Self-Care & The Art of Doing Nothing

For my birthday last weekend, I pledged to myself that I’d do absolutely nothing all weekend in order to rest up, practice some self-care, and relax before three consecutive weeks of traveling.

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do for my birthday—sleep in until 10 am all weekend, eat a whole box of chocolates, drink champagne while reading some nonfiction, lounge on the deck, and order takeout while never changing out of my pajamas.

Doing ‘nothing’ makes me anxious even when it’s in the name of self care, but being ‘on’ and productive all the time is exhausting.
I’ve never succeeded in actually “doing nothing” on my birthday, though.

​Something always comes up, or the question of “What are you doing for your birthday?” guilts me into doing something social and fun so that I don’t have FOMO on my own birthday.

Like New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July, there’s always this low-key pressure to do something big and crazy and fun, and the idea of someone doing nothing to celebrate seems a little lonely, anti-social and sad.

But it was magnificent.

​I said “no” (for once!) to getting drinks, and going out, dinner plans, and meeting up.

I drank champagne on my deck while reading “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life” by Megan Stielstra(highly recommend, especially for all my Chicago feminists out there. I love how the book treats Chicago like a character all of its own).

I ate a WHOLE BOX of chocolates over the course of a week. Plus a GIANT half pound Reeses. Living the dream.

I slept in until TEN AM on Saturday.

I rode a bike around town.

I treated myself to a vegan dinner from the Dill Pickle Co-op and bought one of my favorite beers, Unity Vibrations Bourbon Peach Kombucha Beer.

I ate Ethiopian food with one of my favorite humans of all time.

I went to a long overdue therapy appointment.

I wrote in my journal, helped a friend with their dog, and did the laundry.

I did a lot for doing nothing, but really instead of doing nothing I decided to do what I wanted to do instead of what I thought I had or should to do.

About that Much Needed Therapy Appointment 

In my therapy appointment we talked about how hard it is for me to do nothing. How the second I decide to not do something that I feel like I should do, I feel guilty and a little bit anxious. 

“Why do you think that is?” she asks after I explain how doing nothing feels for me.

“When I do ‘nothing’ or choose to do something I want to do instead of something that I feel like I should do, I start to think about all the things I will need to do later to make up for doing nothing now. Even when I ignore those anxieties and do nothing, I get anxious and start doing something while I’m doing nothing. Like checking my phone the whole time I’m watching TV or painting my nails and checking my phone while watching TV. Getting sucked into social media and my phone isn’t exactly rejuvenating, especially while watching TV. I want to do nothing in a way that is actually relaxing for me.”

“Why do you think it’s hard for you to achieve that?”

I pause and look out the window that overlooks Michigan Ave. I usually have an immediate answer, but strangely, even though I’ve been thinking a lot about the “art of doing nothing” I haven’t really dived deep into the “why” of why I’m so bad at it.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think it could be a few things. I think it could be because I’m really bad at staying in the moment. I’m always thinking about what’s next, and what I can do to get to what’s next, whether it’s in my career or in my personal life. It’s bad to a point because even if I’m doing something that I love—take now for example. This is one of my dreams. Living in Chicago, being single, writing a blog, with a job I love and get to travel for—that was my dream growing up. But I’m still thinking about what’s next to the point of which I’m sometimes barely able to enjoy the fact that I am living my dream because I am too preoccupied with what’s next.

“I worry about getting stuck in Chicago, and not challenging myself with a new city. I worry about career decisions and getting stuck or silo-ed into a role that stops me from growing, even though that’s never been the case. It’s almost compulsive. So habitual that I don’t notice it. I feel like I should always be doing something that is somehow pushing me forward into the person I want to be, but I have a hard time enjoying the person I am now. Spending the day on the couch or bingeing on NetFlix, or not going to the gym or working on bettering myself somehow—it gives me so much anxiety that I can’t even relax and enjoy it.”

I stop, and shift in my seat. My answer still feels like it’s not getting to the root of it. Her face isn’t responsive beyond the slow nod of her head, and it’s clear that she’s waiting for me to continue.

“That’s probably part of it, but the other part of it is probably because that’s what I did when I was most depressed. When I was at Iowa, I would spend days in front of the television with take-out and DVD’s of all the worst rom coms the library would lend me. I’d barely leave my bed or the couch, and sometimes I’d even skip classes just to keep sleeping,” I said.

