How to quash those pesky ants in your pants and finally just relax


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Photo: Getty Images/Betsie Van Meer

I excitedly anticipate every weekend the same way: With a gravitational-pull-strength desire to kick back and binge-watch reality television after waking from an extra-long slumber. “I’m going to have such a relaxing, restorative weekend!” I habitually say to myself come Friday evening, after an inevitably long, busy AF week. But then, like clockwork, after about a whole two hours of straight chillin’, I get restless.

So begins the process of texting all my friends to make last-minute plans for…right at this very second, or finding errands to run, or a museum to visit, or a a movie to see, or whatever—anything to get me out of my apartment. My sister says both my dad and I have a serious case of shpilkes, a Yiddish term describing nervous restlessness. I.e., I chronically have ants in my pants, and I know a ton of other people have trouble leaning into their valiant hygge intentions to do a whole bunch of nothing.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with having a go-go-go personality—but there is a downside: Come Monday a.m., you’re likely still exhausted rather than recharged from your weekend. You know, because of those ants, or according to clinical psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, an inability to relax, largely supported by the millennial lifestyle. “Growing up, we had to do all of these things in order to be amazing—get good grades, be in extracurriculars, get a scholarship, go to college, get a job,” she says. “Where in that space were we ever taught that it was okay to sit back and do nothing? In order to be successful, we’ve been taught that you need to hustle your tail off, and that doing nothing means you’re lazy or that you have no purpose—when in reality, it’s what enables us to do our best.” In other words, it’s almost impossible to do all of that hustling that’s expected of you if you’re not adding relaxation to the equation.

It’s almost impossible to do all of that hustling that’s expected of you if you’re not adding relaxation to the equation.

And that rectangular box in your pocket doesn’t help matters either. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a cultural shift toward being overstimulated, by technology mostly,” says Alison Stone, LCSW, a holistic psychotherapist. “Our attention can go a million different places with a few clicks on our phones, and, over time, that’s what the brain believes to be normal.” Welp, I feel seen.

Now, many of us are conditioned to feel that overstimulation is a reasonable norm, which can mean lacking the skills to feel satisfied or even comfortable with being alone. Or, you know, relaxing. “People distract themselves all the time just to avoid being with their own thoughts,” says Silvershein, pointing toward habits like wearing headphones or watching TV or listening to podcasts (yep). “We’re so afraid of what would come up without distraction that we don’t even allow it to happen.”

So to identify the perfect metaphorical pesticide for those ants in your pants (or leggings!) that are keeping you from the R&R you really, truly want and need, keep scrolling.

1. Do the “put down your phone” challenge

When you get home from work or wherever you spent your day, put down your phone, turn on the Do Not Disturb function, and just sit for two minutes. “You may think it sounds easy, but two minutes can seem like an eternity when doing absolutely nothing,” says Silvershein. It’s essentially meditating, and to this point, Silvershein recommends using a guided meditation as well, since it teaches you to sit with yourself and a clear mind.

2. Start journaling

Journaling offers a number of mental-health benefits, like acknowledging your emotions and working through problems. Turns out, it’s also good for relaxation. “We never know what we’re really thinking until we stop to reflect on it,” says Silvershein. “[Journaling] enables you to reflect. And if you haven’t taken a moment to relax, that thought or feeling wouldn’t ever surface.”

3. Figure out what recharges you

“Think of yourself as a phone battery: What would charge you, and what would deplete you?” asks Silvershein, pointing to the restorative values that can come from quashing those ants. Identify a hobby that quells stress (maybe it’s therapeutic cooking, maybe it’s knitting, maybe it’s something else) and set aside time to do it.

4. Move your body

If meditating isn’t for you, Stone suggests you get moving (as a precursor to relaxing, of course). “Generally speaking, exercise is a great release for that restless, uneasy feeling,” she says. “If you’re not able to work out in a particular moment, try to at least take a brief walk or move your body in some way.”

But whatever you decide to do, don’t feel guilty about it as long as it’s in the name of chilling the eff out.

Need more relaxation inspo? Try these foot stretches for pain that actually feel like a foot massage. Or, heck, you can get a CBD massage to really feel Zen. 

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