To Be or To Do, That is the Question: The Reality of Relaxing

Relax verb : ‘Make or become less tense or anxious.’

The concept of relaxation seems simple really. Everyone’s idea of it might vary slightly but generally we could all agree on what it looks like. ‘Chilling out’, ‘getting some down time’, ‘recharging my batteries’; all those familiar idioms we use interchangeably to paint a picture of relaxation.  And yet, it appears to be one of the most difficult things to do. I have recently found myself in a situation where I have been forced to relax. The very idea seems contradictory. ‘Force’, that is to apply pressure and ‘relax’, to relieve pressure, two opposing terms, put together to form one illogical notion.

Now, that’s not to say I’ve been handcuffed to a chair in a lavender-scented, candle-lit room with meditation muzak on loop. The handcuffs are, of course, metaphorical. I have allowed myself to become so crippled by anxiety that I’ve had to completely ground to a halt.

As I relay this to you, I am sitting on a chair outside. The sun is shining – a rare occurrence. I feel the heat of it against my skin. I observe the gentle breeze and the scent of freshly cut grass. I hear the occasional buzz of a bee doing its part for civilization. I note the cars further afield and imagine all those people coming and going. This scenario sounds like the ideal backdrop for relaxation but, sitting here, a casual observer, I do not feel relaxed; instead, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Why is that bee working harder than me? You don’t catch bees sitting around observing the noises we make. Surely, I should be in my car heading somewhere important to do something important. How dare I sit by idly and watch the world go by? The handcuffs now feel real. “Let me go and do something.”

I spot weeds, I tear them out (this is my new favourite thing). That breeze is perfect for laundry. There’s the ladder we borrowed from my father-in-law: I wonder could I wash the windows without killing myself? And with these thoughts come the not-so-sudden realisation but rather the stern reminder – I am completely incapable of doing nothing. The closest I can get to this is by putting these frustrations onto paper or, more accurately, my phone because I seem to have lost the ability to function without my phone. No doubt another contributing factor. 

I am, of course, not alone in this plight and daren’t suggest I’m in some way hard done by.  Given the fact that I have two young children, I am offered more “free time” than your average parent thanks to the support of my extended family. And yet, I find myself sometimes under the most pressure when given this opportunity. What can or should I be doing to make the most of this time? I might adopt an unconvincing guise of relaxation and wear a face mask while simultaneously hoovering or take a really long shower but only on the condition that I also clean it. It seems then that time is only well spent when in pursuit of some superficial goal and that it cannot simply be “free”. We are not afforded do not afford ourselves this luxury.

Whether this mind set is human nature or a product of modern day society I do not know – I’d imagine it is a combination of the two. All I know is that given my recent opportunity to relax I have found it almost impossible. When given a choice ‘to be’ or ‘to do’, the latter appears to be the option we’re more comfortable with which, seems to me, a very sad state of affairs.

Unlike that bee and his comrades, who we are so largely indebted to, we were not designed to buzz at a rate of 11,400 times per minute. We’re only human. And with that comes a need to buzz but also a need to just ‘bee’.





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