Becoming OK with “Nothing to Do”

I’ve been noticing a specific thought-pattern on the weekends…here’s the gist:

After the work week, even if a truly terror-inducing one, I find myself with a clear brain, a racing mind, and a drive to tackle the next problem.  I feel on track and goal-oriented. And I feel ready to take that surge of energy and spend it on the glorious weekend in front of me.

And all I want at the end of the long week, my dying wish, is to unwind and have “nothing to do.” Despite my purpose-driven energy at the end of the week, I always feel the push and pull between avoiding responsibility, collapsing into a pit of nothingness and mental exhaustion, fueled from back-to-back, defensive meetings or from staring at a complicated timeline with interdependencies and potential roadblocks for hours on end. Or from the team just not quite aligning and the effort it takes to get everyone on board with an idea. Whatever the pain from the week was, however meaningless, I want it to disappear into a pool of fun adventures, social escapades, and…artfulness I guess. I’ve been “on” for too long and I want to slip back into the true, weekend me where I have no responsibilities and I can read or bake or dance in a field. (That last one is a joke. Sort of.) 

Then 5:00 hits and, on weekends where I have no plans (praise be!), I drive home basking in the glow of the weekend…and it slowly dawns on me. That fear that I have nothing “to do.” I have a legitimate fear of wasting my precious weekend and squandering those hours, until the Sunday Scaries creep in and I am left holding no amazing adventure memories hiking new terrain or whatever – just the realization that I have to revert my brain into meeting-mode, think about agendas and milestones and always-potentially-angry clients again.

Next I start to question whether to plan out my weekend, which leads me to question the patterns and activities I find valuable. I start to think I may just be the only woman my age who’s not tackling a giant to-do list on the weekend, who’s not rounding up materials for her next giant DIY project, and who’s not planning out the next big party of her life through a Pinterest board of inspirations and decor.

I think, “I need something to do, and it needs to be brilliant.”

And finally I start to question–is my work is giving me purpose, aka “things to do,” and does work define who I am if it’s giving me purpose?


So it’s basically an existential crisis, as you can clearly see. Spurred on by me considering a weekend without plans (usually intentionally made without plans, and one that some parents might dream of).

I don’t want something to do just to have something to do. But I don’t want to waste my time off, either.

I like having tasks to do and goals to meet, but I think what I really like is checking tasks off the list. But I want to relax and not think. But when I don’t think, just veg out, I start feeling guilty, like I should be doing something purposeful. But…but…but. A definite cycle.

Why do I over-analyze and need something “to do”? Why not just relax and enjoy having nothing to do?

To most, this will seem like it’s not a legitimate problem. Most probably can’t identify with this at all, but I wanted to dig into why I feel like I have to be going full-speed or I’m not really “living.”

Going to do a little self-diagnosis – here are some potential reasons:

  1. Media (social, movies, etc.) has informed me that you must be out with raucous friends or at a concert on the weekend or you might be lame.
  2. It’s the adult thing to do. Go to Home Depot. Buy candles. Build a shed. Run errands. etc.
  3. Maybe I need to feel part of a community and worry I’ll miss out. Just lame-ass FOMO.
  4. Maybe I am too amped up from the pace at work and that’s not how the weekend should be, but I’ve lost the ability to slow down and relax.
  5. Maybe I do just need to set up problems and fix them. Maybe we’re hard-wired to do this as humans (not just relax), and I should give in. A bit of burnout could be at play.
  6. The truth may be that I’m easily bored but also a bit lazy. I like completing tasks but not thinking about them or planning when I have to plan during my job.

Most of the reasons for my dread and anxiety above are subconscious, so I may never really know why I’m such a crazy-person.

Side-note…I just finished a novel in which the author called out that your mind’s subconscious has one surface thought and 20 other thoughts right below that one, waiting to be uncovered. Really liked that phrasing. Not 100% relevant, but thought I’d share it. 🙂

One thing I do know is that I need to just feed the restlessness with action.