“And in China, when I was stuck in Jingzhou for several months alone, I’d spend my free time running or working out, or doing errands, but the majority of my free time was spent binge watching TV. And doing that now, even on the rare occasions that I do, it takes me back to that. It makes me feel that stickiness that I felt then. I was so stuck in a purgatory of indecision on what to do with my life. I had this overwhelming feeling that lived with me day in and day out that I was letting my life pass me by because I felt so incapacitated and cemented in place—I wasn’t building a career, I wasn’t fostering new or old relationships, I wasn’t even exploring all that much because I was so depressed I’d barely leave the house outside of work. I was so bored with ‘my career’, and I was the loneliest I’d ever been. There was a constant ticking time bomb, ticking away the days that I spent there, ticking away the years that I thought were so crucial to determining the rest of my life, and I was just spending time doing nothing and not growing. Now I guess I must be making up for that lost time. It’s’ got to be part of it.”

A smile appears on my therapist’s face. “Good—good. Exactly. Like now you have to make up for it so you’re trying to be like a machine of productivity, even though you’re human and need time to recharge. It’s almost like you’re coping by just moving on to the next thing that will occupy instead of facing how it really makes you feel,” she says.

“Yes, I definitely do that. I always do that.”

Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. Sometimes self care means doing something that brings you peace.

“You Should Do What You Want to Do” 

We talked about a bit more with the rest of the hour, and as I was leaving, she said “It’s your birthday weekend. You should do what you want to do.”

You should do what you want to do. Those words rang in my head as I walked out to a busy Saturday morning on Michigan Ave.

My plan was not actually taking into consideration what I really wanted to do. My plan for my Saturday was filled with all the things I had to do even after I promised myself that I’d do nothing all weekend. My plan was to go to the gym, pick up my dry cleaning, and go home/eat/let Stanley out/go to yoga.

So I actually stood out there, on Michigan Ave, frozen for a moment deciding what the heck it was that I actually wanted to do. It was gorgeous out. Crowded with bodies trying to take advantage of the breezy May day. Leftovers from the Polish parade were wandering around dressed in red and white and the Cinco de mayo celebrators were out boozing, getting burnt, drinking margs and eating nachos.

I stood there trying to understand what I wanted to do. I was momentarily paralyzed by indecision.

But I wanted to walk around Millennium Park. I wanted to be outside on one of the rare days of beautiful weather in Chicago. I wanted to soak up the fresh air and the early sun and the noise and chaos of the day with too many festivals. I wanted to enjoy the fact that I even live in Chicago and I wanted to slow down enough to appreciate it.

So you know what I did?

I went for a walk.
I sat in a garden while I listened to an audiobook.
I allowed myself to get lost.
And I took my time going back home to my errands and chores.

I wasn’t perfect at it, but I tried to focus on what I really wanted and I do that instead of just sticking to the plan and choosing something that gave me joy instead. It made me think about how often I ignore the things that bring me joy, that make me happy, that fill me up so that I have enough energy to do the things that I ‘have’ to do.

I can’t imagine a world where I constantly chose something that gives me joy instead of something that I felt I had to do. Wouldn’t that be nice? I know that that’s not the way things work, it’s not realistic because how would we make an income? When would we ever shower? How would we ever get anything done? I know picking something at all times that gives you joy is a privileged and unrealistic idea that perpetuates the millennial idea that you’re not living a good life if you don’t choose doing what makes you happy all the time. But maybe, maybe if I could choose joy even just ten percent more of the time, wouldn’t that equate to 10% happier? It’s worth trying.

Other Clo Bare Updates

In other news, a few updates! I haven’t been spending as much time as I’d like on this blog. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and after this month is over, I’m going to make it more of a priority. It brings me all the joys. 

Also, as many of you know, I moved a few weeks ago and I am very, very overjoyed by my new living situation. I am grateful and ecstatic to be in a neighborhood I love, with a roommate that feels like a sister, and a commute that doesn’t make me want to quit and book a one-way flight to Chile. May is a crazy month, crazier than all the others this year, but I’m in a really good place in trying to find balance—the lifelong struggle.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the topics you enjoy reading? What do you want to hear more about? What are the things you connect with that make you feel less alone? Message me on Facebook or leave your suggestions in the comments below! ​

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