"If you're stressed, take a vacation!"
I heard that a number of times from well meaning and concerned friends who were trying to help me manage the stresses and challenges of being an entrepreneur. I would always try to explain to them that even if I felt like the business could afford for me to take a few days away, a vacation didn't actually help. The truth is that I literally didn't know how to relax.
The fear of failure stalked me whether I was in the office or on a beach. At least at the office I felt like I had some agency. At least I was working toward a goal of eventually figuring out how to turn the business around. There was motion and activity that might some day result in overcoming the challenges of the day.
The deeper truth of the matter is that I had become addicted to activity just for the sake of it. So long as I was moving, I didn't really have to look the problems in the eye. The answer to every question was more activity, doing more faster. Although I didn't have the self-awareness to realize it at the time, my mindset was probably best described by Hunter S. Thompson: "Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death."
Data shows us that stillness, quiet, rest and recovery are as important for the mind as they are for the body. Olympic athletes train 30-40 hours a week, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to the amount of time you probably spend working. It's not as if athletes only train during bankers' hours because they aren't committed enough to do more. The reality is that rest and recovery are every bit as important as the training, and neglecting them leads to diminished returns and greater risk of injury.
In the same way, mental health research shows there are diminished returns to working anything more than 50 hours in a week, for similar reasons. Your mind needs time to recover. But, what to do if you can't turn off your mind? If your challenges and issues follow you and sit in the back of your mind during social events, family time, or even in your sleep, here are three strategies to re-learn how to be still, truly relax, and allow your mind to recover.
1. Go on a walk.
Without your phone. Is that a terrifying idea? So long as you are always in contact with the world, your mind wants to engage with the problems of the world. Take a walk by yourself or a loved one for 30 minutes and leave your phone at home. Small amounts of time in nature and out of communication can have an amazing impact on our minds. Increase the duration of your walk as you get more comfortable with the concept.
2. Give your mind a break before and after sleep.
Improving how you go to sleep and capturing the benefit of that rest is so valuable to how you perform in your day. Start trying to extend the amount of time between when you wake up and when you engage with your phone or other devices. Do the same with trying to shut those devices down (including TV) before you go to bed. Allow your mind to ease in to sleep and out of it to get better results during the day.
3. Try mindfulness meditation.
Meditation has a medically proven ability to reduce anxiety and allows you to get greater control over your thoughts. Headspace and Calm are two apps that have daily meditation routines that can be tremendously helpful.
These small habits, when practiced regularly, can have a tremendous effect on breaking the addictive cycle of constant action. Building these habits will help get more comfortable with stillness and relaxation and make you more effective in your daily activities. Perhaps even more important, when you finally do get to take that vacation, you'll have much better odds of being able to break your mind away, and actually enjoy it.