Boredom isn’t always a bad thing

This site claims that restless spirits crave new people to meet. I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s more about gaining experiences, memories, etc. I also think it’s just in some people’s personalities to have plans, and for others to be content chilling on the couch without anywhere to go or places to be. I’m probably somewhere in the middle, and need to accept that there’s nothing wrong with having no plans, putting the computer down and being alone with my thoughts.

Of course, part of being human is the ups and downs, boredom and business. The pull between the two. The boring nights in sweats fulfill a need to recharge, and make the nights out all the more exciting.

Being an introvert means I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t force that “on” switch constantly – my personality demands I take the time to re-energize. Other personality types may be happier going non-stop, at all hours but that doesn’t de-legitimize my traits.

At the end of the day, no one is keeping tallies of my nights out on the town. We’re all allowed a night off every once in a while, without judgment or guilt.


The A-Word: 7 Ways I Combat Anxiety

“Anxiety” … the word makes me think of a millenial cliche, an excuse to take Prozac, a fidgety middle-school geek at a party with a knee bouncing.

Before realizing that I had a whole heaping pile of my own anxiety, I dismissed the “a-word” as a hacky buzz-word for people who needed to chill or toughen up (or at least mask it – after all, anxiety doesn’t win you any friends).

WELP, I was dead wrong in my dismissal. Like around 18% of the U.S. population, that anxiety that I tried to ignore grew larger as I grew older.  The more I expected to move past he stigma and grow comfortable/anxiety-free, the more it would laugh in my face, mocking me.

Exhibit A:

  • Me: I’ll take a vacation day to myself, so I can de-stress
  • Anxiety: You’ve already wasted this entire morning…there’s nothing you can do in this city that you haven’t already seen/done….what about that work email that pissed you off yesterday? How are you going to respond tomorrow???…What about all the things you should have done instead of this stuff?
  • Me: That’s an interesting thought. I should Tweet that out.
  • Anxiety: Oh, you want to overthink a couple sentences for 10 minutes only to give up on the idea? Fun! Let’s go.

When I send out a text to a friend, the incoming text “…” fills me with a deep dread that I’ll have to think of a clever, appropriate, brilliant response.  The red flag of a notification on my phone? Makes me anxious. I overthink every word of almost every email, I second-guess choices by running through every possible negative outcome, and I avoid any plan that could product an ounce of nervousness. I am absurdly over-prepared in any presentation to avoid improvisation or an awkward, unforeseen moment. Like many with anxiety, it’s easy to get stuck in an obsessive, unhealthy cycle.

Anxiety doesn’t always win, though. I’ve been able to take control of it over the years – here are some methods I’ve used to calm my anxiety and shake out of that rut. In no means am I saying these will work for everyone, but these are the things that keep me chill (well, as chill as possible 🙂 ).

7 Ways I Overcome Anxiety

  1. Imagine the worst. “What’s the worst that could happen?” Usually, the answer isn’t as terrible as you think.
  2. Get through the day. This day is small. I can be OK with the next 24 hours, even if it’s not pleasant.
  3. Write a list. Lists or sets of questions help to organize my brain and structure the battleground that is my anxious brain.
  4. Start. Sometimes I just have to begin and take one step forward. Even if it’s an extremely easy, small step. Then the rest fills in and I realize that the task isn’t as insurmountable as it once seemed.
  5. Consider Younger Allison. What would “middle/high school me” think of me today? Examining myself through a different lens puts things in perspective and (usually) forces me to see that my problems are minute.
  6. Watch a comforting movie/show. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you just need to rely on something that is guaranteed to make you feel “at home” and at ease.
  7.  Stop caring what people think. Easier said than done…but if I’m doing what’s best for a project at work, I force myself to stop caring what individuals think and stop worrying about whether I’m doing things the “right” way or how someone else would do it.

Just by writing this post, I’m slooowwlly dismantling my anxiety bit by bit. Like anything, anxiety will flare up and back down. But I’ve learned to take it more seriously these days and, in doing so, found some ways to fight back.