Just Relax: Easier Said Than Done

Being able to relax doesn’t come naturally for everybody. For me, it was a lesson that took a while, and one I’m still coming to terms with. In the past few years, I’ve been pushing myself beyond what my limits are. I feel this was in reaction to the ways I used to live and be treated. By seeking external approval now, to validate who I am. That I’m worth something by my work.

I used to be sedentary. I over consumed, just about everything and watched enough T.V. for a family of four. This was a direct result of my upbringing. While I was growing up, I wasn’t taught the value of keeping an active lifestyle. I didn’t have many interests and what’s more, no one to help me discover and foster healthy and active hobbies.

I was left alone for what felt like days at a time. And it seemed as though I had nothing but T.V. and videogames to occupy myself with. There was a short stint where my stepfather tried to get me into lacrosse. But it never took. I had never heard of the sport before my freshman year in high school, when he signed me up for it. And I was terrible at it as well. I had no one to practice with and my stepfather wasn’t available or lost interest. So it was a short lived experience. Nor one that built confidence in my abilities as an athlete.

Being Active to Prove Myself

The most active I remember being in high school was playing frisbee and hacky-sack in the courtyard. The “slacker sports” as we used to refer to them. We were cultivating a life of being sedentary. My friends and I had no goals to aspire to, nor guidance from healthy role-models to show us how to set and obtain goals, had we made any.

We were just drifting through life aimlessly. But we didn’t know any better. For me, and I’m sure for most of the people I hung out with, I was called lazy and put down verbally for most of my youth. I had nothing to aspire to, because I had no one show me how to aspire to something. Only consistent negative reinforcement from my role models. In case you are wondering, this was not a great parenting strategy.

Staying Busy to Overachieve

Though, I imagine my parents had been raised under more harsh, critical familial expectations. I knew my grandparents well. And they were not the happy, go lucky type. They were intense in all aspects of the word. My grandfather once yelled at me without restraint, when I was maybe 5, for forgetting to tell my father to bring a screwdriver to their house. Restraint and temperance were not words in my grandfather’s vocabulary.

My grandmother was image obsessed and cold. She had a standard that nobody could live up to. Considering, I had it pretty easy growing up. But the legacy of impossible standards that our family handed down through the generations, left us all feeling as though we had to work double, and triple time in order to gain any form of approval. This directly impacted our ability to relax. Mostly for fear that what ever small amount of belonging we felt, would be pulled out from under us, for taking some much needed rest if we did relax.

So we kept ourselves busy. We stayed busy to gain approval so we could feel belonging. But we always felt as though we had to keep producing, in order to cull what little approval we could from those that were keeping it so well guarded. This is an exhausting way of being. And one that does not lead to a sustainable way of feeling approved of. And it also leaves us little, if any, time to relax.

Sorting Out Integral Support From External Validation

With all of our hustling for approval, we never left ourselves with the time to take care of our basic needs. Let alone allowing ourselves the time to relax or enjoy what we do for ourselves. And if our tendency is to seek external forms of approval, then we’ll always be hustling for that approval. In order to break the cycle of seeking external validation, we need to validate ourselves first, for who we are.

This can feel like a strange reversal. Especially if you were brought up, as I was, constantly chasing the feelings of approval from those who held it just out of reach. But learning that you can approve of yourself while having that approval be an integral part of who you are, is empowering. And this may look a little different for everybody. As I’ve found approval is something that is a personal experience.

Self Approval

This, like most things, is a practice. I wish I could tell you that it will just magically appear one day and you’ll be solid in your sense of feeling adequate. But even still, it’s something that’s obtainable. It just takes work. For me, I’m still finding the ways in which I approve of myself. Two big parts of feeling self-approval for me lay in two areas: First in feeling accomplished and second, taking care of myself.

Withholding Accomplishment

Accomplishment was something that I had not really felt until very recently. I have vague memories of the felt sense of accomplishing as a child. But since, the standards were set so high, and for so long, that I just forgot what it felt like. This makes me sad to think of now. But this was just the norm for our family. And what makes this so tragic is, this was the foundation on which we built our connections.

We wanted to feel better than the person who was struggling with the standards we had set for them, when inevitably, they would fail to meet those standards. But this just left everybody feeling frustrated and angry. Sure, we felt superior for a while, but that feeling of superiority only carried us so far. Before long, we would have to accept that we pushed everybody close to us, away. Leaving us feeling all alone.

