I Stressed Myself Out By Having the Most Relaxing Day of All Time

Relax? Don't do it.

by Justin Caffier
Mar 10 2017, 8:18pm

All photos by author

Everyone's talking about self-care these days. With so many losing sleep over the Trump administration and America's future seeming worse with each passing week, taking time to disconnect from the internet's endless torrent of horrifying headlines to pamper one's self has quickly become an essential part of sanity maintenance. Unfortunately, I haven't really been doing much self-care as of late.  

I decided to give myself a reset with a day off the grid, which I would pack with enough relaxing activities to hopefully turn me into an anthropomorphic Xanny bar. 

I worked with Sara Krisher, a confidence coach who teaches relaxation methods as part of her curriculum, to plan ("but not overplan") my day. She gave activity suggestions that corroborated and added to ideas I'd already begun culling from scientific studies and random lists around the web.

"It's going to come down to the details and the preparation you do before the day," she advised. "You don't want to be scrounging for a clean pair of socks or be low on gas while trying to relax." 

Taking her advice to heart, I spent the night before my big day tidying up the apartment and laying out my outfits and activities for the stress-free itinerary I'd meticulously plotted. To combat any excitement-induced insomnia and ensure I got as restful a night's sleep as possible,  I drank a natural relaxant mixture of water and tart cherry juice and hit the hay.

My cat, mid-cuddle

I started my day of tranquility awoken (at a leisurely 9 AM) by the chirping bird alarm I'd downloaded for the occasion, rather than the usual battery of klaxons needed to wake me.

Picking up the schedule I'd left on the nightstand the night before, I saw my first order of the day was to cuddle my cat for 15 minutes. I pulled her up off the floor, smushed her into that Sphinx pose cats do, and we got down to business. Easy enough. 

After that, I fired up a Tibetan singing bowl YouTube video and attempted 15 minutes of Transcendental Meditation (TM). As an atheist and general skeptic of mysticism, I was surprised to find that toward the end of my TM session, I'd lulled myself into an altered state of sorts by repeating my mantra ("shirim"). Maybe I was still a bit groggy from sleep, but while I wasn't exactly astral projecting like Dr. Strange, I'd definitely tapped into something. 

I put on the comfy clothes I'd laid out and went to the kitchen to make myself a relaxation-optimized breakfast: oatmeal with honey accompanied by a berry, banana, and yogurt smoothie. I was starting to become convinced that this day could change my life. 

Next on the agenda was something I included because it's always made me feel relaxed in the past: getting high and playing video games. I took a few hits of a cannabis strain specifically marketed as "chill" and began tending to my crops in the tranquil farming sim Stardew Valley


An hour flew by, and it was time to paint. Using acrylic colors (heralded for their calming effects), I brushed the canvas while whale songs droned in the background. I didn't have enough time allotted for something representational, so I took a more abstract expressionist approach, trying to convey the tranquility I was feeling. 

Next, I jogged two miles to lunch, listening to a playlist of songs that a bunch of neuroscientists deemed the most relaxing. Lunch itself was a brown rice, salmon, and avocado poke bowl. I tried to eat as mindfully as I had during breakfast, but ennui was beginning to set in. I certainly didn't want to spend the day refreshing my Twitter feed like a junkie, but pangs of desire for news were starting to hit me. 

Meal finished, I popped some mint gum in my mouth and began to walk back to my place calling my friend, Mike, for a chat along the way. Mike was on vacation, so I asked him to share his own day's relaxation agenda with me.

Once home, I rinsed off my running sweat using a lavender and olive oil bar of soap before attempted my second TM session. My mind still racing with questions about what was actually going on in the world and my yearning for human contact not sated by my brief interaction with Mike, the session was a bust, and I moved on to the next item on my list, a nap.

If meditation in this mental state was a fool's errand, napping was a fool's unpaid internship. I skipped the nap once it was clear I wasn't getting to sleep and watched the above video, touted as "The World's Most Relaxing Film" because some Danish tourism board had people watch it connected to heart monitors. It was chill and all, but I bristle as spurious boasts like that, which is why I don't eat at any generic pizzerias claiming to be "world famous." 

I headed to the kitchen to bake dark chocolate chip cookies. While mixing the batter, I accidentally skipped a step in the recipe that didn't ruin my cookie dough but made its formation a much more frustrating task than anticipated.

It was as good a time as any to bust out the de-stressing breathing exercise I'd practiced just for moments like this. Placing my hand on my abdomen, I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with air. And because my life is apparently a sitcom, this shook some flour loose from my cheek, which I inhaled along with the oxygen, sending me into a coughing fit. Then, later, as I took the cookies out of the oven, I burned my hand on the tray.

Then I took an Uber to a scheduled yoga class. I played Gregorian monk chants in my earbuds during the ride in an attempt to mitigate the stress caused by the crawling rush hour LA traffic. I got there late and had to rush in. I told the front desk I'd pay after.

I lucked out in that the class I'd happened into was entirely relaxation focused. I spent the majority of the hour supine, stretching subtly, or in a fetal position trying to lower my heart rate to the levels I'd experienced that morning.

Sore from miles of running and walking (but not really the low impact yoga), the expertly administered Thai massage I'd booked after my class should have felt amazing. Unfortunately, I spent much of the experience in my head trying to guesstimate time and figure out which aspects of the rest of my night would need alteration.

I didn't have enough time for the fancy "leave everything to the chef" dinner that was on my schedule, so I settled for the salad place next door and ordered a bowl that included arugala, sunflower seeds, grapefruit, and more avocado. I joylessly wolfed down the salad before Ubering to my next destination.

As I hadn't had it with my dinner as planned, I ran into a liquor store across the street to grab a single serving bottle of red wine to sneak into a sketch show. 

Still behind on time, I rushed out of the show at intermission, my comedy and alcohol thirsts quenched. I chose to walk home in silence, rather than listening to the queued up audio of sizzling bacon, the sound some dumb survey had deemed the most relaxing noise in the world.

Back at home, I saw the scale of the mess my day had wreaked on the apartment. The painting and baking areas would have to be cleaned up by future me, of course. And I was still crawling out of my skin from the news blinders I'd had on all day. I had time for one final push, a relaxation last stand.

I drew a hot bath with Epson salt, lit aromatherapy candles, mixed some ashwaganda powder into a glass of warm milk, turned on this ASMR video with more than 17 million views, put on a bougie snail slime face mask, grabbed a book, and settled into the tub for my stress-free finale.

My bath was an unbelievable failure. In my efforts to capture my the absurd scene in a photo, I sloshed around the tub a lot spilling water everywhere, including on my book and in my drink. I'd flown too close to the sun.

Relaxation is about freedom. Freedom to not exert one's self, sure, but also freedom to do as one pleases. Better late than never, I would break the self-imposed shackles of my itinerary and end my night relaxing on my terms. 

The list had me scheduled to fall asleep to a relaxing movie. I opted instead to return to the point where I'd felt most content all day, falling asleep after another round of pot and video games.

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