Stressed by relaxation?
August 14, 2007 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a couple of ongoing problems at work and at home that require a lot of work and attention to detail. This is quite stressful for me and my family. I need to get involved in family recreational activities because otherwise both I and they will get stressed out. Nonetheless, I can't help feeling irritated and angry by these activities, even if I am the one suggesting them, because they feel like a waste of time and energy compared to the problems that need sorting out. How can I change how I feel about these things?
posted by blue_wardrobe to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Relaxing is never a waste of time and energy, within reason. I'd suggest therapy.
posted by electroboy at 11:09 AM on August 14, 2007

Oh, let's start with the facile answer: resolve the ongoing problems at work and at home.

This is both an objective and a lifestyle change. First as an objective, unless you're misleading us, you've identified the source of the stress. So, reduce or eliminate it.

Use every arrow in the quiver! Use any available work-sponsored EAP ( employee assistance program). Counsellors and psychologists are often covered or deductible expenses. Most importantly, be open and frank as much as possible with your family and friends.

Secondly, as a lifestyle change, you need to identify these sorts of situations early, and get the communication going. This will help future issues from building up into seemingly insurmountable problems.

Finally, try to take as much R&R time as possible, even if it seems to be a waste at first. Justify the time to yourself with the understanding that everyone needs breaks, and that your subconscious mind will continue to work on the problems even if consciously you're not thinking of them.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:12 AM on August 14, 2007

While this may not work for a long-term solution to stress, it might help you deal with the current problems. Compartmentalize your life.

Set up a daily schedule, where you specify what hours of the day will be spent dealing with the stuff that needs to be done and what hours of the day will be spent not dealing with it.

During the work hours, lock yourself in a room or do whatever you have to to avoid being disturbed. Forbid everyone from disturbing you. Focus completely on the work, do not get distracted, do not stop working.

And then, when the hours are over, stop. You're no longer allowed to work. Then, go spend time with your family. Do not allow yourself to think about the work. Stop yourself from doing so, remind yourself that the work time is over. You'll get back to it tomorrow, but, for now, you just are not allowed to dwell on it.

With a firm schedule, it's easier to feel justified in relaxing. If you know that you worked long and hard for part of the day, you'll feel better about unwinding. And, if you accept that there is a rigid schedule in place that cannot be altered, then you will feel less frustrated by not working.
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:20 AM on August 14, 2007

It's very very good that you are asking this question. It is a central question of our existence -- and it's pretty easily reduced to all the cliches you've heard: be in the moment.

Worry is the obscene time-thief, not the hours you spend with those you love, those who love you. You gotta figure this out, or your body will do it for you. Don't wait for illness/fatigue/despair to give you the stop-and-smell-the-roses wake-up call.

There's no quick fix, but take a step on some sort of spiritual path (and that might be exercise or a hobby -- anything that quiets your mind). If the first path sucks for you, try another. And another. And so on -- forever.

I think you will be ok -- just by your question, you've started seeking.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:55 AM on August 14, 2007

Nonetheless, I can't help feeling irritated and angry by these activities, even if I am the one suggesting them, because they feel like a waste of time and energy compared to the problems that need sorting out. How can I change how I feel about these things?

Reframe them.

This is your family. Absent a horrible breach of trust, this is a life-long bond, something that enriches all of your lives and makes you who you are.

Work is an economic relationship. It's temporary. They'd fire you to solve a budgetary gap or because of a personality conflict.

Another way to think about it is to imagine yourself at the end of your life. What sorts of things will seem like a waste of time then? What will you wish you had spent more time doing?
posted by jason's_planet at 11:56 AM on August 14, 2007

There's always some skjy-is-falling doom and gloom problem that demands your immediate attention, and there always will be. You won't always have your family around (do you have kids? They grow up really fast) to spend time with.
posted by Mister_A at 12:40 PM on August 14, 2007

This is all very good and thoughtful, and I can't stress how helpful so far these thoughts are.

