What do you do when you can’t relax? You know, when you get home from work and you know you’re exhausted and need to relax but after two seconds on the sofa or reading a book or trying to meditate or do yoga you can’t stay still and you jump up and just finish some work on the computer except really you’re not working efficiently at all and finally you go to bed and thoughts of work spin in your mind until you drift off to sleep to wake infrequently with a general sense of dis-ease and by morning you’re awake and dreading the day ahead of you.

At work I teach, answer emails, discuss more or less complicated matters of organisation and employment and schedules and write reports and it’s all fine except I’m constantly behind, owing people things I don’t have time for. I find I have trouble concentrating on what people are telling me. I can stand there listening to a friend and I’m interested, really I am, but my mind keeps bombarding me with bits of other things I should be doing. I try to ease into my body but I can’t stop tensing my body in this strange way that leaves me constantly a little detached from the physical space around me, my head a little dizzy but somehow protected. When I try to relax the tensions I want to cry, so I tense again instead.

When I have my daughter it’s fine. I’m fine with her – relaxed, playful, happy or cross or whatever but there, present. The second she’s in bed it starts again. This week she’s with her dad and I can’t find any space for presence.

I should go for a run. Hang out with friends. Read a good book. On the surface everything is great, and I’m not even sure that it’s really a matter of having too much work, it might be the way I handle all these tasks. It is a problem that all the work I really want to do (research, projects I’ve committed to previously, the stuff I signed up for this career for) has to be done in addition to a full day’s work.

I’ll have less teaching after next week. Some calm. That will help. But how tragic to not know how to relax anymore.

Oh, and it’s not exactly that I don’t like my job. I just haven’t worked out how to live with it.

20 thoughts on “i’ve forgotten how to relax

  1. Auntie Joan

    Honey, it’s just spring fever. You need to plant a garden. Just some herbs in a couple of pots will do and then when you come home from work you go out and water them. if that fails you should take up knitting.

  2. tormodh

    You are too intelligent. You need to do something that shuts out your brain. I’ll follow up on this with a (hopefully) better crafted post.

  3. Gro

    Jill, the best way to relax the brain is to watch trash on tv.
    Especially reality shows. the slower they develop, the better.
    I recommand big brother. Nothing happens. You hope it will, but
    it doesn’t. ever.

  4. justtrying

    That sounds very familiar…
    I don’t want to blow things out of proportion but I have more or less the same thing and I just figured out that I might be really overworked or something. I’m not saying you are, I don’t know that of course.
    Doing fun things is very good but it doesn’t help necessarily. Actually, I planted something, not herbs but oranges, but that didn’t work for me… it is nice though.

    Not sure how coherent this is… anyway, take care!

  5. Elin

    I really don’t think intelligence has anything to do with being able to relax or not…
    No offense, but when men tell women that they are “too intelligent” and need to shut down their brains… this usually means only one thing. I won’t elaborate, but must admit I’m curious about your better crafted post:-)

  6. Jill

    Oh, Elin, I’m sure that’s not how Tormod meant it – he actually sent me a really nice eamil too which wasn’t at all like that, so I guess I got a sneak preview on the crafted post.

    There are no doubt times when “too intelligent” means what you’re suggesting, and I guess his post here was kind of short.

    Auntie Joan!!!! How lovely of you to comment! I was thinking I wanted to plant something just the other day, but it’s still too cold and horrid. I suppose I could start seeds indoors. Mm.

    And thanks, the rest of you. I’m going to bed now.

  7. tormodh

    Girls, I am sorry. It was kind of thoughtless (or rather; naÔve) of me to write such a short note. When I said "too intelligent", I meant as I sometimes feel it; my brain needs something to chew on. Reading a book, listening to music and watching television comes in two "levels" – sort of. Totally immersed, or not able to concentrate because my brain is working on something else. This plays havoc with conversations, too, as I am aware of the other person just enough to say "Uhu", "yes…" and "Eh, did you just say anything?"

    I do not try to say that I am more intelligent than anyone reading this, that women are dumber than men – or that anyone needs dumbing down. Sorry for my clumsy comment.

  8. journal of tormodh

    A quick and dirty guide to relaxing

    Jill thought out loud about how she felt unable to relax anymore. There just were too much to think about, too much to do. When it is overpowering, I call it "stress". I have no idea if that is what it is – I’m no doc.

    Anyway. I feel like…

  9. torill

    Feeling better today Jill? Wicked plans are the best way of coping, I find!

  10. Lisbeth Klastrup

    Jill, I really recognise the way you’re feeling. Settling into the head job, I found myself – for a long period – feeling more stressed and tense inside – that I’d ever done before. One thing is to feel stressed about articles, teaching and academic deadlines, it is a completely different thing to to have handle a lot of admin and organisational matters which are all taking place at the same time, and which requires you getting back to people on this and that all the time and people asking you about this and that all the time. It exhausts you – and it stresses you -in a very different way. . The most stressful thing is this feeling that you will never get to the bottom of your to-do-list and that is just a way of life you have to get used to – until you do that, your head is pretty much aswarm with to-do things most of the time…
    I talked a bit to the other research dept heads about this and it turns out that they all keep to-do lists that they never finish. That kindof calmed me down a bit. You just learn to prioritise harder – and you also learn – after some time – that sometimes things you should have done resolves themselves, sooner or later. And you – in my experience – get more used to living a life of constant chaos and things which need doing – and feel less stressed about it. It’s just the way it is, and all you can do is to try and focus on one thing at a time. And keep those damn to-do lists one way or the other, so to-do things are on paper, not in your head.

