Who has the time? There are 234 new e-mails in your inbox and 27 items on your to-do-list. The cat, dog, kids, spouse, boss, bills, laundry and houseplants all need your attention. And you promised to drive your mother-in-law to the dentist. Plus, who can relax when your teenage son is constantly playing Call of Duty Black Ops 3 or watching Walking Dead reruns?
Along with environmental relaxation roadblocks and the external pressure to get things done, there’s an internal barrier that hinders relaxation. We feel like we don’t deserve a break. Unless everything is going right personally and professionally or we’re flat out exhausted, we can’t justify taking time off to enjoy ourselves. A nagging sense of unworthiness keeps us from soaking in the tub, taking a walk in the woods or immersing ourselves in a good book.
Our brains also make relaxing challenging. Humans are wired for survival, not recreation. We’re born with a built in worry radar that evolved to enable us to survive not nap. This ancient part of our brain constantly scans our environment for danger and everything that’s wrong in our lives. It triggers the fight-or-flight response pumping out chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline that contribute to heart disease, digestive problems, backaches, headaches, anxiety and depression. And the best way to reverse these problems is to flick the off switch on our worry detector and RELAX.
For those of us who’ve become human doings, rather than human beings relearning (Babies naturally know how to do relax.) how to relax takes practice and effort laced with a touch of ease. You can do it. Simply follow my 5 Steps to Relax.
Give yourself permission to relax. Just like every human being you deserve to be healthy and happy. So make relaxation a priority. Remember, when you relax and take care of yourself you a have more energy to care for others, you’re more creative and everything you need to accomplish is done better.
“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living. “—Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us go through the day edgy and tight, without even realizing it, and then we approach life from that stressed stance which increases the tension. By day’s end our jaw, neck and shoulders are strained and our back is bent and achy. The best way to counteract that physical tension is to relax the body.
Make a habit of checking in with your body throughout the day. As soon as you notice you’re straining soften and relax each part of your body. Take frequent breaks to stretch and relax. If you spend time in front of a keyboard give yourself a hand massage. With practice you’ll learn to let go and be at ease all day long.
The quickest and easiest way to relax and bring your body and mind back to a peaceful state is with conscious breathing. When you notice you’re stressed try my exercise 3 Deep Breaths practice. Or slow your breathing down using the 4-7-8 breathing technique: Shut your eyes and inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for 7 counts and breath out slowly and smoothly for 8.
To enhance the breathing experience, try aromatherapy. Place a few drops of essential oils (lavender, mint and tea tree are great) into your palm and inhale.
- Practice Mindfulness
Get present. Let go of all the thoughts and feelings that are derailing you, and pay attention to your immediate surroundings. Shut down your fight-or-flight lizard brain by reminding yourself that you are safe and are not in any immediate danger. Tell yourself: “May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be at ease.”
- Schedule Relaxation
Practice self-compassion by treating yourself the way you would a good friend. Take out your calendar and schedule several dates with yourself this week to do things that nourish and nurture you. Meditate, read, give yourself a facial or manicure, do yoga, kayak, make cupcakes, color, paint, draw, knit take a nice long nap, listen to music, do a crossword puzzle, dance, practice yoga or… And when you relax, leave work behind and really take time off.
Look at the big picture. There will always be things to do and worry about. That’s life. Taking time for yourself to relax will make you happier and help you navigate life’s challenges with grace, beauty and ease.
“We need time to defuse, to contemplate. Just as in sleep our brains relax and give us dreams, so at some time in the day we need to disconnect, reconnect, and look around us.” —Laurie Colwin