I have trouble relaxing. I really don’t have difficulty sitting and doing something mindless but I never turn off my mind. It is always racing around to some worry or another, reminding me of something I should be doing, something that would make me healthier or smarter or richer or thinner or just a better person.
My dear husband never quite understood and used to tell me I needed a hobby, an activity that would allow me to lose myself for the sheer pleasure of it. Over our years together he’s dabbled in a few hobbies; he tried his hand growing bonsai trees. On Sundays we scouted flea markets and sidewalks sales, looking for unopened Avon men’s cologne bottles. He has baseball cards and fantasy baseball teams that he plays with his sons. Then there’s the hobby in which he’d bury himself for hours at a time: genealogy.
He didn’t give up on me for quite a while. In graduate school, when I brought home A’s in statistics, he bought me a book for Christmas, “How to Use Statistical Methods to Handicap the Horses,” thinking I’d use my talents for a hobby and financial gain. Every time I focused on self-improvement, he tried to encourage me to have fun. When I decided I needed to learn to speak French, he bought me the complete works of Colette in English, so I’d be inspired when conjugating French got tough. When I read about matriarchal societies as the foundation of civilization, he bought me an African drum.
I left my CEO position on a Friday, and I laugh now in recalling the few days that followed. Reading to dive into my new – and current – venture, I bought a new iMac, I saw my attorney and filed my business incorporation papers, I saw my accountant, I called a designer and asked her to design my logo and business cards, I signed up for classes in IOS. I was the Energizer bunny, any activity that meant I had a purpose and was moving forward and didn’t really need to think about what was next.
Then on Monday I stayed in my pajamas and watched Law & Order reruns. Same on Tuesday. For the better part of three months, I stayed in old clothes, and watched Law & Order reruns. I had worked since I was 17. What I was about to undertake always seemed like a far off dream. I was burned out, scared and there was nothing that HAD to be done in the next 24 hours. My butt didn’t move from the sofa but my mind raced, bouncing from one thing to the other, reviewing all the ways I was unprepared to set up my own business. Every day I ordered a new self-help book from Amazon. I couldn’t relax.
Is it just me or do all senior women have trouble relaxing? Time use studies show that executives of both genders say that they never really disconnect from work, their minds always partly focused back to some business topic, but there is some evidence to suggest that women are still having a harder time turning off their brains. A study reported in The Times of London suggested that “women are much more likely to suffer from stress than are men. That’s stress about social situations, self-image, work, school, relationships, finances, injustice, interior decor, forks stored in the section of the drawer reserved for spoons, global warming — you name it, women are likely to worry about it. Young women, the research reveals, those under 35, are especially prone to such anxiety.”
Flash forward nearly five years. My business is modestly successful and I am enjoying it tremendously. I have made progress. I’ve learned how to take a vacation without worrying about work.
But that’s about it. I still don’t have a hobby. I think about the book I need to write. I worry about the online traffic – or lack thereof – my blog generates. I look back and enumerate the parenting mistakes I’ve made. I worry I don’t get enough exercise.
However, I now meditate EVERY day. I suggest to my female clients that they use a meditation app to try to still their worrying brains. Instead of mindlessly worrying, we write down the worries together and tackle them: is this worry true? Can it be controlled?
Most importantly, for me, I spend a few moments every day focusing on what I’m grateful for – like a partner who has tried so hard to find me a hobby.
“How beautiful to find a heart that loves, without asking you for anything but to be okay.” Khalil Gibran