If you've ever carved out some time to rest and relax or treated yourself to a vacation, but then found yourself having a difficult time enjoying the time off — you're definitely not alone. It often seems like everyone finds it a challenge to unplug and embrace doing, well, nothing. Instead, your mind is likely swirling with things you feel like you "should" be doing and you’re filled with guilt for not being productive. Hustle culture has led many to believe that they must use every spare minute to do something productive, making it difficult to fully enjoy their downtime. Thankfully, like all habits, one can consciously train themselves to integrate a new habit and way of being — in this case, learn how to actually chill.
According to therapist Camille Tenerife, one factor that has conditioned many to feel like they must be productive all the time is their environment. "If you happen to live in a busy city or work with a lot of high achievers, your natural tendency is to feel the unspoken or spoken pressure to continue to do more or produce more," she says. "Resting is now associated with being 'lazy' or 'unproductive.' Because of this, we've adopted the mentality of our worth and our value [being] contingent on our level of productivity. So we make sure we cross as many things off our to-do list as possible."
Tenerife says that one’s childhood and how they were raised can also contribute to the constant need to be productive. Growing up, one may have picked up messages — directly or indirectly — from our parents or peers. Perhaps you were told that being lazy was a bad thing, or your caregivers didn't model how to prioritize their own rest. Or, maybe you attended a competitive school where it was expected that you'd stay busy with school work and extracurricular activities. "These indirect messages impact the way we feel about work and rest," Tenerife says.
That said, these habits can be replaced with ones that promote self-worth and self-protection. Ahead, both mental health experts and on-the-go CEOs sound off on the power of unplugging and how to go about it the right way.
Do Things That Require Undivided Attention
While doing things like curling up on the couch watching a movie can be relaxing, it's also way too easy to reach for your phone and check your email or Slack messages, which defeats the purpose. This is why Raina Penchansky, co-founder and CEO of Digital Brand Architects, a digital talent management company, says engaging in activities that require her undivided attention help her truly unplug. "I am obsessed with The New York Times spelling bee," she says. "It's so good for your brain and a good escape. I [also] love reading. When you're immersed in a good book or an amazing article, you can really tap out for a bit, especially if you're reading a physical book or paper."
Abby Morgan, co-founder, and CMO of CUUP, too, loves unwinding with a good fiction book. "I want to get wrapped up into a story of interesting characters in places foreign to me," she says. “To be able to empathize and transport to a completely different situation — I find this extremely relaxing."
Penchansky adds that niche hobbies are another great way to disconnect. "Needing to intensely research something and learn an entirely new skill set is a great distraction," she says.
Ditch Your Cell Phone
This tip may be easier said than done (at least at first), but according to Morgan, not carrying her phone around with her on the weekends is a game-changer when it comes to really savoring the slow time. "I particularly love walking in nature with no cell phone to take pictures or distract me," she says, adding that movement also helps her step away from the hustle cycle.
That said, even if you can't ditch your phone altogether, minimizing your screen time can also be helpful. "In order to truly enjoy time with family and loved ones, I force myself to limit screen time to four hours a day, which I usually squeeze in the early morning or late evening depending on my day," says Daniella Levy, CEO and founder of Happy V. "If I'm on vacation I [also] make sure to turn off my notifications for a certain amount of time to not get distracted."
Tenerife echoes this advice by saying that if you really need to do some work while on vacation, schedule a small window of time during your day to do so. "This way, if you start to feel overwhelmed or guilty, you can remind yourself that you already have a designated appointment for being productive," she says.
Commit To Putting Yourself First
That said, Levy underlines that the biggest obstacle in enjoying your rest time isn't technology but rather your own degree of commitment when it comes to working and setting boundaries. "If you work 80 hours a week and you're basically available 24/7, you might find it difficult to get your head out of work," she says. "This not only affects your physical health but also your mental health. So finding time to set habits and boundaries for your personal downtime and actually committing to them is incredibly important."
Remind Yourself It's Okay To Rest
Just like any other skill or habit, guilt-free rest, too, is something that requires some practice to get the hang of it. To help with this, Tenerife encourages us to recite a mantra whenever thoughts start to focus on feeling guilty about not being productive. "Remind yourself that you become more efficient at your work/tasks when you also fulfill your other needs like rest and play." For instance, you can say to yourself: "Rest is productive. I deserve to enjoy my downtime."