Feeling Accomplished to Feel More Content, Relaxed

Thinking on when I feel most accomplished now, and nothing comes to mind. But the feeling is present, however vague. And the more I dwell on the feeling, the more I recognize where in my life, and what I do, that brings that feeling with it. For example, when I think of No Labels Living, I think about all the time and effort I’ve put into crafting these posts. Turning my feelings and experiences, into pages of, what I hope are, helpful advice.

And when I think about cooking for myself, the food I make for the weeks ahead in an attempt to allow me the time to get after other goals that need attention in my life. I think about the rows of freshly cooked meals in Mason jars that contain my week’s nourishment and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Taking Care of Myself & My Needs

Taking care of myself, in a way, brings its own sense of accomplishment. In the example above, when I cook for myself, I feel a deep sense of pride and accomplishment for taking care of my nutritional needs. I’m making the food I love that nourishes my body. And this is a whole other felt sense of accomplishment. Like pride, mixed with care and doing for myself. Which in turn translates to time for me to relax.

Or like promising that I’ll take a bath at the end of a long work day. Knowing that I’m taking care of my emotional and physical needs, brings with it a sense of accomplishment and way to relax. Knowing that I’m caring for myself in a way that aids me in becoming the healthiest version of myself is gratifying.

Relaxation is Free

There’s a big industry focused around making money from peoples’ inability to relax. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t splurge on yourself once and a while. Especially if it’s something that you enjoy. But try to make doing, or enjoying your treat an event, where you can really savor it. But also keep in mind that the ability to relax is innate in all of us. Not achieved by something we purchase.

For example, I feel so much more relaxed soaking in a warm bath, than I do out at a restaurant. And you don’t have to go to a spa in order to feel as though you’re getting the spa treatment. I’ve been in the habit of burning candles and using an essential oil diffuser to create a more relaxed atmosphere nightly. If this is something that helps you to feel more relaxed, try creating your own spa experience at home. Add a few Epsom salts to your bath water. Maybe some essential oils as well. Add a few candles to the mix and you have something people spend good money on.

Other Ways to Relax That Won’t Cost You Anything

Exercise

Exercise is a great start if you’re looking for ways to sooth your nerves. My go to for exercise now is yoga. It’s low impact on your body, which after running for years is a nice break. And whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned pro, YWA has a ton of free videos on her site. Check her out here, or head over to my Community page for a link to her site and other resources for relaxing.

While we’re on the topic, taking a walk in your favorite stretch of woods will do wonders for your level of calm. Maybe you’re more of an ocean person? Walking by the beach is also soothing in ways that few other activities are. Being out in green space helps to reduce anxiety levels and has a calming effect. So the more you can be out in nature, the more you will be able to relax.

Cooking

This is something I especially enjoy. There is something about being in the kitchen, where so many elements come together. And with the right atmosphere, brings with it a sense of joy, ease and excitement. Burning a scented candle while slowly bring together the ingredients for each recipe is soothing to me. I know I’m nourishing myself with the tasty and healthy foods I’m making, but also engaging my senses with the colors of the fresh veg and the smells from the simmering sauces.

It’s a treat and one that reminds me of the times when I used to cook in a restaurant. It was a small take-out place where the lines would be out the door most nights. We made Mexican food with an Indian/Asian twist. The results were phenomenal and wildly popular in the city where we were.

My nights on the sauté station were most memorable. I had ten burners going full throttle with a line of slips piling up as the night got steadily busier. From the dimly lighted atmosphere complimented by flashes of ignited cooking oil, to the slow jazz playing in the background, it was a busy, yet soothing experience. And something I carry with me into my current cooking experiences. Only this time with fewer items to make : )

Journaling, Reading & Listening to Music

Journaling, listening to music and reading are a few other ways I’ve learned to sooth my nervous system. For example, today I spent most of my day reading about New England’s history while listening to old sea shanties, to really get me in the mood. It was like being transported to another time and place and all while feeling completely at ease.

Journaling is something that has been invaluable for me as well. I bullet journal, so planning out my weeks and organizing my household is something that brings me a great sense of feeling relaxed. Knowing I’m taking care of the parts of my life that need my attention allows me to move on with my day without wondering, “am I forgetting about something”. Being organized is a gift to those who feel they’ve been stretched too thin.

