It is hard to reduce stress when relaxing feels so hard

I know I’m not the only one.

There are so many pictures posted on social media about #lakelife and #summervibes. But I find myself wondering if people are as relaxed as they seem online. Like most things on the intraweb I always leave wiggle room for reality.

It is very unwise to compare myself or my life against images that have been posted on someone’s public feed. Our private ‘feeds’ are so much more interesting and real.

But I’m not really wondering whether all the pictures of bare feet (pedicures in check) stretched out on chairs by pools and lakes are in fact ‘real.’ I’m wondering if the picture of relaxation goes beyond the photo.

Are we actually unwinding – are we ever truly relaxed?

Deep breaths, vacations, time in nature, stepping away from routine, and meeting up with long-lost friends should help us reduce stress. We should walk back into ‘regular’ life feeling a little lighter.

Are we ever really reducing stress and anxiety (and lowing our blood pressure)?

I’m not sure this blog will give answers, but it will allow us to connect. The words may resonate with you if you are also a mama on ‘vacation’ wondering why it all feels harder than normal life.

Your blood pressure feels higher. You are on a mission to relieve stress yet not even the progressive muscle relaxation app is coming to your rescue.

I think it’s important to not feel alone. The more people I talk to this summer season the more I see I am not alone in how hard relaxing actually is for me.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…Including you.” ~Anne Lamott

Unplugging is hard. Being in the present moment is the goal, but I personally feel I fail at it over and over again. The everyday stress makes it hard to relax. Deep breathing feels hard to fit into the schedule. How sad. If we don’t find some ways to relieve anxiety – setting an example for our children – I imagine we will all just die a little sooner.

Are we chasing perfection, order, beautifully curated calendars, entertained children, showhome-worthy homes, outfits straight from ‘like to know,’ and so much self-care that we are actually missing the point?

I know I need to find ways to relax. I don’t want to post pictures of summer vibing without a caption that keeps it real unless I actually really truly feel relaxed. Bliss. The dream.

Let’s relieve stress together

The “should-dos” lead to overwhelm. At least for me. My mind is busy and sometimes it is spinning so wildly that I am paralyzed. All the must-dos and should-dos out-capacity me. I just stop.

That isn’t a way to live. I tell myself that tomorrow I will practice mindfulness meditation, bathe in essential oils, and google helpful tips so I’m not such a stress ball. I don’t even have too much to feel wound up about.

There is some residual impact of trauma for me. I’ve come to realize that I seek control by way of wishing away dust bunnies and clutter because I know how little we can control in life.

I’m reminded of the lack of predictability (my preferred state) with Macey. The old poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is quite applicable:

“. . . When she was good, she was very good indeed, But when she was bad she was horrid.”

I walk loosely on eggshells every single day. And many people do. I’m not so much anxious about what the future holds as I am wishing everything to be in order.

My mind is always planning and very seldom calm and quiet.

I told Hudson the other day that I was a bit stressed about a project I was working on (let’s be clear, this was a gift that no one was marking me on or paying me for) and he said, “you’re always stressed.”

Heart in the throat. Yuck. I don’t want that to be the image he has of me.

Stress reduction is now top of my list. I’m exploring how to relax for myself and for YOU because I don’t think we are good at it.

Lowering blood pressure, aka chill out strategies

You can google this all day, but here are some that I find doable and helpful.

My little list: 

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Less booze
  • Journaling
  • Staying present (easier said than done)

Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and exercise were all recommended in the following article: read here. You’ll find some tips on how to do the breathing and muscle relaxation there too.

Everything they suggest can help with stress relief and are wonderful relaxation techniques. You need to find what works for you, but even more, you need to do what you WILL do. Breathing exercises are easy, but you need to remember to dothem.

A body scan meditation might sound like a great idea, and maybe it will only take a few minutes, but if you never make the time to do it, it may just add to your stress.

Relieve tension, please!

Sometimes it is just hard to remember to do the things you know you need to do.

Exercise is probably the biggest helper for me. If I go on vacation and exercise less and drink a little more that will be a roadblock to that illusive state of #vacaychill.

I journal daily and that is actually a saving grace. If I miss a day or two I will feel it (and maybe my family members will too).

