The struggle to relax


You might often have heard people say they have trouble relaxing, but that normally just means they don’t have the time. My time is also subject to refugees considerable constraint, but that’s not the problem – I think I have forgotton how to relax.

When I was a child I had that much spare time that I used to get bored. I had toys, friends to play out with, videos to watch, but I still struggled to know what to do. As I got older that spare time soon got allocated to other tasks, usually against my will.

It was never my conscious choice to spend time at night doing homework, or later at university, studying and writing essays. It was my conscious decision as a student to get involved in politics though, starting with the Anti Nazi league. That soon meant that I no longer had time to be bored.

But I did still have spare time. I didn’t play many computer games, but I did play Football Manager. Which is a bit like saying “I don’t do many drugs, except heroin.” It was highly addictive and had the unfortunate feature in that it didn’t have to ever end. You could still be managing in the 2050-51 season, fielding a team of completely fictitious footballers.

What this meant was that I had things to do now, but I was also learning more than ever to find ways to avoid doing things. procrastination!

As the years have gone on even further I’ve started to understand more about procrastination, along with notions of mindfulness and CBT – understanding the psychology behind procrastination and how to overcome it.

Practically everyone who starts doing stand up begins whilst they are still working full time. Finding the time to write and gig really takes a lot of effort, and can almost completely eat in to any free time you might have. If you want to suceed as a comedian, this is what you have to be prepared to do.

And this is what I have been doing, particularly in the last few years. professionally I have seen clear dividends, with more and more professional work going in my diary, and even moving in to new fields such as writing (hello!). An increase in income from this meant that I could reduce working in an office to part time hours, freeing up some time at last. However, now I had this time to relax, after working at stand up for so long, I have forgotten how!

I recently went away on holiday with my grilfriend. Of my chosing we stayed at a guest house in the Alpujjuran mountains in Spain. A friend had been on a writers retreat there, and said it was beautiful. Sat on the terrace with mountain views in a tiny village, it sounded idyllic, and I wanted a slice of it.

Beautiful views in Ferreirola. Beautiful girlfriend not included,
Beautiful views in Ferreirola. Beautiful girlfriend not included,

Our previous holidays had all been city breaks. Wonderful experiences, but you work up a big list of things you ‘must see’ and you chase around all day night having ‘experiences’. Lonely Planet guides becoming like a Ladybird book of ‘things to do on holiday’ that you need to complete. You end up coming home and feeling like you need time to recover from your holiday!

For once, I wanted a relaxing break. As we could only get to the location by hire car it meant we had the option of driving and exploring as well as staying put and just unwinding. perfect. Not trapped in any way, but still have the chance to relax. Lovely.

But I didn’t know how.

I had my laptop with me and the first morning I just kept checking my emails and Facebook for updates. By the afternoon I got on with writing, but I just had the nagging feeling of disappointment that I had wasted the morning.

I had subscribed to Spotify on a free 30 day trial so I could listen to music. Make an album offline to listen to where-ever sounded like a good plan, so I downloaded the new Mercury Rev and New Order albums.

Again, great, but the I realised I had forgotton how to listen to music.

Now, my hearing is fine, and such, that should be a really stupid statement. But I realised that when driving or doing household chores I would listen to podcasts, but never music. If I ever did listen to music, it had to be whilst doing something else. I had to be cleaning, or ironing, or something. I couldn’t just put some music on and listen.

And also, how do you ‘just listen’? Do you walk around, sit in a chair, lie down? In the end I sat in a lounger and put my headphones in. And then I listened to music. I just listened to music.

At this point I could feel myself finally start to unknot. To unwind. In reality it took me about three days to get in the right mindset for this. Those first days were not a holiday, so much, as decompression. Like soldiers need coming out of a war zone before being reintegrated in to normal society and family life.

I know comparing stand up to being in the military is a bit of an ask, but if you’d had to perform a private ‘comedy roast’ for a stag do in a busy bar in the Printworks in Manchester on the last Saturday evening before Christmas, you would understand. You weren’t there man, you don’t understand!

In the end I was able to actually relax, even if just for a few days, and managed to come home feeling genuinely energised. This has left me with the conclusion that while hard work is important, I have to let myself have time off as well. Let’s see if I can get that balance right in 2016.