Active vs. Passive Relaxation

I’m the kind of girl who overthinks and over-complicates simple concepts, but hear me out: it’s a good thing.

Or, that’s what I tell myself. 

So lately I’ve been over-thinking and complicating the concept of relaxation. By nature, it’s simple – it’s having free time, unwinding, doing whatever you want without worrying about responsibility.

But as a self-care enthusiast, I’ve had a lot of time to relax in the past few years, and I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of relaxation: passive relaxation & active relaxation.

I think I made those terms up but I feel like they sound kind of legit, right?

I would define passive relaxation as unwinding without intention. This is the kind of aimless relaxing that we do when we lay on our bed scrolling through various social media feeds (I’m talking about when you start out checking your Instagram like normal and then click on this profile and this tag of this person and then that person’s best friend and suddenly 20 minutes have passed and you’re looking at photos of Lisa Rinna’s daughter’s boyfriend. What the?). Passive relaxation also happens when we fall into the Netflix trap, sitting down to watch an episode and then realizing we finished a season.

Active relaxation, on the other hand, is unwinding purposefully. This means spending your free time in a way that relaxes you but still re-energizes your spirit somehow. This could be reading a good book, knitting/crocheting, coloring, drawing, writing, working on your website (ahem), taking a walk, and the list goes on. It’s really just the idea of finding the things that feel relaxing to you and dedicating time to them. I think this is especially effective if your active relaxation activities are something that taps into your creativity, or your ability to create something tangible that means something to you.

It honestly took me a long time to figure out that my passive relaxation habits weren’t working for me. In my mind, this was my free time, time to not think about anything and do whatever I wanted. This led to excessive consumption of Netflix, Youtube, social media, and iPhone games that did absolutely nothing for me. It would come to be time for bed and I didn’t feel like I had just relaxed for four hours, I felt like I’d wasted them.

Active relaxation is a little hard to get used to, because it does still kind of feel like you’re busy, but you’re really just busy with doing things that make you feel good and help you grow in some way. Going to bed, you feel like you really used those free hours, and you feel good about the evening you just had. Active relaxation is like productivity without exhaustion, because you’re simply being productive in doing things that relax you. You’re finding the balance. You’ve realized that watching one episode of Parks & Recreation makes you feel good, but watching six in a row makes you feel like mashed potatoes (which is a real feeling that I have definitely had).

This week, let’s try to notice when we’re passively relaxing and see how it makes us feel. After passive relaxation, are we tired? Are we fulfilled? Do we wish we had more time to relax, or are we satisfied?

Let me know how you actively relax in the comments!