In episode 286, I received a question from an individual who experiences anxiety about having free time to the point of avoiding taking vacations or time off from work. In this post, I dive into the fundamentals underpinning this anxiety, talk about how it’s more common than you think, and take a look at ways to help address this anxiety.
Hi Robert, I have a potential question for the podcast about increased anxiety around having free time off of work.
Question: I often find myself feeling exhausted or burnt out from working and just being busy with life, however I experience a lot of anxiety about having free time. Despite feeling exhausted, I avoid taking my vacation time and find myself dreading long weekends because my anxiety tends to increase when I have extra unscheduled time. I was wondering if you have any tips about how I can get to a place where I can find peace and enjoyment with simply relaxing?
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my question. On a personal note, I just wanted to take this moment to thank you for all of the work you are doing. I am finding myself in a place where I need some extra help with managing my anxiety, which is how I happened upon your podcast. I have been finding the podcast very helpful and insightful, it has encouraged me to go back to therapy, and I also just purchased your online course to work on in conjunction with the therapy. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge in a way that is approachable, accessible, and easy to understand and apply! Wishing you all the best
Thank you for the question. This is so common and totally normal! Let’s get into it. I can totally relate to this as well. I totally need time off at times, but then I can get super restless and agitated and not know what to do with myself when I actually take that time off. And as I said, this is totally normal. It’s kind of tragic when you think about it in terms of the fact that this is basically driven by capitalism. It’s also a lens that is very ableist. Rest isn’t just a form of recreation for a lot of people. It’s a necessary part of them surviving, and they should be able to rest more than they do without feeling inherently guilty about it. If you really take a step back, it’s kind of gross.
For you, I think that one sort of mindset shift you can make is realizing that resting and recharging is not wasting time. It’s actually PART of productivity. It’s an investment in your future productivity. You mentioned already that you are feeling exhausted or burned out. We like to think that we can push through anything, and in some ways, we can. But if I were to do a controlled study on you and look at your output and quality of work over time, I would definitely see that you do better work when you are rested and not stressed out. It is productive and necessary to rest. It’s better for you to do 4 hours of solid, well-rested work than 8 hours of distracted, sad, lousy work. So, if you find that self-judgments and this moral sense of having to work more is contributing to your feelings of anxiety and such, try to remind yourself of this. That you are doing the right thing, even if it’s viewed through that capitalist lens.
Schedule your time
You might have to intentionally put some work into getting used to it, though. It’s okay that this doesn’t feel like your natural state. It is worth it to try to do a little deprogramming here. One way that you might be able to sort of backdoor your way into intentionally relaxing is to put it onto your calendar. Like, block off a few hours over the weekend to intentionally focus on relaxation. It may be less the relaxation part that is difficult for you, but the lack of structure. You are still allowed to do activities and things, but it might be that you need to give yourself a little time and space to think about it.
I have definitely been known to still outline my days on Saturday and Sunday. I will wake up, grab some coffee, do a sudoku, and then write out what I want to do with the day. It might include taking the boys to the park, some housework, some gaming time, a run or other exercise, I might even brainstorm some potential movies or other activities to do that evening. That’s very different from the way my wife does things, which is okay. To each their own. I tend to be more like you, so I understand that rest and intentionally doing non-work things is necessary, but being aimless is always a little hard for me. As I said, you are still allowed to do activities, but you might think about switching the focus.
Take time to grow
The weekend is a great time for adventure or personal development. I tend to do more of my non-fiction reading on the weekends. This past Sunday, you could catch me on the porch with a cocktail watching the kids play and reading books on dog training and eating disorders. For you, maybe this is a time to watch a documentary you’ve been meaning to or take an online class or an in-person class. To finally try ax-throwing or drive to a restaurant you’ve been craving. You don’t just have to sit and do absolutely nothing. But you can. You can absolutely do that as well. There is nothing wrong with handling the minimum around the house and then just binging the crap out of a show on your favorite streaming platform.
You might need some practice at this. It sounds silly possibly, but you might need to get better at tolerating the uncertainty that comes along with having free time. Remind yourself that it’s okay. That you aren’t doing anything wrong. That, in fact, you are doing something right. Give yourself a little pat on the back, and try your best to get back to enjoying yourself. Over time, it will become easier. The other thing is that you also don’t need to beat yourself up for not relaxing in the “right” way. Even if you spent all of Saturday driving yourself crazy because you are restless and feel guilty… that’s still okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. You can have compassion for yourself knowing that you were kinda stressed, but you don’t need to feel guilty about it. You still didn’t work. And your brain is just still adjusting to that.
Take a moment to be mindful
I haven’t talked about the best friend trick in a while, but you can definitely use that as a way to help ease your guilt and discomfort. The best friend trick is when you imagine that your best friend, a family member, or someone else you care about were in the same exact situation. They are free for the weekend and feeling anxious and guilty because they feel like they should be working. When you think of them in that situation, do the same harsh judgments that you apply to yourself come up? Most often the answer to that is no. So, when you catch yourself falling into unhelpful thinking patterns and applying those judgments to yourself, try out the best friend trick as another way to re-orient you.
Another thing that I haven’t talked about in at least a couple of episodes is mindfulness meditation. By sticking with a consistent mindfulness practice, you can learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and emotions more readily without them fully consuming you. You essentially get better at noticing these things and allowing them to peacefully exist in the background among your other thoughts and feelings.
So hopefully those thoughts are helpful to you. You are doing the right thing. You need some practice at relaxing. Don’t feel like you have to be aimless, though. And great job thinking about how you can be even better to yourself!
You can listen to this on Episode 286 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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