Does anybody have any advice on taking it easy?
December 4, 2022 4:24 AM   Subscribe

To put some stuff into context. I've been working non stop for almost 5-6 years. I set out to accomplish a great deal of things back in 2018. I made plans to move to Canada, get my master's degree, learn French, machine learning and settle there permanently.

This whole journey is coming to a close. Tomorrow I have my thesis defense, my master's is effectively over after Monday. Last week I got my French test results, if they are to be believed then I am a C1 in French, more importantly a great deal of doors into Québec and Canada are now open to me. Passing that test means that I will get invited to apply for PR. In 5-8 months I will be a permanent resident of Canada.

There are a few things left to do, like getting a job. I have many interviews including one with Google. I would have thought that this was the hard part, but it isn't and sooner or later I'll have a job. I'm in demand and a lot of companies are responding.

However, all of this has taken its toll. My sleep patterns and eating habits are trash. My stress levels have been through the roof. Moreover, earlier this year I ended up twice in the hospital in addition to having to deal with insane grad school politics and switching labs and supervisors at one point.

I'm sort of stuck in these behaviors. I need to reset and restart. I'm wondering if anybody has any advice? I go to therapy by the way, so I'm covered on that front.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I am very good, very very good, at taking it easy. It's the thing I do best. You could say I'm a C1 in lounging about. Here are my hottest tips:

- When you get your fancy new job, establish your boundaries right from the start. No you can't work weekends. No you can't work nights. You're gonna sign on at your start time and sign off at the end of the day, and that's going to be it. You don't put work email on your phone for "infosec" purposes, so you're going to miss anyone trying to hail you after hours anyway.

When I got the job I have now about 7 years ago, that's what I did. I have had numerous raises and promotions, I have a lot of responsibilities, and my coworkers all like me. I have held true to my boundaries the whole time. I do my work during work, not any other time. Because I'm not burned out from working 24/7, I do really well at my work, which is how come things keep going well for me there. Set boundaries at work, period.

Since you're not working all the time, that opens up so much of your week for personal time. Since you're a doing things person, maybe you're going to be tempted to fill this with activities. That brings me to my next hot tip:

- Schedule free time for yourself. Put it right on your calendar and respect it as much as you would a meeting with your boss or a doctor's appointment. It doesn't matter how much time this is at first--you'll figure out a cadence appropriate to you as your life settles in--the important thing is that it's there and you keep it true.

Don't use this scheduled free time for anything except turning your brain off. It's not time to improve yourself, it's not time to hang out with friends, it's not time to work on a project, it's not time for chores. It is time only for you. Maybe you'll just sit on the couch with a favorite movie you've seen before. Maybe you'll go on a nice long walk. Maybe you'll go to the animal shelter and pet some adoptable cats. Personally I like to throw on some TV and play the Sims. It really doesn't matter as long as it's an activity that requires zero executive function.

- Don't have children. At least not right now. I don't know how you picture your future life, marriage and kids are fine if that's an important goal for you. But NOT. RIGHT. NOW. You're young and you have all the time in the world. I know so many people who went from where you're at now right and then got a job, got a decent relationship, got a house, got a baby, and never spent any time figuring out how to be a person. They're miserable. So know, take some time figuring out how to be a person for a while. Just because you're setting yourself on a good track doesn't mean it has to keep moving. Park yourself for a while, enjoy being you, and then once you're stable, happy, have a good routine and have personal hobbies and dreams just for you, then you can bring other people into it (only if you want!)

- Finally, once you're settled, use that fancy job money to try new leisure activities. Not all at once, not all at the same time. Maybe one or two new-to-you things a year. Give them a real good try. Volunteer once a week someplace. Or get a local museum membership and go often. Maybe you'll get really into theater. Maybe you'll join a sports league. Who knows! There's so much to do out there, and you've been too busy to enjoy any of it. So you've got to get out there and try things. Like I said a paragraph ago, you need to figure out how to be a person. Cultivating genuine hobbies that you enjoy for your own personal entertainment is a huge part of that. (Just be sure to maintain that scheduled do nothing time no matter what. Fun activities are just as much of a balance as work!)
posted by phunniemee at 4:57 AM on December 4, 2022 [97 favorites]

If you are interested in a place to rest and to remove distractions, a number of monasteries and the like offer lodging and meals for the their lodgers. This is something I have thought about doing a couple of times, but, sorry, I don't have any specifics to suggest.
posted by NotLost at 5:30 AM on December 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I work in tech in the US and I was able to get start dates that were 1-2 months out when getting offers for my last two roles and took time off to recharge. It may not be financially possible for everyone.

