Take a chill pill or 5
Some people need a huge dose of motivation. They might find it in a venti coffee, self-help books, or inspirational slogans. Others suffer the opposite problem. We lack the innate ability to relax.
Workaholics struggle to embrace the Netflix and Chill. We promise ourselves that after this article, this meeting, this trip to the gym, we’ll indulge ourselves in a weekend of rest. No matter what we workaholics try, we turn everything into work.
Why? Because effort makes us feel good. The intoxicating high of accomplishment numbs the pain of whatever’s missing from our lives. Plus, our culture rewards work far more than it does other addictions. Nobody ever received a promotion for most lines of cocaine snorted, or ounces of heroine injected. Of course, that makes sense. At best, addiction is a metaphor we use to understand people who like to work all the time. An overdose of work carries zero legal consequences. The health risks associated with longterm workaholism are unclear. We see tons of “before” and “after” PSAs about meth addicts, not so many for the 60+ workweek.
Most of the time, endless drive is a good thing. But sometimes you have to relax. The human body needs it. So does the mind.
Let me tell you about graduate school. For about a year, I took on a full course load, taught two classes, and tutored online for about 12 hours a week to make extra cash, all while writing a short story collection and maintaining a long distance relationship. One of my graduate classes was a PhD-level linguistics course at a prestigious school that participated in a consortium with our humble state institution. Attendance alone added three hours of driving to my weekly schedule.
My life was a constant, sleepless juggling act. At least once a week I stayed up for 27+ hours to get everything done, only to crash into a beautiful deep sleep on Friday nights. Five-hour energy became my best friend. At noon on Saturdays, I would wake up and work for about 12 hours straight. Then my regular week began early on a Sunday afternoon by grading papers, class prep, and so on. Somehow I managed to keep up a rigorous fitness routine. Every other weekend, I drove three hours to see my boyfriend. My candle was burning at both ends, and the middle too.
My epiphany didn’t involve a car crash or some kind of aneurysm. No, quite the opposite. I finished that year having accomplished everything I’d intended. My linguistics class practically gave me a standing ovation after my seminar presentation. The professor said, “It’s truly amazing what you’ve done, coming into this class from another discipline.” My peers, the ones whose respect I’d been dying for the last three months, invited me out for a drink. But I had to decline. I was exhausted, and I knew one beer would probably put me in a coma.
Another professor recommended I prepare my seminar paper for publication. “One of the best papers I’ve read,” he wrote. My long-distance boyfriend had mailed me an early birthday present, and was talking about marriage. On top of that, another article I’d written got accepted for publication.
Here’s the epiphany. All that good news, and I was just wading through each day like a zombie. It was mid-May. The semester was over, and all I wanted to do was sleep. For about a week, I slept 12 hours a day. When I woke up, I watched Netflix and ignored the entire world. It wasn’t even a content staycation.
I was just spent, like a stale French Fry. What good was all this achievement if I was too dried up to enjoy it?
So began my life-long struggle with relaxation. Ever since then, I’ve struggled to find ways of relaxing. I began designating one night a week for friends, and another for solo movie night.
They say it takes your stomach 20 minutes to tell your brain it’s full. There must be some residual period like that for us workaholics, too. I’ve learned to spot that feeling we get. If you’re like me, you know what I mean. That mood when your brain ticks off all your accomplishments, and yet you want to do more. “But I could finish one more thing if I just….” That’s how I know when to force myself to have a drink and pull up my Amazon watch list, or go for a walk. Like I’m about to do right now.