Quick question: I know you’re busy, there’s lots to tick off your to-do list, much to get done – but have you spotted any relaxed women lately? Because I am beginning to wonder if they exist. Which is odd, given all the years we’ve been discussing wellness, all the hours we have now supposedly devoted to relaxing.
Growing up, I don’t recall seeing one. There were none in my family. In an office managing women of all ages I didn’t encounter any. As a mum-of-four I certainly never saw a parental one. Now, as a midlifer, I still can’t find a woman who has quietly given herself the permission to relax, without guilt or apology, without explaining that she has ‘earned’ the right to prioritise pleasure, rest and selfish joy during moments of her daily life.
By ‘relaxing’ I don’t mean having a bath, the alleged cure-all for stressed women. I’m talking about cultivating that nourishing feeling of relaxed inner peace we hear so much about but simply don’t see in women around us; we’re all fast walking and fretting; seeking permission to switch off in a self-care culture that encourages us to put more effort into making ‘me time’.
Obviously, society makes it more difficult for us to relax than men: we do most of the domestic and emotional labour alongside our careers, marriages, parenting. Yes, I know it’s not like that in every house but the numbers don’t lie; women are doing more and relaxing less than men.
It seems that as we moved on from the old-fashioned idea that shopping was a form of relaxation for women (for men it was golf) we have accidentally made our relaxing purpose-driven and performative; nowadays, it’s all Peloton, ice baths and bootcamp. I frequently read that women say cooking, driving and journaling are
the ways they relax, yet these feel, to me, as if women are still being side-tracked by putting things right, solving problems or caring for others.
We also continue to praise being busy; we hero the hectic, we attach our self-worth to productivity, but we don’t celebrate calmness. We don’t value ‘liquid ease’ if we see it; a relaxed persona doesn’t have any currency culturally – I hardly see relaxed women in films, TV or music. I interviewed many midlife women for my book, who desperately wanted to learn how to relax but they had no role models to copy (one lady said she had finally worked out why she gave blood so often: she liked a lie-down).
How can we redress this imbalance? Not with ‘self-care’, as we are taught, but a mindset change. It may start with what experts call ‘environmental mastery’ – deliberately creating circumstances that we like to be in, where we flourish. We break the habits of being busy and search for contentment instead: this will take a while, busyness is addictive. We think back to our childhood, remember what brings us joy and dip our toe into that again, we unclench our jaw purposefully, we stop bracing ourselves. We learn to say no, we take a moment to do nothing but stare off into the distance to get our hectic minds used to the feeling of slow silence.
I feared the relaxed woman was a figment of my imagination, or that she was extinct, but now I wonder if she is just hibernating inside us all; waiting for the right time to emerge. Perhaps that time is now.
‘What’s Wrong With Me? 101 Things Midlife Women Need To Know’ by Lorraine Candy is out now; Lorraine co-hosts the Postcards From Midlife podcast.