For me, it helps to have a routine involving exercise and reading.

I think it will help you to vet your new company and team very carefully before accepting an offer. There is some shady stuff going on in tech these days with layoffs and stuff.
posted by alphanerd at 5:30 AM on December 4, 2022 [9 favorites]

phunniemee's advice is very good, that a few times.

I'm very, very similar to you. Your post could have literally been me at various times in my life. I totally get it. In fact, I'm coming out of a period where I...went extremely hard for a long time. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my priorities, and sort of what I want to be about. I think punniemee's post is very good for concrete actionable stuff. I guess I just have some thoughts on framing.

do not start any big, new tasks. this is critical. if you're anything like me, when you have come out of a time period with these big, focused tasks (for example, getting C1 in French), it's easy to feel like..."holy crap! I have all of this free time! I could...learn Chinese! I can learn Japanese!" and it sort of never ends. this is a time to regroup. for me, "rules" that I set for myself are very effective...I don't know what works for you, but like for me I periodically sit down and sort of think about the guiding principles of my life, and then once I set them, that is that.

Some examples:
- no new hobbies
- walk every day
- stretch every day
- eat less

these can change! it just works for me, day to day. which leads me to:

However, all of this has taken its toll. My sleep patterns and eating habits are trash. My stress levels have been through the roof. Moreover, earlier this year I ended up twice in the hospital in addition to having to deal with insane grad school politics and switching labs and supervisors at one point.

this is now your #1 priority. you said you have a therapist, which is great! but really, nothing is more important than this. I get it--I really do. you've been through a really stressful time and you've come through it. this isn't about berating past you, it's about saying...ok, the time has come to prioritize the really important stuff.

if you're anything like me, prioritizing this stuff can feel...unproductive? like, it's easy for me to think about the time I'm "wasting" every day when I go on my walks or whatever. there are ways to reframe things.

and really, when I talk about "no new hobbies," what I mean is, lean into the things you already know you care about. my point is that this is not the time to learn spanish! or learn how to fly a plane or something! this is a time to consolidate your life. to get healthy. to invest in your social life. to invest in your career--but in the healthy way phunniemee mentioned.

for me, the hardest part of all of this is basically...accepting that I can't do all of the things that I would like to do. like, once you know you can get to C1 in French, it can feel like...ok, well, why not get to C1 in [other language your interested in]? you learned machine learning...why not learn [another tech thing]? then [another tech thing]? but this will drive you crazy. my "no new hobbies" rule isn't about literally saying you will never do a new thing ever again, it's about drawing a hard line while you reconsolidate a bit..eventually, when you're healthy (this should be a pre-requisite for doing literally anything else ever again, seriously, it's that important), when your job is going well, when your social life is going well, then you can sort of take stock of where you are at and decide what you want to do and be about. at that point maybe you will want to learn spanish or something. and that's great! but I think the key now is just drawing a hard line and allowing yourself some time off of the treadmill. the marathon is over! you don't need to run anymore. take a breather.

but really..get healthy. that should be your top priority. you have to incorporate healthy deeply into your life. priority #1. it is literally more important than everything else. that framing has helped me, because it's easy for me to feel like it is a waste of time etc. but no: it's a higher priority than literally anything else you think is important.

you didn't give enough information in your post about what specific aspect of taking it easy you find difficult, so my advice is sort of more about the issues I faced with this...they may apply to your situation, they may not. if they don't, it may help to share a bit about what specifically you find difficult, though, and we can give more tailored advice.
posted by wooh at 5:34 AM on December 4, 2022 [10 favorites]

1. Remind yourself, when you feel antsy and like you should be doing something when not at work, that you no longer have homework, and that you do not need to be "productive" when not at work.

2. In addition to phunniemee's excellent advice, maybe reconnect with your old hobbies or other leisure time activities. Things you (per your timeline) stopped doing 5-6 years ago, or heavily curtailed. You may no longer enjoy those things, but they may have been missing in fundamental ways that you did not realize.

3. The end of your intense period of focus is a great time to work on the sleep, diet, and stress things you are talking about. My experience, in a not entirely dissimilar period of my life, was that I did not work on those things when the immediate pressure was gone, and I suffered for it. What I needed to do, and eventually worked my way around to, was a focus on sleep (reminders on phone and such), diet (actually planning the food I ate), and stress (various balances of yoga, meditation, and leisurely walks).
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:59 AM on December 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

+1 to phunniemee and especially to wooh. Getting your physical and mental health in order should be priority #1. Scheduling exercise and free time into your day is vital!

