So why do we need to relax?
Well, we might come from a place where our lives are too stressful and we need a coping mechanism. Relaxation is the perfect solution to help you cope with that and mindfulness or another form of meditation could be one such coping mechanism for you. Here are some but not exclusive examples of why people take up relaxation in the first place:
- Stress problems from work or family issues
- Pain management
- Anxiety and depression or other mental health issues
- Sleep problems
- Health problems including heart conditions.
How Stress Affects The Body.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. It’s the body’s defence mechanism kicking in. When it works properly it can help us stay focused (meet that deadline), alert ( keep an eye on the kids) and energetic (doing that exercise routine at the end of a long day) and cope with emergencies. Stress can be a good or a bad thing. But when stress levels build up to such a state that we are constantly stressed, it becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress is not good for anyone.
The nervous system isn’t good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If we get constantly stressed over continuing periods of time it can be harder to switch off the stress levels. If we tend to get stressed out frequently, our body may be in a constant state of stress most of the time. This can lead to serious health problems such as problems with your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the ageing process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. For these reasons it is recommended that we reduce our stress levels by using different forms of relaxation, exercise, have interests and hobbies and build up our social – face to face – interactions with family and friends, take time off just for yourself. In other words, make sure you have a good life/work balance. So what are some methods you can introduce now with a small amount of planning ( Yes you do need to allocate time to this every day) to reduce your stress levels immediately?
Different Methods of Relaxation
It isn’t one size fits all here, but you do need to pick a method that suits you, try a few forms of relaxation until you find the right one for you. These could be mindfulness or mediation – like the 7/11 breathing method -, visualizations, but you also need to include some journaling or bullet journalling, to do lists and not to do lists (which are of equal importance). These lists and journals signal to your brain it’s okay to let these thoughts go for now as they are still there to be reviewed or consulted at the correct time and place. None of these methods have to take up too much time in your life, but I would suggest that if you feel permanently rushed off your feet you need help or to start delegating with some of the things you’re doing.
Let’s explore some of these methods in more detail so you can start today.
Journals: you don’t have to start with “Dear Diary”, a journal is just a place either on paper or electronic to place our thoughts, ideas and feelings down on paper. Some of you may feel uncomfortable doing this at first but in a short space of time, you will find that it helps you so much that it won’t bother you anymore. If you feel so uncomfortable doing this I would suggest you start with a bullet journal format – simply put: list in bullet points – everything that’s going on in your mind in no particular order. Bullet journals can become much more elaborate though and can be very creatively designed and a great outlet for your creativity. (See my post on How Can Creativity Be A Means Of Self-Care? it outlines why creativity is needed for better productivity and leadership by entrepreneurs and managers)
To Do Lists: I would use these with my planner (diary/calendar) again it can be on paper or electronic. I would have no more than 3 top priorities each day and focus on getting those completed. You can have to do lists for many things in your life from work, garden and house projects to a shopping list. Puting these things down on paper as I’ve said is a signal to your brain that it doesn’t have to keep everything to hand all at once thus allowing it to relax and in the long run be more productive.
A word about the not to do list. To me, this is the most important list you will ever write! A not to do list allows you to hand back all those responsibilities and jobs you do for other people that they can do for themselves. If you are guilty of doing this please stop now. You’re not doing them or more importantly yourself any favours in enabling that person. It’s time to allow them to be a grown-up.
How to write a Not To Do List
Take a large piece of paper and make a note of everything ( I mean everything you do each day).
Now take another large piece of paper and divide it into 3 and look at the list you have written and see what belongs in each of the following categories: Someone else’s Responsibility? (stop doing these today) Things I can’t do and need help with? (Yes you can ask for help) My Responsibility. ( this list should be shorter than the first list – a lot shorter!)
The 7/11 meditation method
You can’t be stressed and calm at the same time. This method taps into to this idea, as when we breathe in we get ready to do something (our sympathetic system arousal – get’s us ready to start something) but then our out breath relaxes us ( our para-sympathetic system relaxation response). By making our out breath longer than our in breath we are stimulating that relaxation response by tapping into those systems.
This is very simple to do: You need to lie down while learning this technique as it’s not using a shallow breath (top half of your chest) but a deeper diaphragm breath (your tummy goes up and down as it’s filled with air). It can be helpful to shut your eyes and place your hands on your tummy, to begin with, so you can focus on the sensations. Make sure you are warm, comfortable and will not be disturbed for at least 5 minutes, to begin with.
So begin by lying down and then: Breathe in for a count of 7 and exhale for a count of 11. Remember to keep your breath smooth as you do this. Note if you find this hard to do at first you can begin by using a count of 5 and 9 as long as you make the out breath longer than the in breath. You need to make this apart of your daily routine perhaps taking 5 minutes in the morning or evening to start with and build it up to 10 minutes a day on a regular basis. This video explains how to do this also: The Seven Eleven Breathing Technique for Relaxation
What is mindfulness?
- “Mindfulness means being able to bring direct, open-hearted awareness to what you are doing while you are doing it: being able to tune in to what’s going on in your mind and body, and in the outside world, moment by moment.” The mindful way workbook. Teasdale, Williams & Segal
- Developed out of Buddhist meditation
- Something I consider to be non-religious
- John Kabat Zinn brought it to mainstream medicine 30 years ago to the Stress Reduction clinic at University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The following video on YouTube gives an outline of what mindfulness is.
A basic summary of what mindfulness is about from the video.
- The Being mind versus the Doing mind
- Awareness of living in the present moment
- Staying present in the moment
- Non-judgmental frame of mind
- Rational thinking
- Compassion for ourselves as well as others
How to start
- Wear something warm over your shoulders, most people find they feel cold around this area of the body while sitting.
- Sit in a comfortable chair in a comfortable, warm room.
- Make sure you will not be disturbed for 5/10 minutes.
How to do a five-minute mindfulness session
- Bring your attention to the air coming in through the nose and out through the nose
- Notice the cold air as it enters your nose
- Notice the warm air as it leaves your nose
- Staying fully in touch with the breath as it enters the body and leaves the body, keeping awareness on the breath in this present moment.
- Allow your thoughts to wander like clouds in the sky when you remember to bring you thought back to the breath
A 10-minute mindfulness session
So my question to you is why do you need to relax? What prevents you from relaxing now? How will you rectify this situation before it becomes a larger issue for you? Only you can truly answer these questions and begin to take control over your life. So for the next month, in what is considered a stressful period by most try to use a few of the techniques I’ve outlined above and see how much you can adjust your stress levels. Pick one 10 minute slot in your day and decide right now that you will take some time for yourself. You owe it to yourself and everyone else in your life to take care of yourself. At the end of the month, you can review how you feel. If you find Time management an issue for you then I suggest you get a planner (diary) and check out our post here.