Can you learn to relax?

Inspired by this post in another thread:

To me, if I have to work to relax, that’s not what I call relaxing.

Most of my productivity comes from the first quarter of the day, because that’s when I’m well rested. After I use up all my energy I can’t get it back again for the rest of the day because I don’t know how to relax. Focusing on relaxing hasn’t worked. I know it works for some people, but I’ve tried some techniques from various Youtube videos and none of them have worked.

I think the problem is that whenever my mind isn’t occupied it starts thinking about death, anxiety, and past humiliating experiences. So my solution thus far has been to occupy it with law school textbooks, movies, and exercise. An idle mind is something I’ve never learned to deal with.

Is it possible for me to be at rest and not think about crazy and depressing shit?

I can’t speak for you, but it is possible for me. :slight_smile: You might also note that I said relaxing is a skill you can learn, not that it is work. I used a bunch of different methods to learn how to relax my mind and my body; they all work for me very nicely. My husband needs someone to teach him different methods to learn how to relax; I’m pretty sure he can learn how, too, because his body is physiologically capable of it, but the methods I use don’t work for him (progressive relaxation, tensing and releasing your muscles, makes him even more tense). He hasn’t actually tried mindful meditation; that might work for him.

Anyone else?

Yes, it’s absolutely possible to learn. I’ve done it, but I’m not quite sure what specific technique was the one that worked for me. I’m sure that just growing older and geting more perspective on life has helped tremendously.

As for your mind drifting to negative thoughts, that’s a habit you can break. The first step is awareness. Be aware for the very instant that those thoughts enter your consciousness, and make a point to shift to thoughts of puppies, rainbows, and pie. You could anchor that with a physical action that also induces relaxation, such as a deep breath or a smile. (Or both!) What you’ve been doing so far is distracting yourself from these thoughts by drowning them out. That’s probably counterproductive. By replacing your thoughts, you’re taking positive action to deal with them.

And give yourself time go let this work. Like, six months to a year. Be patient.

If that doesn’t work and you find yourself obsessing on negative thoughts, you can try the opposite: Make a point of almost overdoing it, so much that you become bored with the subject. (I haven’t tried this, but I know some people who swear by it.)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a science-based approach to changing habits of thought. I’ve seen this book recommended before on the boards, although I have no personal experience. Poster olivesmarch4th knows a LOT about CBT, so maybe try a PM for further suggestions.

I suspect that is, indeed, your problem.

It’s possible for me—my mind doesn’t go to crazy and depressing shit when it’s at rest—which suggests to me that it ought to be possible for you as well. But I don’t know how you’re going to achieve it. Maybe there’s some unresolved issue that’s eating away at your psyche, that you need to deal with or work through (possibly with the help of a trained counselor). Maybe you could use psychiatric treatment for depression or anxiety disorder. Maybe you could train yourself to get in the habit of thinking about positive things. Maybe you need a religious conversion. Maybe you need a puppy.

It certainly is. For years and year whenever I had an idle mind it would switch to horrible memories of my mother and some of the cruelties she enacted. Now…none of that. You certainly can learn to to do it.

Well, I don’t necessarily think of distressing things, but my mind really churns and I certainly have problems relaxing. I have problems sleeping, no doubt for the same fundamental reason, whatever that is.

Furthermore, efforts to “focus” on some thing or another, as in meditation or progressive relaxation, are fruitless. I was born without an attention span.

I had the same problem for the past 10 years. This year, I started taking mental breaks during the day. While your mind is racing, your adrenaline is also pumping. As the months and years go by, your body is exhausted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from the adrenaline. In our case, “relax” means “turn off the adrenaline.”

I already knew how to do this from meditation training years ago, so it was easy for me to start doing it now once it was properly diagnosed.

One method I could share with you is to eat slowly. Focus on the taste of each bite. Try not to mix different dishes in your mouth, but take a single bite of each thing (of course, there’s an exception for meat + starch.) To prolong the meditative state, keep cold water handy to clear your mouth of the previous taste and then taste it again. It’s like tasting it for the first time again.

I also like to stare at colors and unfocus/close my eyes for seconds at a time (perfect for cigarette breaks or riding elevators or walking to the bathroom.)

Another trick is to wear the most comfortable piece of clothing you own. I have had feet problems for years and use orthopedic inserts. Recently, my wife bought the best shoes ever for me, and I enjoy just focusing on how good my feet feel.