Ideally you can find something that works for both, to motivate you into moving regularly (what’s fun for you? Ultimate frisbee, walks or running, yoga, rock climbing, VR exercise, dancing?) And finding ways to eat healthy as well—maybe a meal kit service or meal planning.

I find what works well for me is finding both high-enjoyment but high-effort foods and activities, like trying elaborate new recipes or going on a long bike ride somewhere new, and “autopilot” ones for when work or the rest of life leaves me stressed and tired despite my best efforts. For me, the low-effort options might be cooking a packet of ground meat in a jar of tomato sauce and eating it with vegetables, or hopping on my rowing machine and watching an episode or two of guilty pleasure TV.

My therapist introduced me to the Healthy Mind Platter and maybe you would find this a useful reframing as well? It sounds like you’ve spent the last couple of years just on the Focus part of this, but you should treat the rest of the components as equally vital and sacred. I spent my whole life not doing this and am paying for it now in my 40s with unprecedented pain, depression, anxiety, and diabetes. Getting my Healthy Mind Platter rebalanced with some of the items I mentioned above has helped a lot, but I really wish I’d started twenty years ago.
posted by music for skeletons at 6:39 AM on December 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Sleeping is the number one thing you can do to solve your stress so prioritize that!

Change your bedroom reading light to a low wattage incandescent bulb. The yellow glow helps you sleep better.

Set alarms on your phone to get yourself into bed by 930pm without any screens.

Get some relaxing books you like (not work related!) and read every night in bed for a bit, then try to actually go to sleep by 1030.

The next best things are to drink more water and eat a bit better.

Get a giant water bottle (an empty cranberry juice bottle is good) and drink 2 litres of water a day.

Eat 3 handfuls of produce a day. Apples, carrots, bananas, berries, whatever you like. At first, don’t try to change your diet any other way except this. It’s easier to add something good than remove something “bad”.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:23 AM on December 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Some good advice already, and as someone who also struggles with this I just want to briefly add:

For whatever reason, I have a hard time carving out short pockets of time for myself. My solution, however imperfect, is that I carve out one 24hr slot per week where I do no work. I find this easier to do than lots of little time slots.
posted by coffeecat at 11:02 AM on December 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Make a start date for your job one or two months in advance. Use that time to rest.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:20 AM on December 4, 2022

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posted by porpoise at 10:37 PM on December 4, 2022

Treat rest as a scheduled, goal-oriented activity. The goal is feeling fresh & rested, improving your health, dealing with stress etc.

I'm not a natural rester. Even when I'm sitting still I usually want to be reading or watching something or scrolling through my phone. But recently I came down with some kind of gross flu/covid type virus and I had no choice but to rest (much, much more than I actually wanted to) in order to get better.

Now I explicitly try to enjoy the rest I allow myself to take. I luxuriate into the sofa, thinking, "damn, I'm resting, this feels so good" (it helps to consciously flag this to myself). I'm not feeling guilty about something else I ought to be doing, or running through my mental list of tasks, because I'm Resting and that's the goal and the outcome all by itself.

I had to get out of the mindset that resting was just procrastinating on doing more important stuff, or something I could only allow myself to indulge in tiny snatches. It's weirdly like recovering from diet culture and allowing yourself to eat a wide range of foods if you'd previously been restricting. It's the opposite of every hustle culture message you'll ever hear. But when it's what I'm allowed to be doing - nay, what I'm supposed to be doing - it's great, and it works.
posted by terretu at 3:59 AM on December 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Stress comes from caring about goals that are outside your control. You cared about getting a master's, but you couldn't control grad school politics. You care about your job interviews, but you can't control whether you get a job offer.

In addition, if you didn't inherently enjoy activities and were doing them to reach a goal, then you will inevitably fixate and become stressed. If you force yourself to learn French in order to get a C1, you will be stressed about that C1. On the other hand, if you enjoy French movies and books, and you would be glad to learn French even if it didn't help your visa, you will not be as stressed about the proficiency test.

Think about what you really enjoy, not because it enables a goal but because you actually love doing it even when it serves no productive purpose. Gradually orienting your life towards those activities will reduce your stress.
posted by cheesecake at 4:02 AM on December 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are interested in a place to rest and to remove distractions, a number of monasteries and the like offer lodging and meals for the their lodgers. This is something I have thought about doing a couple of times, but, sorry, I don't have any specifics to suggest.

A monastery will likely ask for a donation but it will be a fraction of what a hotel or B&B would cost. They might practice silence most of the time, but if not they will let you keep totally to yourself even during meals and not speak to you if you just want quiet. You'll be welcome but not expected to join them at prayers.
posted by straight at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2022

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