Learning to Relax

Greetings from sunny Florida!

You may know that I live in Minnesota, aka The Frozen Tundra. Well, this week, I’m coming to you from my mom and step-dad’s house on the Gulf side of Florida.

They moved here from Michigan about 20 years ago and absolutely love it. I, on the other hand, can only take so much humidity. I come down once every couple of years for a break from the daily grind.

What am I learning this time around? That I’m better at relaxing than I thought.


About a year ago, I wrote a guest post on the fabulous website, Introvert, Dear, about how I found a balance between taking part in activities and finding enough solitude during a family reunion in North Carolina.

I used to get pretty anxious around my family, for reasons I don’t really understand. I think it was just the expectations I put on myself to put on a front if I wasn’t feeling well and feeling like if I didn’t participate in all the activities, they would think there was something wrong.

The truth is, there was something wrong: I have an anxiety disorder and depression! So, sure, sometimes when I was around my family, I felt like shit. But I didn’t want to let it show, so I tried to fake it. Yeah, that doesn’t work so well for me.

So, at our 2017 family reunion (we have one every two years), I had only one expectation – to be myself. If that meant spending a lot of time on the balcony alone, I did. If it meant playing cards with the fam, I did that. I found a balance between socializing and finding a spot where I could have plenty of quiet time.

And I had a great time.

The trip I’m on now isn’t exactly a family reunion, but it does include my mom and step-dad and my brother Mark and his wife, Lori. I could have easily felt uptight about my trip ahead of time, worrying about this and that.

Fortunately, I didn’t. I didn’t get nervous about it until the night before, and that was mostly because of the flight. I hate flying, no two ways about it. That’s why I took a Xanax before we took off, which kept my anxiety in check.


I came down here three days ago via Delta Airlines. I am not a good traveler; it makes me very tired and sometimes a little crabby. The flight down went very quickly, though, and there were no problems like the plane running out of fuel or the wings falling off. I even sat next to a very nice woman, with whom I had a nice, relaxing chat. In fact, we got along so well, she bought my lunch for me! (No, I don’t think she was trying to pick me up.)

Since I don’t enjoy flying (I’m always trying to figure out what every little noise is), it’s difficult for me to take long trips. I usually get very anxious the night before I leave, and it continues until I reach my destination. What REALLY drives me crazy is the thought of missing my flight, so once I’m in my seat by the window, the anxiety tapers off some. However, I don’t enjoy the flight itself, so I’m still anxious until we land.

But sitting next to this calm woman really helped me keep my catastrophizing to a minimum. Usually, on a flight, I (like most of us) end up either sitting next to someone who doesn’t say a word to me (which is fine) or someone who won’t leave me alone (which is not fine).

So I actually had an enjoyable flight, for which I am eternally grateful. I can’t remember the woman’s name – Diane? – but she really helped me, just by being herself. So thank you, Diane. 🙂


My family is pretty calm and pragmatic, and they’re all awesome. In fact, I planned my trip so I could be down here with Mark and Lori, since I never see them. Most of my family is spread throughout the East Coast. Mark lives in Michigan, Craig lives in DC, Jeff lives in North Carolina, and of course, mom and Jerry live in Florida.

All of my family members, including my sisters-in-law, are awesome. They’re a fun bunch, and they never put pressure on me to take part in any activities other than playing Pinochle (which I love). I’m still smoking, too, but no one ever reams on me about it (thank you!).

I’ve always been a serious person, finding it hard to relax and just be. But in recent years, it’s been getting easier. My family’s easy-going nature makes it possible for me to not feel nervous or anxious around them. I can’t thank them enough for accepting me as I am – tattoos, smoking, depression, anxiety, addiction, and all.

I have learned to not put so much pressure on myself to be someone I am not, to not try too hard to be entertaining or even to participate in every activity. This means I can relax. The fact that my family members are the same way only makes it easier on all of us.

I feel lucky to be part of a family that doesn’t throw its expectations on me. Even though my depression is debilitating at times and I haven’t been able to work since 2005, no one puts any pressure on me about it. They don’t make me feel “less than” (even though sometimes I do anyway). They know my struggles and are just glad I’m doing better.

That is priceless.

Knowing that I don’t have to be “on” all the time is my saving grace. I think I hit the familial jackpot when I was born.


I get bored pretty easily, which is somewhat new for me. For the last six months or so, I’ve been getting so restless, I just don’t know what to do with myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have things I could be doing – but when I feel overwhelmed, every little thing is just too much and nothing gets done.

I haven’t been using the best coping methods during this time. I’m smoking more (outside only) and sleeping a lot more. But you know what? I don’t sleep well at night, usually getting three or four hours lately, and there’s nothing wrong with a nap or two. I have to keep telling myself that.

I do have a list of things I can do to relax, some of which I’ve shared before on this blog.

  • Meditating
  • Reading (for pleasure)
  • Writing
  • Coloring
  • Going for a walk (when the weather cooperates)
  • Paced breathing (3 counts in, hold for 3, out for 4 or 5; then two normal breaths; rinse and repeat.)

All of these things help me, but it can be difficult to convince myself to do it. Building good habits is hard work. It takes motivation, discipline, doing it even if you don’t feel like it, and keeping up with it. The idea is that if you do something enough times, it becomes almost like second-nature – not a chore or something you dread doing.

So far on this trip, I’ve taken a couple of naps, read a little bit, played some Pinochle, gone outside for a smoke when I feel like it, and just generally farted around. Last night, we all went out to dinner, and today we went to a botanical garden in Sarasota. Tomorrow morning, they’re all going golfing while I entertain myself here at the house (you don’t want to see me golf!) and then my mom, step-dad, and I are going on a sunset cruise on a charter boat. I leave the next day.

And no one is putting any pressure on anyone to do anything. My only requirement is that I get to go to 7-11 for Slurpees while I’m here. (There isn’t a single 7-11 in the great state of Minnesota or in Western Wisconsin. Can you believe it?!) It may sound silly, but Coke Slurpees are a reminder of my youth. Plus, they taste great.

So I guess I’m relaxing by not putting expectations on myself or on anyone else. I learned many years ago that stuffing something into every minute of a vacation is very stressful, and that’s no vacation at all.


How do you relax? Or don’t you? After years of suffering from anxiety, I now know that it is possible – not just for me, but for you, too.

Leave a comment and let me know your secrets to relaxing. I would love to add some things to my repertoire.

As always, thanks for reading, and remember to Keep it Real!
Please share the love! 🙂

This post was previously published on Depression Warrior and is republished here with permission from the author.


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