I recently had a good discussion with a friend who has been going through quite an intense period at work, driven in part by home-office and the terrible company culture when it comes to employee-related topics such as work-life balance/integration, etc., and how he just seems stressed non-stop. I’ve gone through the same and I tend to think we all have our moments, however, they seem to pile up faster each day with the ever-changing environment we live in. Hence, your alternative is exercise and relaxation and I find the latter is an important one to learn. More so than not people tend to be labeled as lazy for wanting to vacation or relax, which I call BS.
You see, learning how to relax is important and vital for physical and mental health. If you can’t go on vacation without pulling off one email, then you ought to think about priorities and reflect on yourself and your environment.
In today’s day and age, everything is ever-on, super-fast, needs to have happened yesterday, and the ever-growing fear of job loss, pressure to deliver, etc is no doubt that modern-day life is just stressful. And it’s not just work, it’s everything – family, social obligations (albeit pandemic), this need to upskill all the time because of competition on the job market, etc. But finding time for yourself is important! Ensuring periods of relaxation will help keep you healthy – mind and body. Learning to relax will help you recover from our ever online world and all the stress that gets thrown at you.
So my message was the following, which I just jotted down and will expand upon a bit here. The strategies I use are really simple, logical, and straight-forward. We tend to have this notion that the more complex something seems – the more it ought to work, but my motto in life is to keep things simple. The easier, the better. And I am convinced that you can carve out ten to fifteen minutes of your day to slip in one of these relaxation methods/strategies.
I do this a lot in a variety of areas, and in conversations, I’ve had over the years some people think I must have a screw loose when I tell them the first step of how to approach something in regard to attaining it is to visualize it first. The mind is very, very powerful.
How does this relate to becoming chill? Find a quiet place, somewhere you like sitting, perhaps your bedroom or a reading chair, your sofa, whatever it may be just sit there and sit up straight. Close your eyes and begin to visualize a place in your mind where you feel calm. A park, somewhere on the beach, laying in the park, just focus. Now don’t just think of that place but become very granular meaning link important details to that place like sights, sounds, smells, taste, feelings, and so forth. Make it an offline, in mind, “VR” experience.
Example: If you find calm at the beach then imagine waves, the sound of them breaking and the seagulls flying, the smell of sunscreen, the taste of ice cream, feel the sand between your toes, and so forth.
The more you visualize, the more you will be able to relax.
Aside from visualizing, this has become a strong part of my routine lately, especially with my injured knee. I have been eating near vegetarian since the summer of 2020 and utilize the above strategy and this one to really find my calm, especially on days when I feel like I could take out a punching bag. I came to do this through my wife and yoga sessions and then began reading up on the topic intensively through my injury.
You see when we are mentally stressed (e.g.: work), we also feel a toll on our physical being as well. If we can manage to release the physical tension it will also help to relieve the stress in your body and your mind.
So take a mat (yoga mat) or lay on a soft surface such as your bed. Now tense up one part of your body, say your left leg and hold it for several seconds. I usually do roughly 15 seconds and then slowly release your muscles. Do this throughout your body with various muscles, and you will begin to note that change in your body sensation. It really is up to you how you want to start whether larger limbs, your face, or just your toes. But squeeze tightly and relax. Initially, you may have cramps, but that will go away (*cough* stretching).
I (well, we as in our family) love nature. We spend a lot of time outdoors. Spending a few minutes in nature will help you relax and release endorphins. Remember that this post is about learning how to relax, strategies to find moments of calm when everything seems to be getting all “mental.” Physical exercise is part of that. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. When you move your body, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are reduced by the body, and you stimulate the production of endorphins, which are chemicals that the body utilizes as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Hence, spending a few minutes outside, going for a short walk, or incorporating movement in nature will significantly reduce stress levels. This strategy is a bit more time-consuming, and while yes you could exercise at home, we are talking more about what you could do immediately to reduce stress, therefore if time is of a limit to you, turn on some nature sounds and just stare at an image of greenery for a few minutes, worst case your computer screen. Watch how this (albeit the lack of movement) will reduce stress levels and help you calm down.