Two other things that are very important for me (and might help you) are prayer and gratitude. It feels like #grateful has become another trendy thing and sometimes that discredits the idea for me. But I know that spending some time morning and night grounding myself with prayer and making a list of things that I’m grateful for is trending because it helps.

Gratefulness and mindfulness combat a long list of things that I do that are not helpful. These include: overthinking, comparing, analyzing, and dissecting. I have a critical eye for detail, but that can lead to anxiety and inflated expectations of myself (and others) if I’m not careful.

So I have to fight … to chase calm … to LET GO of my need for control.

I am not a mental health professional

Here are some excerpts from my ‘morning pages’ (aka journal). They highlight the ‘why’ behind this article. I am not solving the problem, but sometimes feeling a little less alone as I strive to do better is a good thing (for me and hopefully you).

“I’m really fighting the mind demons and they are most frustrating on vacation with people I know I love. It’s disappointing that I can’t just relax. Right now the sun is beaming on my legs and face, there is the freshness of a sprinkler showering my neighbour’s lawn, I have a cup of hot coffee, no one but Maya is out here with me, and the mountains frame my view. I should be feeling joy. You catch it, savour it, but it can be hard to sustain and I’m annoyed by that.”

“I’m not great at going with the flow. It is a struggle to just let the day unfold. I want to take action always in some effort to get it “right.” To make the most of our time together, to create the right memories, and not have regret. There is no way to really know if I’m doing that though and often it’s ruined because of the overthinking and attempt to control the situation,”

“I guess I am chasing the calm that I associate with perfection. Like if everything was in order I’d be more relaxed. But it is clearly not realistic because kids leave fingerprints on freshly cleaned fridge doors, people leave shoe trails, toys are partially cleaned up, bubbles are spilled, and the floor gets sticky.”

“Somehow I need to find a way to feel peaceful IN the mess and clutter – not just for the 30 seconds where everything is in place. If I have other humans in my life it is impossible to keep life ordered in the way I might choose. It is very sad to me that this is such a struggle.”

“Are other people fighting all this internal disorder? Are other people this way? Will I ever be able to chill out? How much of it is recovery from holding on so tightly through the years Macey was sick?”

“People won’t always do things on the schedule I want, or the way I want at all. People don’t read minds. And even if they did you can’t force them to show up the way you want – they show up the way they can and want to.”

I am not a mental health professional (or certified life coach), but my journaling and reflections have taught me a couple of helpful tips I’d like to share.

Relaxation techniques:

  1. Don’t let the perfect moments get clouded by the “untils,” “except fors,” “if onlys,” and “the only thing.”For example, “the birds sound so nice except for the crows;” “this walk is perfect except for that barking dog;” “if only I didn’t hear traffic;” “the only thing is that I wish ___;” “I can’t wait until everything is organized. Then I can relax.”
  2. Don’t overschedule. My capacity feels small and I have to honour that. There doesn’t need to be shame in doing less and fitting your calendar to your ability to handle it.
  3. Don’t overthink. This is a hard one, but it totally steals my peace. Overthinking leads to catastrophizing, overwhelm, and often paralyzes me completely.
  4. Move your body EVERY day. I have to prioritize it. For example, if I don’t have time to do my hair and workout, the workout wins.
  5. Eat less sugar and more vegetables. My mood is definitely affected by what I eat.
  6. Use a mantra. Recently I’m trying, “I am at peace.” Sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t.

Things can be lovely and people can be good enough just the way they are. I don’t need to overthink any of it. Not really. “I am at peace.” It isn’t magic, I’m not a professional, but I know some of the things that help lower my stress and anxiety levels.

Maybe they will work for you or maybe they will remind you that you have some secret weapons of your own that you haven’t been putting into practice.

Relaxation over perfection pretty please

Perhaps just talking about this will help us decide to take off the pressure – the chase for perfect – and seek peace.

I don’t want the next generation, my own kiddos, to be this wound up. We write and read blogs, google, go on retreats, yoga like there is no tomorrow, etc just to try to chill out. Come on.

It’s time to shift. Let’s take a collective deep breath and simmer down.

“In today’s rush, we all think too much – seek too much – want too much – and forget the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle

And to that, I say, Amen.


If you need a little help finding things to be grateful for today (finding any glitter at all) here is a blog I wrote about finding treasures. Read more here.

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