The Difference Between “Relaxing” and “Being Relaxed”

Relaxed kitten - 3 by johntgr
Credit: DeviantArt / johntgr

I live this somewhat frenetic life, but despite all my country hopping over the last few weeks… this has been a relaxed time for me. As a result, I realised something – being actually relaxed, feels very, very different from relaxing. Perhaps I’ve just been completely obtuse here, but it was something of a revelation to me.

It’s the difference between having a massage to get my shoulders down from around my ears and… never having them up around my ears to begin with.

Weirdly, I noticed it when walking past a cupcake bakery in Canada. And I thought, “Oh! I used to love that place. A cupcake would be a really nice treat.”

And then I thought – wow, I don’t think I am prone to stress eating but that is dramatically different to how I normally think about cupcakes. Which is more, “Argh I’m having such a stressful day, and why the hell is… oh! Free cupcake”. Or, “Great! Time for some Cate-time, I’m going to do body pump, and then I’m going to have some lunch, I’ll go to that sandwich shop, oh I could have a cupcake, and then I’m going to do some cardio… then… do I have my swim gear?”

Which actually, when I think about it… looks a lot more like stress eating that I thought.

In Real Life, I try and so something just for me every day, whether it’s reading some of a novel, or spending some time on the cross trainer with whatever TV series I’m currently watching. In my break from Real Life, that hasn’t been a conscious effort – every day is something just for me, I planned it this way.

And the result is… I have actually been relaxed.

(Note – all things are relative. Compared to my usual self. Strangers might still find me distinctly type-A about a lot of things.)

And the result is, I no longer feel compelled to do things – eat cupcakes as an example, but also, massages, beauty treatments, novels devoured whole, prescription meds – to help make me relaxed. I don’t need the help, or the compensation for the stress of Real Life, because I’ve opted out of it for a while, and it feels amazing.

Right before I left Sydney, one of my friends and I were talking about how as tech workers, we make great salaries, but how much of them do we spend on ways to compensate for the level of stress we are under? Flying to North Korea, rather than just spending the day at the beach to unplug. All afternoon and hundreds of dollars at the spa rather than just a facemask at home and then a movie. All because I will show up to an event on my calendar that I’ve paid for, but don’t carve out time for the small things either because I prioritise more stressful activities, or because they seem insufficient.

And obviously, I’m going back to the Real World, but at least I know what this feels like. And I have a better idea of how much of my outgoings are me paying my soul compensation for having to live there.

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