Struggling to Relax? You're Not Alone

 Can you imagine leaving your house to run errands and being unreachable until returning home to check your answering machine? Believe it or not, it’s how many of us used to live.

Struggling to Relax? You’re Not Alone


These days, it’s harder than ever to relax because we live in a culture that glorifies accessibility and busyness. We feel pressured to have a personal or professional presence not just in real life, but online as well. It’s no wonder we’ve forgotten how to relax, and no longer put enough importance on doing so regularly.


Retrain Your Brain

If you feel guilty for stepping away from your professional or personal obligations from time to time, why do you think that is? There should be nothing wrong with taking a vacation and actually putting down the computer and phone to focus on yourself.

Why We Can’t Relax

Some of us have either forgotten how to relax, or we never learned in the first place. We may equate sitting on the couch, tuning into a show, and scrolling through our phones with “relaxing.” But is it really? Besides now knowing how to relax, here are some other reasons why we’re so stressed these days.

We Measure Self-Worth via Productivity

Don’t you just love the feeling of satisfaction when you look at your To-Do list and nearly everything is checked off? From grocery shopping and emails to paying the bills and finishing a big project, it can give you a boost of self-confidence to have evidence of what you accomplished for the day or week. 


But are your accomplishments really proof of your value? Why is value not assigned to simply making it through a tough day in one piece? Or spending the day ignoring the “shoulds” and focusing on things you want instead? Promotions, raises, and trophies aren’t handed out for parenting, but some days that’s all you do. Dishes are ignored, laundry doesn’t get done, and you don’t leave the house; but you still put in a good day’s work nurturing your loved ones.


If you only derive feelings of accomplishment and self-worth from seeing how much you can pack into a day, it can affect the value you place on truly relaxing. But it’s important to remember that time spent relaxing isn’t time wasted. More on that later.

Feeling Undeserving of a Break

Relating to productivity being a measure of self-worth, some of us don’t feel like we deserve to take a break from the hustle and bustle. What makes us worthy of a relaxing vacation, time spent in conversation with good friends, or a day by a resort pool and spa? Haven’t others worked just as hard, or harder? 


It may help to think of relaxation not as a reward, but as an essential part of everyday life. Much like pausing to refuel our bodies and sleep, intentional breaks for relaxation should be non-negotiable.

Too Much Stimulation

Some of us have a regular routine of putting in a day’s work, then coming home and vegging out in front of screens. We may think we’re taking a load off and relaxing, but we’re actually adding to the overstimulation that’s common in our society. Chances are, you’re not just watching Netflix; you’re also getting constant notifications on your phone. As a result, you’re bopping between the show, your social media, YouTube videos, and probably the occasional work-related message. Is that really relaxing? No! 

Practicing Relaxation

We practice a lot of activities throughout our lives in order to get better at them: sports, playing an instrument, or even cooking. From a young age, you were probably told the phrase, “practice makes perfect!” But have you ever thought about practicing how to really relax? Depending on your preferences, there are a number of ways you can practice relaxing in order to truly give your brain a break.

Unplug

It may be helpful to start small when it comes to finding relaxing moments in your day. Consider unplugging from the stimulation you’re faced with daily. Here are some suggestions for stepping away from the world and taking care of yourself:


  • Get sunlight within the first 30 minutes of waking up

  • Avoid charging your phone at your bedside

  • Turn off screens at least 30 minutes before you go to bed

  • Set screentime limits on your phone to prevent endless scrolling

  • Watch or read the news sparingly, and stick to only non-bias sources

  • Exercise every day, preferably outside if you can

  • Step away from your workspace for five minutes every hour

  • Put away screens during mealtime

  • Read physical books instead of books on a mobile device (or listen to an audiobook)


If all else fails, set a timer for a few minutes each day, and practice sitting with yourself during that time. No distractions, just you. You could turn this time to yourself up a notch by trying out natural remedies that can soothe and relax you. Some people will use such supplements as chamomile and lavender either in a drink or tablet, or you could alternatively use marijuana which can be used with Cool Bongs or in an edible form, it is really up to you and how you want to unwind. If it helps you to get into a mental state where you can relax, then it is surely worth it.


Change of Scenery

Many of us can feel refreshing simply by changing our surroundings. Maybe this means working in a different room of your house for a few days or rearranging your furniture. Hopefully, you can budget the time and money for something a bit more significant, though.


Contrary to the belief of many, change is good! When we stick to the same routines every day, it can feel boring and monotonous. We’re not challenging ourselves to learn to adapt and improve. If you’re worried that you don’t have time to explore the world around you, there are theories that a change of scenery can enhance your work performance. Here’s how:


Monotony Can Lead to Mistakes

When you’re no longer paying attention to your work because it’s become routine, you’re more likely to make errors. Stepping away from your office, using a treadmill or standing desk instead of sitting, or taking a vacation can snap you out of autopilot and help increase your attention to detail because you’re experiencing new things, teaching your brain to create new neural pathways.


Change Increases Brain Neuroplasticity

What are neural pathways, and why are they important? Neural pathways are the connections formed in our brains that allow different parts to communicate. Neurons, axons, dendrites, synapses… these are all the technical terms for the routes information takes in our brains. When we change our scenery and try new things, we increase the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt and rewire itself. 


Neuroplasticity is important because, over time, we can change how our brains respond to stimuli. This means that instead of feeling overwhelmed (fight or flight response), we can process the stimuli and respond more thoughtfully without losing our cool. 


Nature Reduces Stress Hormone Levels

Spending time outside, whether on vacation or just in your own yard, can increase serotonin and endorphin production. These are “feel good” hormones, and we don’t always produce them while sitting at our desks, chauffeuring our kids to activities, scrubbing bathrooms clean. Nature, however, is proven to not only produce these feel-good hormones but reduce the stress-inducing ones as well.

Meditation

Many people are put off by the thought of meditation because they don’t want to sit still, chant, or listen to weird music. Thankfully, the practice of meditation can be personalized to cater to your personality and your needs. It may be meditative for you to take a walk without your earbuds in, and instead spend the time tuning in to the sights, sounds, smells, and other physical sensations happening around you.


Types of Meditation

There are a lot of apps available today that offer meditation practices, or you can explore in-person classes in your community. There are also books and online articles with mindfulness practices so you can research what’s best for you. The following are some styles of meditation, each with its own benefits.


  • Mindfulness

  • Spiritual

  • Focused

  • Movement

  • Mantra

  • Progressive

  • Loving-Kindness (also known as Metta)

  • Visualization


Look into these types of meditation to find the right fit. The benefits of regular meditation include:


  • Improved neuroplasticity

  • Lower levels of stress hormones, 

  • Reduced anxiety levels

  • Increased self-awareness

  • Improved attention span

  • Better sleep

  • Lower blood pressure


Your meditation practice can be complemented with a regular yoga practice, breathing techniques, mantras (positive affirmations), aromatherapy, or CBD oil


As you can see, relaxing isn’t a waste of time. It’s vital to our mental and emotional health and has proven benefits related to productivity. It may seem counterintuitive to take time away from work in order to get more work done, but the opposite is true. We all need to step away from our regular lives in order to recharge and be able to return to our responsibilities refreshed.

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