On a summer visit to Northampton, my husband, brother, and I visited Eastheaven, a hot tub place in middle of town to soak in the Japanese hot tubs among bamboo plants and peaceful music. We’ve been there many times before. and each visit follows the same pattern. We arrive and are led to a tub room by a lovely, friendly attendant who tells us that she will flash the lights when there are 5 minutes left in our half hour. And then I spend the first 15 minutes soaking and the second 15 minutes waiting for the lights to flash, anxious that we are going to go over our time, get yelled at by the staff, and be blacklisted from hot-tubbing forever. Of course, this has never happened in all the years we have gone to Eastheaven.

Sometimes my husband tells me RELAX.  And that definitely doesn’t help.  But this time, he said, it’s not your job to flash the lights.  It’s their job.  And that got me thinking about relaxing, and how I’m just not that good at it.  It’s not that I haven’t tried, it’s just that it’s really hard for me.  Here are the things I’ve learned along the way:

Let it be someone else’s job, even for a moment.  It’s not my job to make other people behave, protect cars from crashing, keep the planes in the air, or generally keep the universe a safe place for myself and my loved ones.  People with jobs get to have breaks, so maybe I could take a break from the stress of being responsible for things that aren’t really my job.

Have someone else tell you what to do.   This is the one that actually works for me, and you’d be surprised at how well it works.  If someone else is in charge, I don’t have to be.  When I’m exercising, particularly in a boot-camp style class, I am so fully present in my body that I can’t think about anything at all.  Breathing is another one that falls into this category. Usually, I hate this one.  If I focus on my breath, I start to worry that I’m breathing too fast or too slow.  And don’t even say the word meditation to me.  But if someone else tells me how and when to breathe – like a yoga teacher or even an iPhone application, it starts to feel a little relaxing.

Organize. Making a list, cleaning the house, folding the laundry can give me a little corner of control in an otherwise overwhelming day.  And that’s relaxing for me.  The more mundane, the better.  Getting the Tupperware in order, arranging my socks by color, or lining up pens on my desk.

Lose yourself.  For me, there are certain activities where I can just lose track of time. Sometimes it’s reading a really good book. Other times, it’s cooking a healthy meal, finishing a 1,000 piece puzzle, or pulling weeds from the garden.

Do your friends and loved ones tell you that you are high-strung? What are some relaxation tips for the people who find relaxing a challenge?