Winding Down

These are some of the ways that I relax, and some of the benefits I garner from feeling relaxed. If you have any go to ways of decompressing, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. It’s so easy to get wound up during the course of the day. And it’s even easier to open a bottle or smoke something to take your mind off of your accumulated burdens. But there are healthier ways of being at ease in your body that don’t need the aid of something other than a calm night, cup of herbal tea and maybe a hot bath. So take a load off and get into something more comfortable. You deserve it. Peace, & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Relaxing feet – 20100417 – IMG_3171.jpg” by Dhammika Heenpella / CWSSIP Images of Sri Lanka is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

I’m a Man, Is It Okay to Still Be Playing Videogames?

I’m a child of the 80’s. For me this meant videogames. I got my first videogame console, a Nintendo, when I was 7 years old. I was among the first to smash blocks and crush Goombas and it was the most exciting thing I could have done at the time. I subscribed to the Nintendo Power Magazine and rented games from the local video store. I swapped games with friends and had sleepovers that centered around playing these games. I truly had a blessed early childhood. But as I aged, I continued to play videogames in varying forms. So my question is, is it okay for me, as a fully grown man, to still be playing these games?

Gaming as an Adult

I’ve been playing some form of videogame for almost my entire life. I took an eight year hiatus recently, as I was trying to refocus my efforts on getting my life back in order. But now that things have settled, I am remembering how much fun I had when I was raiding with my friends while playing World of Warcraft.

Also, all the card games and other types of games I played in my youth. Though, thinking about playing them now fills me with a little anxiety. When I think about playing a game, or even sitting down to watch a T.V. show, I feel a guilt come over me. As though I should be spending my time doing something productive, worth while.

For those that have been reading for a while, you’ll know that I’ve struggled with self-care in the past. Being able to listen to and understand what I need has been a huge hurdle for me. And while we’re talking about it, we can add relaxing to that course as well. Because when it comes down to it, playing videogames is a way for me to relax a little. Destress.

Guilt & Gaming

So why do I feel so guilty when it comes to enjoying the hobbies that have brought me so much satisfaction in the past? I feel a large part of the equation is that I was among the first generation to play videogames. So all of my adult role models considered gaming as a child’s endeavor.

I’m not sure that this was ever told to me, but I got the distinct impression that videogames were something I would “grow out of”. I would eventually leave them in the past with my other childhood hobbies. Hobbies such as model building, or my other childhood toys I put away so long ago.

But with the quality of games and game play becoming more and more sophisticated, beyond the abilities of where I was at when I was a child, the question stands, are videogames a child’s pastime, or have they evolved? The clear answer, to me anyway is, they have most definitely evolved. And as if to prove this, there are a whole host of beneficial traits that gaming imparts on the player. Let’s take a look at a few.

Benefits of Being a Gamer

Reducing Stress Levels

This one isn’t too surprising. After all, we wouldn’t be playing, if it wasn’t fun. But videogame’s ability to reduce stress is twofold. First, videogames have the ability to immerse the player into a world completely unto themselves. For those facing stressful situations in other areas in their lives, this could be much needed distraction from the chaos that is happening around them.

If you’re anything like I am, you put 100% of yourself into the projects you take on. Even when I’m not responsible for tasks, or I see a coworker struggling, I try to jump in and “save” the person I see in the throws of a task. This either ends up with me getting in the way of their process, or taking on more than I’m able to handle.

When we lose ourselves to a game, we are forgetting about our stress for the time being. It doesn’t solve our problems, but it does give us the distance we need from it. This way, we aren’t totally consumed by the stressful situations, or react in other ways, like becoming gossipy or mean. And the last thing we need in an already stressful situation is more stress. This article from Positive Health Wellness goes into this and a few more way that videogames are beneficial to their players.

Taking Charge & Problem Solving

Videogames, for the most part, are a series of situations that need some sort of solving. When I was playing World of Warcraft, I was in a guild that was involved with end game playing. Basically what this means is that we were at the highest level of playing at the time. We would gather at a certain time on a certain day and set out to achieve the next goal in our game play.

Once you get to the higher levels on some of these videogames, the game play gets dramatically more difficult. It also takes a great deal of coordination to achieve your goals. Between finding out how many people you need for a party, to knowing the proper ratio of damage to healing, to knowing the types of classes you’ll need, there is a lot that goes into planning a raid. These tactics are also something that can be taken from the realm of gaming and into the real world as well.

In both my jobs, as a baker and as a resources coordinator for a family shelter, these skills come in handy. In my position as a baker, I need to know what we have for product, what we need to make, the order of importance and how we are going to keep product coming out of the kitchen in order to fill the need of the customer, while coordinating with the front of the house.

