Relaxation Guilt

lazy-womanToday was Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Well, it was Tuesday, but that was eight minutes ago.  Now it’s Wednesday.  For me, though, it’s still Tuesday night, so there.

Today I did just about nothing.  I had a list of things to do, but I didn’t do any of them.  I stayed in my nightie all day until I decided that I’d better at least go and get the mail.  For that, I put on some sweatpants and a bulky sweater.  When I got to the mailbox in the lobby of my apartment building, I was disgusted to find that the mail wasn’t even worth getting.  And there was nobody in the hallway, anyway, to see whether I was dressed or not.  It wasn’t even worth getting out of my nightie, apparently.

I spent several hours today just sleeping.  When I got up, I had my usual “breakfast” of coffee and yogurt, this time the yogurt was mixed with some fresh strawberries.  I say “breakfast” because I was breaking my fast, although it was well after noon.  While having breakfast, I did what I always do – checked email and fooled around on Facebook.  And I played Mahjongg on my iPhone.  I have broken the nine-minute barrier on every game except Black Dragon #5, 6 and 18.   Previously, I struggled for months to beat the games in the Green Dragon collection.  Mahjongg is probably the thing I spent the most energy on all day.

lazybonesWhat bothers me the most about today, though, is my attitude.  I’m retired, dammit, and I am not supposed to feel guilty about doing nothing all day.   Am I?  Do I have to “accomplish” something in order to be worthy?  Why can’t I feel good about  myself if I just spend the day doing nothing much at all?  What’s with all the guilt?

Guilt is defined as the cognitive state or emotion that occurs when a person believes – whether accurately or not – that he or she has done something wrong.  This implies judgment, because you can’t have “right” and “wrong” with out judgment, can you?  An article in Psychology Today comes right out and says that “guilt is an attachment to judgment.”   OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

My spiritual training says that we should strive for detachment in order to achieve spiritual freedom.  We detach from our emotions, which does not mean that we don’t have emotions; it only means we don’t allow our emotions to dictate our words and actions.  We detach from our opinions, which doesn’t mean that we don’t have any opinions.  It simply means we don’t feel the need to impose our opinions on other people.

We are urged to detach from material things, which doesn’t mean we have no material things; it means that we don’t order our lives around the acquisition, maintenance, and retention of material goods or around the maintenance and adornment of our physical bodies.

We detach from desires for food, sex, and entertainment.  It’s not that we don’t eat.  Of course, we eat.  We just believe that one should eat enough food to sustain the body, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the taste of one’s food, but it shouldn’t be used as an emotional crutch.  Same thing for sex: it’s fine to enjoy sexual relations, but we don’t order our entire lives around the prospect of getting laid.  As for entertainment, we enjoy being entertained just like everyone else.  We just believe that there is a point at which mindless entertainment becomes a kind of denial of reality.

lazy catOK, so we feel guilty when we think we have done something “wrong” for whatever reason.  Who decides what is “wrong”?   And why do we submit ourselves to this so-called “authority”?   Why do we judge ourselves so harshly?   In his article for Psychology Today, “Guilt is a Wasted Emotion,” Michael J. Formica writes, “Western culture is founded primarily upon an Abrahamic (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) ethic. One of the primary tenets of each of these traditions is that if you didn’t start out having done something wrong, you are gearing up to do something wrong, or you have already done something wrong and you’re going to get punished for it.”   Regardless of what religion we practice, this ethic is so deeply ingrained in our Western culture that we find it hard to separate ourselves from it.  The judgment that we are attached to comes to us from outside ourselves, from society, from our parents and families, and from our friends.

Blogger Erica Diamond calls what I was feeling today “relaxation guilt.”   Here is my adaptation of her tips for dealing with relaxation guilt.

  1. Commit your schedule to relaxing.  Actually schedule time to relax.  That means don’t make a list of things to do that day.
  2. Make a point of being physically active early in the day (or the weekend).  This is so you don’t feel too guilty.  You’ve at least done “something” for the day.  You can laze around after that.
  3. Recognize that your body REQUIRES downtime. This includes both our physical and mental bodies.  You will get sick if you don’t relax.  So relax.
  4. Forget about the “rules.”  Whatever you do, don’t set any rules, or you’ll just feel guilty if you break them.  Quit telling yourself what you “should” be doing instead of what you are doing.
  5. Accept that you are human and always doing the best you can in any moment, under any given circumstances.   Remember that if you feel overwhelmed, you probably are overwhelmed, and there’s no sense in denying it.  If you try to keep going, you’ll just end up crashing in some way.  When I look back at my life before I got cancer, I can see now what I couldn’t see then.  I was a whirlwind of activity, busy all the time.  I was way, way overbooked with activities and overburdened with responsibilities.  When I had cancer, I suddenly had a reason to clear my plate, totally.  Really, we get to the point where we subconsciously engineer a breakdown, either physical or emotional, just to get some rest without too much guilt! I know I did.

OK, so I didn’t get done the bulk of what I had written on my “to do” list for Tuesday, although I did get the mail.  And I did write this blog for yesterday.  At least I can cross that item off my list before I go to bed.   One other alteration of my list: I will cross off the word “Tuesday” at the top and write “Wednesday.”   So there. 🙂



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2 responses to “Relaxation Guilt

  1. Joyce

    Oh my goodness. I just retired from a very high stress job three months ago due to heart problems. I could have written this article. I try to at least make the bed, pick up, do a few dishes…and get dressed before my husband comes home from work each day….but most of my day, I play on my iPad, read, or just do NOTHING. I feel so guilty. We have started going out in the evening with our pup and walk around a small lake for exercise. I don’t know why I can’t simply relax and enjoy his new freedom. No one is making me feel this way but ME.

    • I hear you, Joyce. Retirement is a mindset, and it does take some time to switch from “work mode” to “retirement mode.” If you retired suddenly because of your health issues, then you didn’t have time to get used to the idea of retiring. Just remember that you did your part and paid your dues. You have earned your rest. I also had to retire because of health problems, so it took me while to settle into the routine. As you start to feel better, you will no doubt add activities to your routine. (That’s what I did.) Now there aren’t enough hours in the day! Thanks for reading my blog. – Linda

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