Reprinted with the kind permission of Sarah Borien and A Life Less Physical
There’s a big difference between ‘being relaxed’ and ‘not being stressed,’ and I feel like it’s taken me about ten years to finally realise that.
I’m not stressed. I’m very rarely stressed. But I’m also absolutely never relaxed. I’m not actually sure what it feels like to be relaxed. I floated last year which I think came pretty close, and I love a spa day more than most, but in day-to-day life, I believe I’m what they call a person with “high functioning stress.”
I’ve never been able to relax – I don’t really know what that means. I’m an over-achiever at work, and when I get home I do more work. In my spare time, I blog, build websites, write business plans, plan events, see friends… I never do nothing.
It’s suggested that people with high functioning stress or anxiety keep busy to refrain from getting stuck in their thoughts. The constant distraction means you don’t ‘allow’ yourself to think, to get depressed or anxious, because your brain doesn’t slow down for long enough – and when you do start to feel upset or anxious, you just distract yourself by planning something new.
I’ve been like this for a long time and know lots of people who live similar lives, and I’ve never really seen the problem with it. If I’m getting stuff done and I don’t feel blue, then what’s the problem? Well, one of the possible problems is the impact this has on physical health. Headaches, neck pain, back pain and tense muscles are likely, and so a part of me wonders how much my inability to relax impacts my fibromyalgia. Did it cause it? Does it hinder it? Does it make no difference whatsoever?
I’ve previously blogged about this year’s multi–treatment approach to managing chronic pain, and my plan to tackle each of the areas in the boxes above. I covered the musculo-skeletal area in my blog post on osteopathy, and today I’m sharing the work I’ve done on reducing stress.
Based on the picture I’ve painted above, I’m actually pretty proud of myself and my stress-reducing ways. I’ve done four things since May and I’ve actually done them fairly consistently. Yay me!
Changing working hours
I’ve been talking about changing my hours for years. Years. I’m finally doing a ‘condensed fortnight’ which means I squash 10 days work into nine days so that I can have one day off every fortnight. I can’t believe the difference it’s made – particularly as I use my days off to sleep, relax and see my Godson. Nothing else.
I live in the countryside and my nearest village is a five-minute drive away, and yet somehow the world’s best massage therapist works there. I’ve started getting a massage once every couple of months, but have decided to up my game and build it into my alternate Fridays off work. Indulgent? Perhaps. Expensive? Definitely. Worth it? Absolutely.
I’ve been hunting for a good yoga teacher for years, and I have finally found one who comes to my house. She’s absolutely wonderful, incredibly patient, and works one-to-one with me to make sure I’m only doing what my body can handle at that particular time. It’s not quite exercise yet, but deep breathing and light stretching is working wonders on my relaxation levels.
I blogged about colouring books for adults a couple of years ago, and then got totally out of practice. I’m back on it and loving it even more than first time around. It’s keeping my brain busy but prevents me from working or planning or communicating – it’s the perfect way to slow down my mind.
I feel like all of this is a step in the right direction. The problem, of course, is that osteopathy, massage and personal yoga classes all cost money – and one could argue that if I stopped doing so much work and went for a bloody walk once in a while, maybe I wouldn’t need to spend a fortune on enforced rest.
But right now, I am where I am, and I’m a firm believer that you have to compare your progress against yourself – not against the Perfect Humans of Instagram. I’m proud that whilst I may not be the most relaxed person in the world, I’m making a good start.
Maybe this relaxation has led to shorter flares, or less frequent pains, or made it easier to cope with the normal pains. Who knows? It’s all so difficult to monitor and understand that part of me feels like this is wasted effort, but I’ll keep going if for no other reason than… why not?
Sarah Borien lives in a country cottage in Oxfordshire with her husband and their two cats. She has had fibromyalgia since 2009 and is passionate about finding and sharing new coping strategies. Sarah authors her blog, A Life Less Physical, and has written for New Life Outlook (Fibromyalgia).