These Mental Tricks Will Help You Relax, Even in Uncertain Times

Most of us don’t know how to wind down in normal conditions, let alone right now

Brianna Wiest
Mar 26 · 4 min read
An overhead photo of a person floating along a reef.
An overhead photo of a person floating along a reef.
Photo: Oleh_Slobodeniuk/Getty Images

You’ve canceled your plans.

Your router is running, your pantry is stocked, and you are prepared to be quarantined for the foreseeable future.

Of course, you’re trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible for the sake of your own sanity — but after all other precautionary steps have been taken, isolation offers us a rare opportunity: to truly, and completely, relax.

It sounds like an oxymoron given the circumstances, but the truth about relaxation is twofold. First, relaxing is the best thing you can do for yourself right now. Second, learning how to do it in a stressful circumstance will help you do it when life returns to our (new) normal.

The honest truth is that most people do not know how to relax even if everything in their life is going swimmingly and the world isn’t, you know, amid a global pandemic.

For right now, here are a few things you can do to actually calm down.

1. Stop being so extreme about your downtime.

Life isn’t about veering between being an overachiever and completely letting go, watching Netflix all day on the couch, and moving only to occasionally check Instagram or the Seamless app.

This type of dichotomous thinking is what got us into an unhealthy cycle in the first place. When we can’t relax, we seek a sense of being soothed by our own productivity. When we’re over-productive, we realize we need a break, so we totally let go of our responsibilities and start planning our escape to a remote beach for a week or two.

Of course, this is not the answer.

2. Stop treating relaxation like a passive activity.

Instead of telling yourself that you need a break and just want to put your feet up, decide how to spend a relaxing day in advance. If you’re going to watch Netflix, be intentional about it: watch a show you love or movie recommended by someone with good taste. Pull up a list of recommendations and make an informed choice.

Or, take an hour to go to the park and journal. Pick a morning for a few spa appointments. Set up a bath for yourself, complete with salts and candles and a book. Decide you’re going to end work early and spend your Saturday taking a long nap. When you wake up in the morning, wear something cozy, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the sunrise as you drink it.

When you’re intentional about your relaxation, you’ll find it comes much easier.

We either choose to relax now, or we choose it never.

3. Stop thinking you have to earn relaxation.

This is a mental trap.

We will never arrive at a point where we believe we deserve to relax because there is no set point at which we’ll finally convince ourselves we’re worthy. We will never reach all of our goals, our work will never be finished. We either choose it now, or we choose it never.

4. Change the way you think about other people taking time for themselves.

But beneath that guilt is just worry. You’re scared of what other people might think of your momentary lapse in productivity and effectiveness. This is common among people who base their value — and judge other people — on measurable successes. You’re worried that someone will judge you for “doing nothing” because you judge others for the exact same thing.

Change the way you think about other people embracing their downtime. Then, see how it gives you more permission to do the same.

5. If you don’t choose to relax now, you will be forced to rest later.

This is what happens when we make rash, impulsive, unhealthy decisions: Our willpower wanes so much that we no longer have the drive to keep our lives running. We’re running on empty, and we crash.

We were not born to be in constant productivity mode.

We are not robots.

We are human beings, and there is not only nothing wrong with taking time to restore ourselves, doing so is an essential piece of the puzzle that is a whole and good life.