a better mode at home than pseudo-relaxation
January 2, 2012 8:38 PM   Subscribe

For those who find "relaxing" completely un-relaxing, how do you cultivate a strong activity and project based home life?

Growing up, I identified strongly with activities like reading, learning new things on my own, listening to music -- things that tend to take me away from people. As time has gone on, I've realized that while I still value this kind of introspection and careful listening, I care most about people and relating to them. I also go a little crazy in their absence. In my first year of post-college apartment living, I've put a lot of energy into making new connections, creating a social club, maintaining long-distance friendships, etc. I appreciate a lot of the new connections and opportunities that have come from these efforts, for sure.

But my balance at home still isn't where I want it to be. In just a few hours, my extroversion people-meter starts binging and I can't concentrate on what I'm doing. I'll read for a bit, or learn a little Python, and the anxiety-depression flare will abate. But I can't shake the feeling that Home, rather than being a sanctuary or a place where I can build new experiences, is just this kind of self-indulgent space, and that really doesn't appeal to me.

I've read many of the excellent AskMeFis on extroversion, as well as how to take care of yourself/be mindful. I've also reflected upon what I'm feeling and came to the conclusion that, yes, at some point my home life will be a fulfilling and warm experience with family, etc. I've had lively college houses that provided that. But at this exact moment, what I really want to do is adopt a kind of fire and mindset of work and service. If I'm not doing my day-job, which is national service, I want to be either volunteering or working on a project. I don't want to go off the deep-end with being overambitious here, I just want a change from the sulky un-relaxing relaxation time I keep finding myself in. Perhaps this goes back to a deeper underlying anxiety, and if so, I wouldn't mind focusing on that. But in any case, the built up habits of just kind of reflecting/wandering about my home space does not compute at all with what I desire, and I'm tired of these mini emotional rollercoasters each night. (One little thing that jumps out at me, upon preview, is that I did grow up in an emotionally abusive household. Is there any chance I'm just experiencing an adult version of walking-on-eggshells?)

I would love to hear any thoughts about how people have dealt with their alone/personal/relaxation time just being agitating, and strategies to structure that time to be more deliberate and committed.

(The spirit of this quote kind of hovers over this question: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”)
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You might be looking for more structure than I was looking for, and I might be misunderstanding a little, but I asked this I think similar question.

I have a hard time not wasting time online because I get lonely for people, so the question helped me with strategies around that.
posted by sweetkid at 8:53 PM on January 2, 2012

Regimentation, mainly, at least in my case. After work is done, I spend X amount of time at the gym, y amount working on money-making project, and z amount working on creative project that may make me money or may not depending on the project. That's what I have to do pretty much every day (I take Sundays off because Sundays are for napping and watching sports).

If Home is the problem, perhaps get a laptop/tablet and take your projects somewhere that'd feel more work-y? Coffeeshop, bookstore, library, a quiet sort of bar, somewhere you could be around people and maybe get that buzz of being around people, but somewhere where you wouldn't have to interact with them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:04 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like a perfect candidate for gardening. Having something to tend to, mess with, and enjoy can give you a great sense of balance.
posted by Gilbert at 10:04 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I often entertain myself with food projects: homemade jam, triple batches of gnocchi to put in the freezer, bread made from scratch. It's entertaining, you learn useful skills, you can make gifts and/or dinner to freeze for another day, and you can invite friends over for dinner at the end of it or make people at work happy by bringing snacks.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:22 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I remember to listen to something I don't get the screaming solitaries as much. Personally I like community radio because it tends to be a bit more conversational (and the music is great) but there are lots of podcasts or even albums you can put on while you take on some of the projects names above. Cooking and gardening are great to music!
posted by Trivia Newton John at 10:30 PM on January 2, 2012

Can you get a pet? Nothing better than to want to go home and hang out with a dog or cat.
posted by neversummer at 1:06 AM on January 3, 2012

Maybe try to find living situations where home doesn't equal alone. (This might not be feasible now, but consider it in the future, whenever your lease is up.) There are regular roommate situations, and then there are more intentional-ish living groups, from which you can get a stronger sense of community... shared meals, shared projects, shared garden, etc. This sort of thing works well for me, because when I do a project for myself I feel kind of bored and wasteful, but when I'm doing a project -- even a silly little one, like stringing up pretty Christmas lights in the hall -- for me + my lovely roommates in our weird warehouse space, I feel like I'm contributing to a larger good. It's very motivating, though certainly tough in its own ways.

There are also lots of small group houses where all the roommates have service-y jobs and then the home itself is an intentional community -- the Loretto Volunteers in DC are the first that come to mind; I just read about a different one in Durham, NC but I can't find the link right now....
posted by staboo at 5:35 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an introvert, but I have a really hard time relaxing when I'm not exhausted, and I've learned that I have to choose a practical, engrossing (but not overly mentally-demanding) project at the beginning of vacations to wind down from omigod-must-work-all-the-time mode.

Things that work for me are sewing (I'm a novice, so any kind of sewing requires intense concentration), knitting (something challenging, because I'm a pretty advanced knitter), or cooking, like aspherical cow says. I want very badly to learn how to can! Baking, also, feels very satisfying and virtuous to me.

These work because they require my full attention, and there's also something to do with working with my hands to create a material output. Reading—even virtuous, non-fictional, educational reading—doesn't work. It seems necessary to know that I am working toward a practical, useful object, something I can use or eat, or a gift for someone. (You can also do all kinds of sewing and knitting for charities.)

(I used to like doing jigsaw puzzles, but now I just can't. At the end, you have... a completed jigsaw puzzle. Yay? So when working them, I get a nagging, guilty feeling that I'm wasting my time—though I can imagine situations where it would be a Good Thing, e.g. doing one with a friend who needed company/distraction, a shut-in neighbor, or a Little Brother/Sister.)
posted by BrashTech at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second the pet option and the roommate option. You're just out of college, and the first few years of post-college life can feel pretty solitary and lonely given that it's a dramatic departure from the lifestyle you were accustomed to living. It's going to be an adjustment period no matter what, but it sounds like you are self-aware enough to actively try to create a home environment that is comfortable for you. All I can say is give it time.

If I'm feeling lonely, radio, television, and internet actually help make me feel like I'm surrounded by people, even if it's a silly mind trick. If I don't want to feel like I'm wasting my time while in front of the tv, I'll also knit or draw or gchat.
posted by MsMartian at 11:18 AM on January 3, 2012

To deal with your mini emotional rollercoasters, may I suggest exercise? Yoga or some other form of meditation could also help with anxiety. Any sort of cardio could give you emotional relief in addition to physical strength.

I have very project-based evenings at home and tend to watch little TV (although I'll watch a movie or TV series on Netflix while doing something else). I cook, A LOT, and sometimes I photograph and blog about it (although I'm kind of lazy about that). I have really learned to enjoy tackling insane kitchen projects over the years. I also knit, I find it keeps my mind from wandering to anxious places better than reading. In the warmer months I tend to spend a lot of evening time outside - cooking/grilling, mowing, gardening, biking, walking.

There are a lot of community gardens in my area that accept volunteers, so that might be something to look out for in the spring (these thing tend to start the planning stages in Feb/Mar, so it may not be all that far off depending upon where you are in the world).
posted by sararah at 2:38 PM on January 3, 2012

I'm a lot like you, and what I like to do is give myself little "social" projects. For example, if there's a movie or TV show that everyone is talking about I'll spend my free time watching it so that next time I have more to contribute to the conversation. Or I might try to read up on the latest political issues and such to increase the number things I have to talk about.
posted by Autumn at 12:12 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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