It seems odd that we need to learn how to relax. Shouldn’t it be a natural state when we are not in an active mode – like our ancestors’ primal fight or flight?
Environment And Our Ability To Relax
When did anxiety and nervousness replace relaxation in my life? First, I would say that I am not an anxious person. Worried, yes, but not anxious. I looked up the definition of anxiety, and according to Webster’s Dictionary, it means:
a: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill
b: mentally distressing concern or interest
c: a strong desire sometimes mixed with doubt, fear, or uneasiness
Okay, I concede that worry is a synonym for anxiety. So maybe I am a bit anxious. It starts when we are young and grows unless we have someone teach us how to relax.
The environment we are in plays a part. It’s difficult to turn off the outside influences that fuel anxiety, like the news, traffic, pressure to pay bills, school, peer pressure, and worldwide pandemics. But that doesn’t mean we cannot find the time and place to relax. We feel a sense of duty to achieve, meet deadlines, look good at all costs, and appear confident, but that doesn’t mean we cannot feel at peace while doing these things.
Energy And Our Ability To Relax
We expend a great deal of energy on anxiety, stress, and uneasiness about things in the past or future that harm our health and state of mind. If we are going to exert the energy, why not spend it on ways to be healthier.
“The body both feels and is in better balance when the relaxation response is evoked because heart rate, metabolism, oxygen consumption, and respiration slow down. Blood pressure and muscle tension are lowered, and brain activity is characterized by alpha waves, which are slower in frequency than what is usual in a waking state.” – Herbert Benson – Author of The Relaxation Response
Let’s follow Herbert Benson’s advice and expend our energy on relaxing, which will net positive results to our health. Dr. Bernie Siegel, the author of Peace, Love, and Healing, reminds us that relaxation techniques are taught in the healthcare field to help cope with serious illness. He says that “relaxation heals from within.”
Dr. Siegel suggests that we need to “put our bodies in action to relax.” What a concept! Here I thought that relaxation involved just the body. I was picturing a hammock, pool, or beach chair by the ocean.
Ways To Relax
Here are six ways. See if any resonate with you!
Deep breathing is healthy for your body. It’s also good for calming your thoughts. Combine deep breathing with counting to 10, and you can prevent spiking your blood pressure and saying something you may regret later.
There are several methods of deep breathing based on yogic traditions that will quickly reduce your heart rate and settle your nerves. Emergency service workers, coaches, teachers, mom’s and dad’s all come to mind with the sage advice of “just breathe.”
I grew up with asthma, and breathing was difficult at times. When I couldn’t breathe right, it caused a panic response which then caused me to breathe even more shallowly. My dad, a lifelong swimmer, helped me in those moments by mirroring the long, slow breathing that ultimately brought me out of those panicky moments.
What absorbs your attention? For me, it is nature – gardening, taking pictures, and tree gazing. I have a friend who relaxes by drawing. Another who relaxes by running. Another who relaxes by volunteering with animals.
Whatever your hobby – baking, sewing, fixing up a car, reading, sports – even if you are exhausted afterward, you are relaxing! It is an activity that takes you out of your lane and puts you in an anti-anxiety zone for a little while.
If you can’t think of anything that does this for you, find something you always wanted to learn and start now! In this digital world – you can discover new activities almost anytime.
What’s more fun and relaxing than true, deep laughter? Some of the best moments are when we get uncontrollable giggles or enjoy deep belly laughs.
How long has it been since you experienced the physical sensations of laughing out loud? If it has been a while, think back on what made you laugh as a kid. Check out Laughter Yoga. Or if you prefer to laugh at home, find those things (TV shows, movies, books, jokes, people) and re-live or make new memories.
Norman Cousin‘s is an excellent resource for the benefits of laughter as a medicine. He wrote the book Anatomy of An Illness about how he came back from a severe degenerative disease due partly to attitude and laughter.
“Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” – Norman Cousins
Listening to funny stuff can make you laugh. Listening to music is also an excellent way to relax. Whatever your favorite music is, ambient, reggae, folk, classical or hard rock, just being absorbed in music can provide relaxation. Go under headphones, sing-along, or even better – get up and move your body to the music.
When I was 17, I was struggling with a tragedy in my family. My dad came to the rescue with two things; progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Both were effective in helping me to relax my mind and solve tensions in my body.
The progressive relaxation was pretty much common sense, and once taught, I could repeat it as needed. The meditation was more of a challenge for me. We went to Transcendental Meditation classes together. It took some time to learn to silence my mind or not let my mind pull me into all kinds of tangents while trying to meditate.
At first, meditation was stressful because I was trying hard not to think – focus on my breathing and mantra. But with practice, like most things, it got easier. Meditation and progressive relaxation became my go-to tools for peace.
Do you relax when you sleep? Are you tossing and turning? Do you wake up frequently? Is it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up? Are you tired in the afternoons?
Sleep studies show that many of us do not get a restful night’s sleep. This time is our body’s chance to let all the organs rest. The more we can facilitate a peaceful sleep, the more relaxed we can be during waking hours. Sleep is a magic elixir for a healthy life. Think about your current sleep habits and how you may adjust them.
- Cool temperatures promote sleep.
- Low or no light helps promote sleep (eliminate blue light)
- Don’t eat too close to going to sleep
- Avoid TV, especially the news before bedtime
- Leave your digital devices outside the bedroom or off
- Stretch and do some gratitude affirmations before going to bed
- Breath deeply and visualize a great nights sleep
- Slowly get out of bed in the morning and stretch
Cultivate a Mindset To Relax
I learned that relaxing is not just chilling out on the couch with a good book (although there is nothing wrong with that). Why do we need to learn to relax? Because relaxing is a state of mind that involves the body, mind, and soul. It is a heart-centered activity that raises your state of mind and lowers your stress level.
I hope that you have many ways to relax in your day-to-day activities! We would love to hear from you.