How can I decompress?

Turning off is as important as being on

Once more, with passion now: VOTE! I had considered making today’s Gridology about the election, but then I realized you all don’t read this newsletter for political news and commentary—and I don’t write this newsletter as an outlet to provide it. There are so many other, better places for that content.

That said, I am passionate about voting—so consider this email another voice in the chorus of your inboxes, newsfeeds, and text messages imploring you to vote. And, if the grid framework helps you best understand what to do on November 3, 2020, I made a quick one for you:

And now, let’s jump in:

This week, my free time has been spent staring at one of two things: FiveThirtyEight election coverage and my fantasy football lineup. A stark contrast. Well, not really—both are based on believing analyst projections. I digress…

Together, the balance between the two somehow works. They are the perfect yin and yang for the moment. I spend time stressing over the election and then—when I reach my limit—I decompress with the best possible distraction… my currently-in-first-place fantasy football squad.

Decompression is essential. To do our best work, we need to turn off. Otherwise, we’ll run out of battery. Our brains need to rest the same way our muscles do after a workout. We can’t just bicep curl every day and expect our arms to still function. Even The Rock takes breaks (side note: his cheat meals look insanely delicious).

A post shared by @therock
August 16, 2020

So, for today’s grid, I’m sharing a framework you can use to decompress. Relaxation means something different to everyone. For some, it may mean going for a long run. For others, it may mean setting up in your favorite spot on the couch with a blanket and a movie.

On the x-axis, we have your decompression method. I love to decompress through avoidance. It allows me to take a full and complete break. If there’s something stressful going on in my life, often the last thing I want to do to relax is to think about it. For others, confronting stressful situations is a way of reducing their weight. You relax from anxieties by dealing with them.

On the y-axis, we have who’s involved in the decompressing activity. How you choose to decompress is contingent on your mood, the type of stress, and the amount of time available to you. Sometimes it’s best to decompress with a solo activity vs. among others.

Understanding the Grid

We all have a lot going on—both societally and in our personal lives. Decompression hits differently depending on how it’s done. Some activities are needed to blow off steam. Others are needed to grapple with pressing issues. The focus of this grid is to pursue decompression in every quadrant because each offers restoration in its own way.


We confront stress, and we do so with others. We seek to decompress through action and conversation. Engaging meaningfully with others helps us feel productive. Think of the person who has a weekend to-do list. Addressing the tasks and problems head-on allows for them to be put to bed. When applying this thinking to this quadrant, it means you handle stresses by consulting others. It’s often through a discussion. You may call a friend to discuss a personal problem or perhaps you have a regularly scheduled appointment with your therapist. The point is you’re addressing your issues to move past them. For me, talking things out with others is a critical way I decompress, especially when my stress is interpersonal or work-related. Sometimes I need to hear someone levelheaded tell me everything is going to be okay or that something isn’t as big of a deal as I had thought. Hearing it from someone else, sometimes, makes it sound true.


We confront stress, and we do so alone. Sometimes we don’t need to talk to anyone about our problems. There are some things we just need to take care of for ourselves. It may mean meditating about the issue, digging into some research around the problem, or doing some reading about it. The focus here should be on spending time alone to assuage your fears and come up with actionable solutions. However, when this type of decompression is done incorrectly, it can look like you are spinning your wheels for nothing. The last thing you want is to be trapped in a tailspin of anxiety. As long as the research serves as a way to proactively respond to future work, go for it. For example, if you have a busy week a work, try spending 20 minutes to decompress by writing a plan for how and when you’re going to accomplish your projects. Though it may feel like work, in this format it does more to relax you than drain your energy.


We avoid stress, and we do so with others. When I use socialization as a means of de-stressing, it acts as a hard reset. It’s like when your phone is glitching and you turn it off and on to fix the problem. Going out and hanging with friends or family is a clear way to get out of your head. Even during a pandemic, jumping on a quick FaceTime can be a critical decompressor. Hanging with others forces us to be engaged in the conversation, thus ensuring that we don’t think about the things that are bothering us. While the issues you are dealing with don’t go away, socialization is a necessary reprieve. Getting your mind focused on something else allows you to come back to the problem with fresh eyes.


We avoid stress, and we do so alone. Grab a book, pick up a controller, swipe on your phone, or go for a workout. Do whatever you need to do to get away from whatever is causing you stress. Taking this traditional decompression break—avoiding whatever is giving you anxiety—is a powerful resource. For me, it means watching go-to sitcoms such as Friends or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. However, too much time in this quadrant isn’t a good thing, either. When you spend too much time here, distraction transforms into procrastination, which becomes a real problem. When you distract for too long, it can cause items to pile up or become more serious than they need to be. Try to keep your time in this quadrant short. Watch an hour of content and then get back to work. If you give yourself a short break to clear out your mind, you will be able refocus with greater processing power and endurance.

Grid Shortcomings

  1. The grid falls short of explaining when to avoid or confront an issue. Only you can decide how to handle the challenges in your life. That said, recognize which method you are biased to choose and perhaps try to pick the alternative every now and then.

  2. The grid doesn’t specify what stressors correspond to what quadrant. This is by design. Everyone responds differently and it is up to you to know how to relax best given the stressor.

This upcoming week will be a real challenge mentally. Try to carve out space to make sure you are finding time to decompress. That could be anything that reduces your anxiety and relieves the pressure of the moment. It could even mean looking at this adorable picture of Murray wearing a cardigan:

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,

If you enjoyed today’s post, please consider forwarding it to your friends, family, or colleagues. As always, please reply to this note or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback, have ideas for a post, or want to collaborate. Want more from Gridology? You can always access the entire archive here or you can check out the podcast.