small off your list.
However, if doing something ‘completely unproductive’ only further aggravates your anxiety, then check something small off your list. Do you need to go to the pharmacy? Have you exercised yet today? If those may be too big, perhaps just change the sheets on your bed. Make yourself some food. Brush your teeth. If you can check one item off your list, no matter how small, this may help give you some peace of mind and perhaps allow you to engage in a more relaxed self-care activity.
4. Forgive yourself.
Type-A people are notoriously hard on themselves. I know I can write a great exam and proceed to stress over the two-point question I didn’t answer well. I can host a great community event and replay the one logistical mistake over and over in my head.
While this is easier said than done… forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not knowing an answer, for missing a deadline, for forgetting a birthday, or for having an uncomfortable social interaction. We are human and we make mistakes. Remind yourself that there is room for error when living life; no one does it perfectly.
5. Celebrate your achievements.
Celebrating achievement (same goes for forgiving yourself) is particularly important for women. Too often, in our third wave of feminism, this age of empowerment translates into women feeling the need to ‘have it all.’ Not surprisingly, women can feel as though they are failing when they don’t live up to this impossible standard.
So take time to sit down and reflect upon your achievements. Did you try a new work out class? Get a new job? Finally organize your filing cabinet? Hit a home run on a work presentation? Graduate from school? Remember that! Just because you are struggling in one or two areas of your life doesn’t mean that you never do well. Remember that you have achieved your goals before, and one day you will achieve more goals.
Your best, is your best, is your best.
As someone who is very competitive, it can be hard not to sprint to every finish line, let alone to sit down and a take a breath. But over the years, I have learned that my best is all I can give, so that has to be enough.
I am not the best, but I am my best, and that’s ok. I am not my best when I don’t feel my best, and that’s important to know. I am not impervious to pain, but I’m strong enough to get through it, and that’s badass.
I say it again to remind myself: I am not the best, but I am my best, and that’s ok.
I am not the best, but I am my best, and that’s ok.
I am not the best, but I am my best, and that’s ok.