Why is relaxation so important?
The more time I spend in this world of mental health, the more I realise the value of relaxation.
When I am tired or tense, my tolerance to stress is reduced. The tiniest thing can trigger a reaction in me. I find it so much harder to interrupt negative spirals of thinking or challenge my irrational thoughts.
When I am rested, life feels easier.
It's almost as if time slows down and I have space to pause, to consider my response. My mind is less chaotic and it feels like I have more time to reflect on the quality of my thoughts.
I've always known that relaxation was important but since I'd never had trouble with sleeping I assumed that I was getting the rest I needed.
I didn't realise that rest was so much more than that.
Like so many people, I had been conditioned to believe that unless you were being productive, you were wasting time - and being a high achiever, that was the last thing I wanted.
And so I learned to fill my time. If I had a spare half-hour, I'd read a book on psychology. If I was walking to the station, I'd listen to an educational podcast. If I was cooking dinner, I'd have a documentary playing in the background. I convinced myself that I was a master at multitasking. I wore busyness as a badge of honour that proved I was worthy.
Until one day, my mind whispered "Please, no more".
At that time, I realised that whilst I had gotten so much better at listening to the needs of my physical body, I had been totally neglecting the needs of my mental mind.
We live in such an overly stimulated world in which there's always something grabbing our attention, whether it's an advert, a sound, a smell, or a sensation. It's no wonder that so many of us feel overwhelmed, mentally exhausted and on the edge of burnout.
The average person consumes:
- 11.8 hours of content per day
- the equivalent of 174 newspapers each day
- five times as much information as a person did in 1986
- more information daily that an 18th-century person did in an entire lifetime
I find these statistics mind-blowing! This expectation we have that we can keep filling our brains with information that it'll happily absorb without any consequence.
But – and this is a big, life-changing but – rest is more than relaxing the physical body. In fact, there are six key areas that we need to focus on in order to feel fully restored, balanced and healthy.
The six key areas
The physical body
This is perhaps the type of relaxation we are most familiar with. The concept of rest conjures up images of watching TV, relaxing on the sofa, or reading a book. Things that allow for the body to recover from physical exertion or release the build-up of tension. There are two ways in which we can relax the physical body: passively and actively.
Passive relaxation might include having a nap or going for a massage whilst active relaxation looks like tai-chi, gentle yoga, or stretching.
The mental body
As we have seen, your brain is constantly absorbing information throughout the day, trying to make sense of the world. Yet, rarely does it have the chance to totally switch off. We listen to a podcast or an audiobook and convince ourselves that we are resting when really we are just adding to the information overload.
Meditation, colouring, and gardening are great practices for mental restoration.
The sensory body
The world is a sensory overload (especially for nearly 30% of the population who identify as highly sensitive). Bright lights, loud noises, stimulating smells and textures all compete for our attention whether we are on the tube, wandering the city, sitting at our desks or enjoying dinner with friends.
Close your eyes for a minute every hour to allow the brain to rest. Unplug your headphones when you go for a walk. Disconnect from your devices at least 90 minutes before bed.
The emotional body
This is about being able to show up and express your needs in a safe and comfortable way. Know that it's OK to feel your emotions and have the courage to share how you're feeling in an authentic way.
Instead of trying to push your emotions away or bury them deep down, be kind and give yourself some space to process them.
The creative body
Our days are filled with work and problems to solve. It's easy to slip into a kind of autopilot mode, simply going through the daily motions unaware of the little joys in each moment.
Giving yourself a period of creative rest means taking some time to stop doing and instead to observe and explore. Journalling is a great practice for this.
The social body
There are people in our lives who drain our energy. Encounters that we come away from feeling exhausted. And sometimes the interactions we have with them are unavoidable, like a family member, your boss, a friend's partner. You might not be able to spend less time with your obnoxious colleague, but you can choose to spend more time alone.
Be conscious about who you spend your time with and think about establishing boundaries that you can honour in those moments.
I'm curious to know which aspect of rest you struggle with the most? What one thing can you do this week, to honour and relax that part?