Just to clarify slightly:

I used the word "ongoing" slightly too freely. This is a largely temporary situation. One of the issues is an elderly relative needs their financial affairs sorting out -- essential, detailed, messy, hard, lots of paperwork, 3000 miles distance between us, mortgage unpaid, utilities unpaid, car insurance paid (despite no car), etc. I meant ongoing as in "will need a month or two of concerted effort". So this isn't about total lifestyle change, but about needing to feel ok with taking a break despite the seriousness, immediate family needs, etc.

Apologies for the lack of clarity -- if this extra info would provoke you to think of other things too, then I would be very grateful.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 1:40 PM on August 14, 2007

I get wrapped up in all the details sometimes, to the point where I drive myself crazy and my brain shuts down (and then I end up here, on AskMetafilter, lucky you). The funny thing I've found about "relaxation" time is that when I least expect it is when a grand idea will hit me. The solution to a problem I've been mulling over, or a new idea on something that will save time, money, and energy. These sort of things rarely come to me when I'm working, and never come to me if I'm forcing myself to work despite the fact that my brain is saying "Enough". You have to trust that, in the end, everything will get done. The time spent trying to work on things when you're too stressed out to be truly productive is far more wasted than time spent engaging in things that will fill your energy tank.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:38 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh. Maybe you can grab a week and go do as much as you can in person. I would think it would help put it in perspective, and perhaps you can put some processes into place that will help you deal with it from afar ... ya know, ongoing.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:48 PM on August 14, 2007

I think you need to take a step back and rationally evaluate what the actual consequences of slacking or outright failure at some of these critical projects would be. For example, your relative's finances probably took a long time to get screwed up; if it takes a few extra weeks to get them in order, how bad will that really be? Similarly, if you completely drop the ball at work, people would probably back you up or cover for you for a while, and if in the worst case you were to actually get fired, you could probably get another similar job, etc.

Behind these pressing tasks is the assumption that "such-and-such must absolutely never happen, or else". Allow your mind to consider what would happen if those things *did* happen, and you'll probably find that it's not as bad as you think and it will take some of the pressure off.

Of course, if you find there is a true catastrophic consequence coming up (elderly relative is going to get foreclosed on, etc.), you can deal only with that specific part of the problem while realizing the rest is not as critical.
posted by dixie flatline at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2007

You've got some kind of a weird double-bind going on between your obligations and your desires. Recreational activities are not irritating and annoying, by definition. If an activity irritates and annoys you, you must not pretend that you're getting some recreational benefit from it.

What would *you* like to do? I'm not being facetious; this is a hard question and oftentimes people have real trouble clearing away all the chaff about how they "should" feel and what they "should do" before figuring out the answer.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:03 PM on August 14, 2007

This seems like one of those classic Scope:Time:Resources relationships. Typically, you can visualize these as a triangle where your project equals the sum of all three factors. If one or more of these factors is fixed, the other factor(s) must be adjusted to compensate, e.g., if you don't have enough time, you can compensate by throwing more resources at the project, or cutting back its scope.

In this case, your time is limited, because your family requires more attention. Can you outsource some of these responsibilities to another family member? Or hire someone to do some of this grunt work for you -- put stuff into a spreadsheet, crank out some letters to folks to extend more time, etc.? Because (as you recognize) resenting your family and their needs isn't going to solve anything.

Sorry if this isn't a very sophisticated answer, but time is the one resource that can't be expanded. Good luck!
posted by mosk at 5:22 PM on August 14, 2007

Ikkyu: you're right of course. The weird bind is that everything that needs to be done to prevent foreclosure (very real possibility) needs to be done in person and fast, rather than remotely and slowly through attornies who seem slow / unwilling / unable to help.

But my children and wife need me home too and need some of my attention.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 5:46 PM on August 14, 2007

This has actually helped a lot. My irritation was directed at being asked / feeling like I ought to be involved in family events, but the frustration is more properly directed at resolving where my priorities lie right now. Obvious in retrospect.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 5:57 PM on August 14, 2007

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