3 Tips To Help The Type-A, Super-Achiever In You Relax Without Guilt

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Stress Management Tips For How To Relax & Say No As A Type A Personality

You may be a Type-A personality and struggle with how to relax and make self-care a priority in your life.

Or worse, you feel like taking time for yourself or trying to relax is you being selfish, and then you feel guilty about saying "no" to people.

In my experience, this is common among most high-achievers.

Although your service-oriented mentality has generated high levels of career success, it's now working against you. Not only are you unsure of how to say no, but freeing up time for rest and relaxation creates guilt.

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You know that your current high-stress lifestyle is unsustainable and will eventually hurt your career. And you even know the answer is to make time for relaxation and renewal.

The question is: How can you learn to say "no" and make more time for yourself without feeling so guilty?

It's time to understand a few things about what boundaries really are.

Unfortunately, there's a common misconception around boundaries that has you focusing on their effect on other people. The misconception is that boundaries are about saying "no."

Boundaries aren't really about saying "no," and they're definitely not about other people. A boundary is a rule for how you must be treated by others. They're about your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

And that means that they're an act of self-care and self-respect.

Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is about putting yourself first. Putting yourself first is about ensuring you're at your best so that you can be your best for everyone and everything else. What's selfish about that?

There's a nasty four-letter word behind your inability to say "no": Fear. You fear what others will think, that they might get mad at you, and how they'll react. Your fear has you focusing on the external stuff instead of the internal reasons for why you must set and maintain your boundaries.

It's important to understand the following when it comes to setting and enforcing your boundaries:

  1. Pay attention and bring awareness to the fact that people say "no" all the time without any negative consequences. This will help decrease your fear of saying it.
  2. Back up your boundaries with clear rules. Your boundaries are set for a reason, so be clear to yourself and others about your reasons behind your boundaries.
  3. Be clear and don't over-explain. Although "no" usually isn't a complete sentence (it's rude to just say "no" in response to most requests), don't go into a long-winded explanation. Doing this opens the door for new arguments to poke holes in your reasoning. A one-sentence "no" briefly explaining the rule behind your boundary is sufficient.
  4. Stay the course. For the pesky folks who don't take the first (or second) "no" for an answer, it's fine to sound like a broken record. Keep saying "no" the same way until they give up.

Now that you understand the importance of boundaries and how to enforce them, it's time to start dealing with the guilt you feel when it comes to relaxing.

Here are stress management tips for learning how to relax without guilt:

1. Change your mindset.

It's imperative that you change your mindset around relaxation. And part of that is to acknowledge the benefits of relaxation.

When you take time to yourself for rest and renewal, you're improving your mental and physical health (both in the short-term and in the long-term).

There are numerous short-term physical benefits, including:

  • reduction of stress-related hormones
  • decrease of your heart and breathing rate
  • blood flow to your muscles increases
  • blood pressure is lowered

These physical health benefits have an impact on your cognitive abilities. When your stress levels are lower, you'll have a better attention span, be more likely to think clearly and creatively and have better reasoning skills.

When relaxation becomes a habit, stress levels become naturally lower, and you'll feel better. Thus, learning to relax is a long-term investment in your most important asset: Yourself.

Your thoughts and feelings are interconnected. A thought creates a feeling (and vice versa), and those are what convince you to take action or do nothing.

Contrary to what many people think, you can change your thoughts. That means you can re-train your brain to think differently about rest and renewal so you feel good about it instead of guilty or selfish.

Prioritize awareness.

If you want to change your thoughts and the beliefs behind them, then you must first become aware of what they are. Instead of ignoring or pretending that you don't have them (or trying to push through with willpower to do something differently) bring your thoughts into the open and name them.

Sit with your thoughts and beliefs and get clarity around what's going on in your thinking that has you feeling so guilty about relaxing and/or saying "no."

Ask questions.

Once you've identified your negative thinking, ask questions that lead to fruitful answers. Get curious about evidence to the contrary and how you might counteract this belief.

For example, (a) if you have trouble saying "no" to a colleague ask yourself "How will saying "no" help them?" or (b) if you're feeling guilty when relaxing, ask yourself "How will this time help me be more creative, productive, and fruitful in my work and at home?".

The exercise above gives rise to a line of inquiry that will support the mental shift you're trying to make. It creates new thoughts around relaxation and saying "no" that support your ability to do so when needed.

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2. Look for evidence

Your second tip for how to relax without guilt is to look for evidence that supports relaxation.

You'll need to:

  • Review your past and identify what you've done for relaxation. Note: Only include activities that are clearly for relaxation purposes. Fun activities that don't relax you do not count.
  • Don't forget to include simple things such as sleeping, napping, and reading.
  • On a piece of paper, write down the type of relaxation activity and time spent relaxing.
  • Analyze the effect of each activity on your mental and physical health, your mood, and productivity levels.

Also, look to people you admire who are successful and pay attention to how they relax and the benefits of their relaxation activities. Keep a journal to track all of your relaxation benefits going forward until relaxation becomes a long-term habit.

As you start to make more connections between renewal activities, your performance and productivity levels, and your health, it will get easier to prioritize relaxation.

3. Close "open-ended" loops

What repetitive tasks do you have that never end? Do you have long-term projects that haven't been broken into manageable short-term tasks and activities? These types of tasks and activities create open-ended loops within your mind.

Open-ended loops are activities that don't have an end-point or an end in sight like:

  • Checking and responding to emails
  • Pushing a long-term project forward that's easy to get lost in without setting clear guidelines and deadlines
  • Researching a new idea without an end-goal of where you're going (or when to stop)

The problem with these open-ended loops is that, because there's no clear deadline or stopping point, you tend to get caught up in them and feel like you must keep going. Because of this, open activities create guilt around stopping them.

Closing open-ended tasks is primarily about proper prioritization and learning to utilize sound productivity strategies:

  • Breaking them into small, manageable tasks with deadlines. Your deadline can be time-based or outcome-based, depending on what makes the most sense. However, be certain that you've broken them into small enough pieces to make them manageable and do-able in a short period of time (preferably within a couple of hours and no longer than one day).
  • Committing only to what can be done in one day, keeping built-in breaks for renewal in mind.
  • Stopping when you get to the predetermined end-point and moving on to your next priority.

You should keep two lists: A daily to-do list with only those things that you'll be working on that day and a larger list of projects and activities (think of this as your "not now" list).

Your daily to-do list should be set at the beginning of each day, after briefly reviewing your calendar and list of long-term projects.

With respect to email and other daily tasks, set regular times in your calendar to check, prioritize, file, and respond. Block time to work on longer projects and don't check email during those time periods.

Follow these tips for less stress, more productivity, and much more fun without the guilt.

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Heather Moulder is an executive coach, attorney, and founder of Course Correction Coaching who helps professionals who feel stuck in overwhelm and uncertainty to get clarity about their path to fulfillment. Connect with Heather for weekly tips and strategies on how to get clear around what you want and create success on your own terms without burning out.

This article was originally published at Course Correction Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.