As we covered in the last lesson even if you get really good at reducing your stressors some stress will undoubtedly remain so the key is to include relaxation to counterbalance the impact this has on your mind, health and weight.
You think you’re relaxed, but are you really?
The next place to focus is relaxation and by this I’m referring to true relaxation, not just flaking out on the sofa in front of the TV.
It’s easy to trick ourselves into believing we’re relaxing when in reality we’re not actually giving our bodies and minds a break.
Actions such as the use of food/drugs/alcohol or watching TV are often used to mask stress. However, they aren’t true relaxation. None allows your brain a real break. This could be thought of as ‘passive’ relaxation. It may sound a little odd, but true relaxation actually requires you to be active in the process.
This sounds contradictory, but true relaxation involves you actively taking part. It requires you to be present in the moment. Not thinking about the past or future.
This tends to be a fairly focused activity, typically with your focus on one thing. Whether this is meditation or dancing your focus is on the activity and you need to continually bring your mind back to the activity.
With ‘true’ relaxation there is no ‘right’ way. Only what works for you. Something that is relaxing for one may not be for another. Try a few and see options from below and some of your own. It should leave you feeling calm and energised afterwards rather than heavy and tired.
Planning in pre-emptive relaxation important, but what even is this? This is when you plan in mini relaxations throughout the day and longer ones throughout the week/month/year. This allows you to continually manage the impact of stress on your body BEFORE it has a big impact. There really is no need to wait until you’re a stressed out mess.
You can use Your Relaxation Book to create a personalised relaxation routine. Just make sure it is realistic. It’s better to start with 1-2 one minute relaxations a day than plan to spend an hour every evening and not manage it.
I Don’t Have the Time/Money
Relaxation doesn’t have to mean spending lots of money or time. Often we can think we have to wait for a holiday (vacation), or a spa break in order to relax, but taking a few minutes several times a day can make all of the difference – even something as simple as a short breathing exercise or a relaxing bath without interruptions.
Here are 5 Relaxation ‘Hacks’ you can try. They all take less than 5 minutes and as talked about in the introduction they ‘trick’ your body into the parasympathetic mode or ‘rest and digest’. Sprinkle these throughout your day. I repeat — EVEN A MINUTE HELPS.
1. Invert Positions – this is where you hang around upside down for a while. If you’re into yoga then this can be a head/hand/shoulder stand, but if you’re not a simple hack is to lie on your back with your legs up a wall. Stay lie this breathing calmly for 1-10 minutes
2. 1-1-2 Breathing – this is a simple breathing exercise where your out breath is longer than your in breath. The beauty of this is that it can be done ANYWHERE. Place your hands on your stomach and focus on them rising and falling as you breath. Breath in very slowly for 1 count (allowing your stomach to rise), comfortably hold your breath for 1 count and then slowly breath out for 2 counts (allowing your stomach to fall). Repeat this for 1-10 minutes.
3. Body Scan – again this can be done almost anywhere. Don’t do it though if you’re driving or operating machinery and can’t stay focused. We often hold tension in our bodies even if we don’t feel stressed. Throughout the day start to scan your body starting with your toes and working your way all the way to the top of your body. As you do notice if there is any tension and allow the muscle to relax. Some people find it useful to contract and relax each muscle in turn. Pay particular attention to your toes, stomach, shoulder, neck, back, fingers and jaw/teeth as these are often where people find they hold tension. Repeat this as often as you like, in the shower, on your journey, at work, in the gym, in bed etc.
4. Look at the Sky – this can also be completed almost anywhere. Take a minute or two to stop what you are doing and look up at the sky (through a window is fine if you can’t get outside). Look at the colour of the sky, the texture of any clouds, any movement etc. Even a sky, which at first glance appears one colour of grey often has more texture and movement than you may first think. This immediately has you become more present and allows your body to relax a little.
5. Be Mindful – at any point during your day you can practice mindfulness. This can sound a little ‘out there’, but in reality it just means being aware of your surroundings. You may find this easiest during your morning shower or when walking (even if down a corridor at work). However, whatever you are doing become mindful of what is around you. Slowly keep asking yourself what can you hear? What can you see? What can you smell? What can you feel? It’s amazing what you notice when you take a moment.
Hacks are great, but they’re a bit like fast food. You also need the ‘real’ stuff too. Aim for at least 3 times a week.
Prioritise rest and relaxation and ensure you make time for stress reducing activities such as restorative yoga, meditation, cuddling, massage, sex, being in nature, having a sauna, spending time with pets, painting, colouring in or anything you find relaxing.
When was the last time you did something just for you?
Use Your Relaxation Book to find ideas split into relaxations which take less than 1 min, 5 mins, 15 mins, 30 mins. 1hr+ and think about your own.