Work and Play Hard — But Relax Harder

Man sitting at a computer screen stressed, trying thinking hard about how to avoid burnout.

Millennials love the old adage, “Work hard, play hard.” Just because we’re adults now, doesn’t mean that we don’t still want to have fun. And if we do say so ourselves, we’re at least as good at the fun part as we are at the work part (typically much better, actually).

Confession time: lately, I’ve been about at-capacity on both work and fun. More often than not, I end up exhausted at the end of the weekend, feeling like I need another weekend just to recover. This wasn’t always a problem, because my Monday–Fridays haven’t been terribly demanding, compared to some. But I don’t have time during the week to rest, which basically means I’m not resting. And it shows.

The truth is, if I don’t take time to actually rest my tired bones, I’ll be on the fast track to burnout, and that’s no good.

It seems Millennials don’t take relaxation seriously. The study Project: Time Off by GfK found that we give so much to the office that it would be wise to take steps to ensure that our relaxation time catches up with the time we spend working and even playing.

What is rest, anyway?

Google “how to sleep better,” “how to feel more rested,” or any other iteration, and you’ll find a variety of experts’ advice. But without fail, they all admit at some point that there’s no substitute for taking the time to actually sleep. As much as possible.

It sounds simple, of course. And here’s the spoiler alert: it is! I recently came down with a sinus infection so I did what my mama taught me: I got plenty of rest. I went to sleep as early as possible (as a night owl, that ended up being like 11 p.m.), and allowed myself to sleep at least nine hours straight (three full sleep cycles). Not only did my illness start to subside, but I started to notice an ability to focus better on my work. I also felt more relaxed and at ease throughout the day. Go figure.

Of course, there are other things you can do with your waking hours that count as rest, as well. Everybody’s different, and people will find different activities restful and relaxing. But the basic principles are that you allow both your mind and body to rest — at the same time. So even watching TV, although it doesn’t require much effort, is still occupying your mind and your senses to the point that it’s not as relaxing as you might think.

I’ve found, especially with screens and connectivity dominating my life more and more, that the most restful things I can do involve completely unplugging.

Hop off the treadmill

I prefer to run outside, but there’s something about the treadmill that’s really nice: I can step off of it whenever I want, and I’m done.

If you think about it, the treadmill is a great metaphor for our busy, modern lives. Many of the things we do are worth repeating day after day, but at a certain point, we just pack too much stuff into our days. We’re on the treadmill, and we just keep going. It’s carrying us along whether we like it or not. And we may not even realize it.

That’s why unplugging is so essential for us. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spent on my phone for what I meant to be no more than a minute or two, and a half hour or even an hour has passed. There’s just something mesmerizing about screen time. It’s important to hop off the treadmill of connected devices so as to better have real rest and relaxation in your life.

Free your mind and appreciate silence

There’s simply no substitute for tuning out all of the external stimuli and freeing your mind to think. Many of us, myself included, have a hard time with silence, if only because we’re so used to the noise. I know at work I typically want to be listening to music as much as possible. And that’s even when my mind is occupied with other things!

Part of the reason we don’t like silence, I think, is that it forces us to think, which can sometimes be an uncomfortable thing. External distractions are nice when they keep us from thinking about tough decisions we have to make or being reminded about certain things in our lives we should probably change. But taking time just to think about life is the most basic — and most important — part of living an intentional life. And it’s also an essential part of living a Christian life.

Of course, Catholics should do more than just think. We should be praying! Setting aside time, every day, to spend with God without any distractions is the essence of the Christian life. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially in our modern culture, and it takes real intentionality to tune out all the distractions and spend time with God.

Prayer is also restful. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in prayer and I just unloaded all of my cares and anxieties to God’s care. Then I realize, ‘Wow, it feels good to not carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.’ Sometimes I need to remember that after I’ve spent some time with God, I feel like a million bucks.

Work hard to make sure you can relax

Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your rest keeps up with your work and play:

  1. Schedule rest. Block out time in your Google Calendar. Send yourself reminders if you need. “10 p.m.: Time to get ready for bed.” Now that’s an alarm I can get excited about!
  2. Make time for silence. Even if you enjoy watching TV or hanging with friends in your free time, make sure you also make time for quiet. Turn off the radio during your commute or go for a walk. It might feel weird at first but trust me, you’ll get used to it — and you’ll love it.
  3. Celebrate Sundays. It’s the day of rest, after all. Never schedule work on Sunday, freelance or otherwise, if you can help it. Make time on Saturday or some other day to do your household chores and run your errands.
  4. Make time for prayer, every day. I try to take a half hour in the morning before work. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll do it after work, but before I do anything else. But if you’re starting from scratch? Start with five minutes, then increase if and when you’re able.

With more rest, you’ll be healthier, happier, and stronger in body and soul. By resting well, you’ll also be more capable of doing whatever else you’ve got going on — like working hard and playing hard.

Grotto infographic titled, "Simple Steps for Rest": 1. schedule rest; 2. make time for silence; 3. celebrate Sundays; 4. make time for prayer, every day.

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