Tips For Embracing Doing Nothing For Once When You're Always On The Go

In a society that encourages and praises constant productivity at work and at home, choosing to rest when there is work to be done, chores to be completed, and errands to run doesn't always feel like an option. However, constantly being on the move and feeling the need to get things done can lead to negative consequences for your body and your mind. "We aren't designed to go, go, go," says Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D. via SELF. "Our nature is not to have a nonstop 12-hour workday and a six-hour sleep cycle. That's really going against what our biological needs call for, which is adequate downtime." Not allowing yourself adequate rest and relaxation can lead to burnout, which can negatively impact both your mental and physical well-being.

"A busy schedule translates into stress on your mind, body, and soul," stress expert Dr. Pete Sulack tells Bustle. "Even though most of us equate being stressed and busy with success, the truth is that chronic stress will eventually lead to premature aging of your cells, a dumbing down of your mind, and a significant increase in the risk for modern diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, hormonal disruptions, and diabetes. Finding time to relax is an important and effective counterbalance to the stresses of everyday modern life."

Doing nothing isn't always as easy as it might seem, however, especially for people who have been conditioned to associate relaxation with laziness. Following these tips can help you learn to finally embrace relaxation.

Understand the root of your relaxation guilt

The first step to combating the guilt you feel when not getting something done is understanding why you feel that way in the first place. According to psychologist Angela Neal-Barnett, Ph.D., social media tends to be a big contributor to relaxation guilt for many people, who are left feeling like they need to "catch up" to how successful they perceive their peers to be (per SELF). Licensed clinical psychologist Adia Gooden, Ph.D. adds that women in particular often feel an added sense of pressure from society to constantly be doing something for someone else — be it their children, their partner, or society as a whole. Women, therefore, tend to feel a greater sense of guilt during downtime because they feel like they are wasting time that could be dedicated to those who depend on them.

If you struggle with feelings of guilt when trying to relax, Dr. Neal-Barnett recommends practicing the "so-what exercise." This involves following up all of your anxious thoughts with "So what?" and assessing whether the consequences really matter at the end of the day. Following up every "So what?" with another will help you identify what Dr. Neal-Barnett refers to as a "core fear." Once you identify the specific worry and core fear that is contributing to your underlying guilt, you can begin to deal with it in a productive way that allows you to be able to enjoy relaxation.

Change the way you think about nothing

Instead of treating rest as a reward or as something you have to earn, think of it as a necessity that you need to function properly mentally, physically, and emotionally. Additionally, if the idea of doing nothing bothers you, remember while resting, you are never really doing nothing — you are simply busy recharging your mind and body.

If you hate the idea of sitting alone with your thoughts or twiddling your thumbs, relaxation can also come from you doing something you truly enjoy — with Dr. Gooden reminding us via SELF that activities that are done to get approval from social media or your colleagues don't count as doing something you enjoy. Whether it's going for a walk, playing a board game with your family, or baking your favorite treat, make sure you focus on being truly present by taking time to appreciate and acknowledge what you are doing in the moment.

Allowing yourself to make time for what you enjoy as opposed to what you feel others expect of you can help retrain your mind into no longer expecting perfection from yourself and allow you to remove some of the pressure you have placed on yourself. "You enjoy things so much more when you're out of your head and fully present," Dr. Gooden says. "The enjoyment you feel afterward will help reinforce the behavior."

Try meditation

Some people struggle with taking time for relaxation simply because they don't like the idea of not having a structured schedule. This is particularly true for people who are used to having constant Zoom calls and meetings on their work calendars. If this is you, you might want to consider trying meditation or yoga. Because mindful meditation and yoga have a sense of structure to them, Dr. Zucker tells SELF that they tend to be beneficial for those who struggle with the idea of doing something that isn't concrete or mapped out. If you prefer the added structure of guided meditation, Dr. Zucker recommends the Insight Timer app for short mindfulness sessions throughout the day.

A study published in Behavioral and Brain Functions suggests that our brains work the best when they are calm and at rest, and found that short periods of mindful meditation for roughly a half-hour make it easier to fully relax. Even mindfully doing a few yoga poses or doing a short five- or 10-minute guided meditation session can help calm your mind and combat stress levels.

Focusing on your breath is a large part of why meditation can be beneficial. "Take a slow deep inhale through your nose, then exhale through your nose," meditation teacher and massage therapist Kathleen Lissonount says via Bustle. "Count to two, then inhale again. Pausing in between breaths brings relaxation." She adds that mindful breathing can easily be done at work while at your desk or in a meeting.

Keep track of the way you spend your time

Understanding how you spend your time and identifying your regular activities that are draining you or that don't serve you is the first step in identifying where in your schedule you can best fit in downtime. "Evaluate your schedule to figure out what's wasting your time or energy," says health coach Jill Ginsberg via Bustle. "There are lots of 'time thieves' in our lives, including the internet, television, and draining people. Replace those time thieves with healthy alternatives that help you feel your best, such as exercise, cooking, self care, or more sleep."

Logging and recording all of your activities throughout the course of the day can be a helpful way to physically see where you can trim the fat in your busy schedule, and thus, where you can best fit in healthy amounts of downtime. Licensed psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. also recommends treating scheduled time with yourself with the same level of importance as you would treat a scheduled meeting with your boss. "If you write personal time on your schedule the same way you do appointments with others, you'll be more likely to actually do it," she says via Bustle. "Join a class or group that meets regularly for a relaxing activity such as yoga, dancing, or tai chi, or schedule a regular massage, manicure, or facial, so you'll have a guaranteed place to relax."


A recent study found that as many as 76% of the U.S. workforce regularly checks their work email outside of designated working hours. While many people look at constantly being available to their employees as a sign of good work ethic and productivity, evidence suggests this can actually be damaging to our well-being. A study conducted by authors from Lehigh, Virginia Tech, and Colorado State Universities suggested that using work email after hours is a significant contributor to employee burnout and takes away from family and personal time, which is essential for employee health. The authors concluded that emailing after work hours "contributes to experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace, and at the same time, inhibits their ability to psychologically detach from work-related issues via continuous connectivity."

Even if you aren't guilty of replying to work emails after hours, experts still say that scrolling social media from the couch in your pajamas doesn't count as relaxing either. Comparison to others on social media who are always on the go can exacerbate relaxation guilt. To avoid checking your phone during your downtime, it's best to unplug altogether. "If that means retreating to the bathroom to get some quiet, or walking around the perimeter of your workplace, or just giving yourself a 'time-out,' you will see benefits," says Dr. Sulack via Bustle.

Learn how to say no

Many people find themselves feeling like they have to constantly be "on" because they tend to overcommit themselves or spread themselves too thin in an effort to please others. Whether you constantly find yourself saying yes to more hours at work, yes to helping a coworker with their work tasks, or yes to participating in the PTA bake sale, it's time to start practicing saying no to things that do not serve you. "Don't take on more than you can handle," Ginsberg says to Bustle. "Say yes to the opportunities that are in line with your vision. But say 'no thanks' to the tasks, projects, and drama that people can deal with themselves or that aren't in line with your priorities and goals. Saying yes to everything only creates more stress."

Saying no to people can be difficult if you aren't used to it, and it can often feel like you are letting people down by not making yourself available or offering your assistance — especially if people have gotten used to you saying yes to everything. And while it's always good to want to help people, it's also important to leave time for yourself. Saying no to tasks and commitments that aren't important to you can help ensure you have adequate time to do nothing and recuperate your own mind, body, and soul.