calm, stress, rejuvenate

Reclaiming Your Time to Restore Your Energy & Relax

So many of us feel like we simply have no time and no energy left for ourselves.  Our days feel full of endless responsibilities and chores.  We grind through the to do list each day, often multitasking to maximize efficiency.  Then we crash in the evening from sheer exhaustion only to wake up and begin the process all over again the next day.  This endless cycle inevitably leads to burnout.  We feel irritable, depleted, hopeless, and trapped.  We’re dying for a vacation from our lives.

But this pattern doesn’t have to be our daily norm.  We can create a new way to move through our days.  We can repurpose our time in a way that helps us feel more relaxed, replenished, and happy.

You may be surprised to hear that research has shown the typical American has more leisure time than fifty years ago.  This may sound unbelievable because it doesn’t feel the least bit relaxing.  There are a few reasons why we don’t feel like we have much downtime time.  One reason is the constant interruption from our technology.  Our phone notifications drag us out of moments meant to be relaxing.  We get work emails or alerts about stressful news or photos of an acquaintance’s tropical vacation pulling our attention away from dinner with the family or a walk with a friend.  And these distractions tend to fill us with guilt about what we “should” be doing and jealousy about what we wish we were doing.  It’s hard to ever feel fully present in a moment of leisure.

A second reason we don’t feel we have much downtime time is because it often comes in small moments scattered throughout the day rather than in one big chunk of an hour or two.  Brigid Schulte coined the term “time confetti” to describe these brief snippets of downtime which we tend to fill with stressful multitasking.  Think about the 8 minutes you have between meetings, the 10 minutes in the car pickup line, the 12 minutes before dinner needs to get started, etc.  We tend to fill these small segments of downtime with what we think is a “productive activity.”  We answer emails, make a phone call to schedule an appointment, respond to an invitation, research an item we’re shopping for, follow up on a favor from a friend, and on and on.  And before you know it, the time is gone without leaving us the least bit relaxed.  We never take a break! 

The good news is there are clear steps we can take to reclaim our leisure time so that we feel more relaxed and rejuvenated during the day. 

  • Track your time confetti.  Start noticing those moments of unscheduled time during the day when you could be more intentional about taking a meaningful break.  See if you find regular opportunities to shift your attention from taking care of business or taking care of others toward taking care of you.
  • Reduce interruptions from your devices.  Turn off notifications from your phone and computer.  You want to be more intentional about when you check in with work, friends, emails, etc. Utilize the do not disturb or focus setting on your phone.  Put your devices in a designated place off your person when you want to be really present.
  • Set realistic expectations for the day.  Identify the tasks you want to prioritize so that you feel you were productive without overextending yourself.  You don’t need to do it all in one day. Plan your days with space to rest built in.
  • Block your time.  Give yourself set times for specific activities you can do once or twice per day, like checking emails or responding to texts.  You do not need to be constantly available and responsive.  Reserve a block of time for activities that bring you relaxation or pleasure.
  • Be intentional about how you spend your time confetti.  The key to feeling more relaxed and fulfilled throughout the day is to have a plan for what will help you feel restored.  Have a list of options on hand so you’re not wasting time debating what to do.  Think about what you find calming to your nervous system or uplifting to your spirit.  Here are some ideas to get you started.
Take 5 deep breaths Wrap yourself tightly in a blanket
Move your body, maybe 30 seconds of jumping jacks Dance
Reach out to talk with a friend Snuggle with a pet
Sing a song you love List three things you’re grateful for today
Go outside for some fresh air Meditate
Quiet your mind and enjoy some silenceListen to music that reminds you of good times  
Gradually relax your body from head to toe   Notice your five sense, focusing on one at a time  
Take a walk   Do something that makes you laugh  

With regular practice, we can create a daily pace that includes restorative rest. We can redefine a “good day” as one that includes calm and joy rather than a day filled with busyness. This may require a shift in values if you’re used to judging your worth based on productivity. But you will begin to find that when you prioritize taking care of yourself throughout the day, you’ll feel so much better and have more to offer others.

Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below.  If you are interested in scheduling a consultation for an appointment with Dr. Smith, please email or use the contact form. 

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