Many of my patients talk about how they feel exhausted all the time, no matter how much sleep they get or how often they try to relax. One client told me that she sleeps ten or twelve hours a day, and she’s still tired.
If sleeping enough isn’t the problem, something else must be.
For most overcontrolled (OC) leaning people, the brain is biologically hardwired to see threat first, which means that it is on high alert for things that could harm the individual. This continuous scanning is exhausting and we need to learn how to turn it off when it’s not needed. We are not computers that can crunch data constantly. We need down time!
For most of my Radically Open DBT clients, their natural tendency is to work harder and do more. Not to relax. This means they brainstorm a million ways to get better at something, even in their down time. Watching documentaries, learning how to do a new craft, building a tree house for their kids, learning a new language or spring cleaning the house.
While these may be very rewarding in that learning is taking place or a task is being accomplished, they are not true relaxation.
Self-Improvement Activities are No-No’s
I tend to burst my clients’ bubbles about what relaxation is with one short sentence: If you are self-improving, you are NOT relaxing. I usually get blank stares at first, then most clients jump into telling me about how enjoyable any of these constant-striving hobbies are for them. Yes, they can be rewarding, but with an OC leaning brain that’s looking for mistakes and discrepancies, it’s hard to relax when you say a word wrong in Spanish class or accidentally hammer in a nail sideways into the play house.
Some of the unfortunate consequences of constant striving are exhaustion, bitterness, resentment, envy, and even grudge holding. The harder we work, the more likely an OC brain will notice that others aren’t working as hard or “properly” (enter harsh judgements) as we are. Many client tell me they wish they could “care less” about things, like others seem to do.
How to Have Some Fun and Chill Out
If you find yourself running on empty a lot, I challenge you to try and play a bit more. Watch a TV show that is purely for entertainment and not learning. You can tell you’ve found the right show by how much you laugh out loud when watching it.
Also, if you find yourself tense, you might try activities that relax you, without the secondary goal of learning something. Go on a slow nature hike (not for the exercise, but for the enjoyment of the outdoors), get a massage or pedicure, or read a fictional book for joy.
These are examples of non-productive time. It’s important to give ourselves a break from having to better ourselves or work harder. You might even find yourself having more energy as a result of doing less. Plus, your mood can improve.
Playing or relaxing isn’t a one-time action. You have to make a kind-hearted commitment to practice having fun or chilling out. When that nagging threat brain that you have “a million things to do” turns on, kindly tell it, that you will be attending to it after a little while, but it can just sit on the sidelines and wait its turn.