    In addition, my experience is, that is really helps to try and keep tight shutters between the work-place and the home-place – (but this is also easier for me because I have no children, I guess). I stay at work real long hours sometimes to resolve all the urgent to-do things and then I go home – and DONT open my computer at all. It is important to maintain the experience of “coming home from work”, whichever way you practically or mentally handle it.

    Anyway, just wanted to say, it get’s better. And you really need to give yourself a full weekend off once in a while.

  11. Jose Angel

    Maybe, Jill, you’re not tenured, and your’re feeling anxious about tenure? University jobs have this sleazy way of creating long-term deadlines for us, and every deadline is a reason to feel stressed. I would advise you, avoid deadlines as much as possible, and conquer again your peace of mind; the rat race doesn’t lead anywhere (though it may land you in a tenured job, that’s true, but you won’t enjoy it unless you downshift). Enjoy work, and life, together!

  12. Delph

    Hi Jill,

    It really looks like “overworking + Not being able to relax” is one of the most common conditions in academia.
    Let me tell you what works for me and what really makes me unplug from the frenetic anxiety of “doing it all”. You never know, some of these things might work for you…
    1-going for a jog (if possible under gusting snow) and having a nice shower and a hot chocolate afterwards
    2-cooking something with someone I love (be it a partner, a friend, a kid)
    3-volunteering, this may sound like adding to what one has to do, but I have always found it an efficient way to unwind. My current schedule involves cooking or delivering meals to old people in Montreal (with http://www.santropolroulant.org/en/home.html) and it really makes my day!

    Hope you’ll have a nice weekend, cheers!

  13. Elin

    I didn’t relly think that Tormod was like that:-) (Sorry, Tormod!)
    The phrasing “too intelligent” always sounds a bit odd too me, though..

  14. Greg

    Wow, lots of advice. I’ll throw my 2c into the mix as well. I work as a web developer/designer on multiple projects with varying degrees of urgency. Each project manager comes to me with their pet project and I am expected to give them priority. Naturally, there is not enough time to give everyone what they want when they want it.

    That’s why my weekends are so valuable. I spend as much time as possible working with wood. It gives my mind another path to be creative, and an opportunity to work with my hands. Just being able to switch gears like that is refreshing.

  15. Gabriel

    Join the rest of the blogosphere and buy Getting Things Done – it aims to help you relax by staying on top of things and vice versa.

  16. Marco Polo

    Hi, Jill,
    Love your blog, have subscribed. I’m sure all the above advice is good and I hope it works. Maybe you’ve just bitten off more than you can chew? Or maybe, like me, you’ve forgotten some basic facts of life. Here’s a link to someone I love dearly, who has been a soothing reminder and guiding light when I get lost, which is, like, daily…Hope you (and others) enjoy the message.

  17. Kelly

    I was found into a position somehow similar to Jill’s: My new job as a lecturer was an amazing surprise and -for a while- really exciting. I believe that the initial excitement had mainly to do with my ego. I guess it is kind of ìnormalî, all these years were finally starting to pay of: I was given the chance to do what I always loved & worked for and I was prepared to do it well… Since September, I had to set up a whole new world around me: I had to relocate, set up a lab, find money, hire people, design research, work for it, follow my studentís work, keep them excited, write proposals, teach, teach, teach, go to numerous ñmostly unnecessary- meetings, work, work, work … … At the same time I found myself in a new country, I had to settle for an apartment which was far from being what I wanted, fight bureaucracy, learn a new language, figure out how it all works here, try to create some kind of a new life, realize that I left friends and family once againÖ
    So, lately I found myself in the ìno relaxî situation you describe. I am doing circles around “To Do” lists, being overstressed, tired and unable to relax, or stop thinking and most importantly, even if I do think all the time, I am not focusing !!! the situation at ìhomeî is the same Ö It seems that all my energy dries out in the lab and I am not even considering anything that could help get things out of my mind. I guess I am in a post-stress situation. In the last 6 months I was given the “opportunity of a lifetime” and I worked as hard as I possibly could to make this work. I like my “job”, I love it and the ìscientificî excitement is still here, but … I am officially overwhelmed, really. It is all so much harder than I ever expected it to be. Work is now following me everywhere. I believe big part of this is that I made no effort to separate working hours from private life. Easy trap when you are in a new place… I think I will relax when I finally find a balance but ñright now- it seems I am too tired to start over.

  18. jill/txt » So much for gardening

    […] ay the sun shone and I bought seeds and thought of weeding, getting my hands sunk in earth as Auntie Joan suggested. Perhaps a little early to rob the earth of its protective layer of weeds, I th […]

  19. Snurblog

    Partial Histories

    We’re back for the second day of ISEA2004 at Lume. Unfortunately I got here a little late (some good discussions on the tram and after with people from Sarai), so I think I might h

  20. Pregnant Teacher

    This sounds like overworking. I am a teacher and sometimes when I get home my brain is on overdrive. I know I am tired but I can’t down shift. Thoughts in my head, on Tv, etc. My suggestion is silly but it works…….light some candles and sit in the dark for 15 minutes. Sing a song, listen to yourself breathe. You might have to force it a few times but after a while, it will be your refuse.

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