The same is true of the shelter I work for. Knowing who to contact for specific information and tasks, i.e., knowing their class type and how best to utilize their skills in a timely manner, is important. Knowing who to contact for which task is essential to achieving our goals. All skills replicated in videogames.

Social Elements of the Gaming World

While I was playing World of Warcraft, I had got in touch with an old friend of mine from childhood. He was playing as well, and invited me to join his guild. In the game, a guild is your online family. They step in and help you when you need a hand. A lot of the game play is designed for more than one person, so having the help when you need it is key to moving through the game.

But I found the more I played with the people from my guild, all of whom I had never met save for the one friend who invited me, the more they felt like actual friends. Because for all intents and purposes, they were. We talked about our days, joked, helped each other out when we could. They felt like support.

And really, that’s what we’re looking for when we are filling the position of a new friend. We already shared something in common, playing the game, so it was easy to break the ice. Also, consistently being in the same place at the same time was another aspect of building a report. Kind of like the ways you run into a roommate whose company you enjoy. You sit down and talk. Maybe watch a show or a game. Drink a beer together. It feels natural. Comfortable.

Videogames Lead to Faster Reaction Times for Decision Making

During the problem solving aspects of videogames, the game challenges you to switch between tasks fairly rapidly. This means that you are making split second decisions in rapid succession. These lead to the success or failure of the objective you are working on. And while you’re executing these tasks, you are also experiencing all the emotions that go along with them.

The high stakes pressure. The intensity and time crunch that comes with being under the gun. Not to mention the fear and anxiety, albeit at lower levels, that comes with the pressure. You’re learning to master these emotions in a controlled setting. These have benefits in the real world as well.

In the kitchen, this is a no brainer. You are constantly adjusting to fluxes of new information that stream in under intense heat and pressure. During a rush, you could be working on anything from 6-16 dishes at any given time. And if you are the head chef, you are directing others to execute in sync with the order of the meals delivery from the waitstaff.

The same tenants can be applied to office work as well. If you get a last minute project with a large list of tasks, you need to organize the information, delegate the tasks and bring it all together. The pressure is much the same as in videogames and you’re making these decisions in real time. Not an easy task.

Self-Care

And, let’s not forget that they are also fun to play! We could all use a little more fun in our lives. The release and enjoyment that comes with a good session of gaming is difficult to reproduce elsewhere. There’s not a lot of effort exerted for the rewards you receive as well as the sense of accomplishment for solving problems.

This can feel especially rewarding if you find that you are up against unreasonable standards or tasks. I know this first hand from working in the food industry. The prep-list that never seems to end. Feeling as though if you just get that one last item done, you’ll get ahead. There is definitely a lack of feeling like you’re accomplishing something.

With videogames, or even something like a sudoku or crossword puzzle, there is a sense of a small achievement that comes with finishing the task at hand. However small. It may not solve the long term problem of not finding job satisfaction, but it helps to feel a little more at ease.

Videogames are Fun but Don’t Over Do It

And like anything else, videogames are best enjoyed in moderation. The stress release they bring can be a much needed relief from the day to day. But taken to the extreme, they can be used to avoid life and the responsibilities we have to deal with.

When I was playing Warcraft, I wasn’t quite at the level of completely neglecting my life. But I was surely avoiding some of the most important relationships in my life. Namely, the one with my now, ex-wife. There were other elements that were contributing to me neglecting my relationship, but videogames were a big piece of that puzzle.

Instead of taking the time and putting forth the effort to build intimacy in my relationship, I spent it on pleasure seeking routines. And incase you are wondering, my relationship was what should have taken president. Knowing what I know now, I truly regret not being the husband I know I could have been. Instead, a lot of people were hurt. It wasn’t all my fault, but I’ll take my half.

It’s Okay to Play

And finally, incase you need any more incentive, it’s okay to enjoy the games of your youth. I have fond memories of playing in my digital world. The action from the game play, the story line and the dramatic artwork that went into the making the games. All have a special place in my heart.

So let your inner child out to play. If you’re looking for a way to get involved, Steam is a virtual platform that puts out consistently good games. A friend of mine just recommended Strange Horticulture and it looks interesting. Or maybe you have an old favorite that you put down. Let this be your permission to pick it back up. And get your family involved too. Games are more fun when you play together. Here is where I leave you reader, have fun exploring! Peace & thanks for reading : )

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