Jot your thoughts
Writing is amazing. If you have never journaled, then you should give it a try. Even if you think you’re a bad writer because ultimately that has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of sitting down and being with yourself, in your own thoughts. Get things off your mind, not by talking to someone else, but by writing them down and reflecting will help you relax. Many find this difficult, however, take a few minutes, get a notepad and write down some short notes about how you feel or how the day has been going so far. Reflect on those thoughts quietly. Heck, I guess you could even use your smartphone or tablet. There are already tons of preinstalled apps to do so. And again, it is not about being a poet or spelling and grammar. It is fully about expressing yourself and “talking” with your own thoughts to relieve stress.
I am not talking about a grocery list here, rather make a list of what you are grateful for. The stress our environments cause us, with nonstop communication, cell phones, emails, and slack, is we become stressed and lose focus on what truly matters, only to begin focusing on the negative parts of life rather than the good and positive. Therefore, if you do not want to jot your thoughts, sit down and make a list of what you are grateful for. The positive parts of your life. Think about three things that have happened today alone and write them down, no matter how small – like getting a delicious lunch or replying to a specific (critical) email on time. Whatever it may be, look at the small things in life to be grateful for and have them become a part of you – thankfulness and more mindfulness. This will release stress as you learn to cope with “everything else” because within your mind’s eye you know that life is beautiful no matter what may be happening.
Lastly, just breathe. Breathing is a simple strategy that may effectively calm you at any time. You’ve probably heard it enough in life, but breathing in and out slowly is a technique you can use to immediately find a near “happy place.” Or at least get you off your current stress high. One technique is to put your hand on your belly and breathe into a count of three and then slowly breathe out to three again. Feeling your belly rise and fall will consciously make you aware of the situation.
So I gave him this list over the phone, well-intentioned and noting that they may seem fairly straightforward, but it’s also about executing on them and finding that mental state of calmness. Life throws enough curveballs at us, and we need to learn on which ones we swing and which ones we let by – regardless of whether they get called “ball” or “strike.”
And just as a side note, this isn’t only for adults, we teach this to our kids as well. We find it is important for them (albeit ours only being as old as the fingers on one hand), they get it. Children need to learn to relax too and helping them learn and utilize these strategies/exercises will enable them to have a core healthy attitude. Why not take the time and do something together displaying and being an example of how you deal with tough “adult” situations in life. This will encourage self-regulation and a relaxing behavior for your child.
As I’ve listed my strategies above, which are straightforward, no rocket science ways of things you can do and you would find nearly anywhere else – what it really boils down to is actually executing and doing them. Learning how to do them. And to give you a little nudge, we all like easy to read lists so here are the disadvantages and advantages accordingly:
Risk of prolonged stress (continuous stress)
- issues with sleeping, such as insomnia or nightmares
- forgetfulness and confusion
- frequent headaches and pain throughout the body
- chest pain and heart problems
- stress-related illness
- increased or decreased appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- social isolation and loneliness
- increased use of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol
- crying and feelings of depression, in extreme cases with thoughts of suicide
- loss of interest in punctuality and appearance
- increased irritability and overreaction to small annoyances
- poor performance at work or in school
Positive effects of relaxation
- the ability to think more clearly and make better decisions
- the power to better resist future stressors
- a more positive outlook on life and your experiences
- a healthier body, with a slower breathing rate, more relaxed muscles, and reduced blood pressure
- reduced risk of heart attack, autoimmune disease, mental health disorders, and other stress-related illnesses
Stress is a universal part of life, regardless of who you are and where you are from, but the key thing is to not let it get the best of you, no matter the environment or situation. Take control and learn how to relax. Try one of the above methods regularly and stick with it. Mentally note changes in a positive sense. I do want to note that in a worst-case scenario if these exercises do not help reduce a prolonged period of stress, then you may want to see a health professional.
Keep in mind:
Let’s not allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. Remember ‘Life is too short to be little’.