By UB Therapist Andrea Watkins, LCSW
For some reason, Americans are hard-wired to rush, fill our downtime and stay busy and work until our brains are sucked dry. I’ve even heard people say, “I’m too busy to relax!” Our bodies and minds need time to recharge, or we lead ourselves to burnout, whether that is in a job, relationship, schooling… It’s time to take a step back and RELAX!
So first thing’s first- we need to take back our free time. Consider times through the day that could be used for yourself- not for answering emails or checking social media, rushing to do errands, or mindlessly thinking of the “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” dialogue. Excellent times to evaluate are the early morning time, right before you come home from work/school, and before you go to sleep. Even your lunch break is a good place to start.
Obviously we can’t get up and take a trip to Hawaii every month (I wish!), but it is completely doable to participate weekly, even daily, relaxation practices to trick our minds into taking, as I call it, a “mini-vacay.” I’ve compiled a quick list of ways to squeeze in ways to relax during our free times. Enjoy and happy relaxing!
> Listen to music. Music is a quick and easy way to turn off your brain and relax. Jam out to your favorite tune or opt for listening to classical to help soothe. (3)
> Try out some aromatherapy. Scents like lavender, citrus and tea tree can calm stress by stimulating smell receptors in the nose that connect to the emotional regulation part of the brain. (1,3)
> Laugh! A fit of giggles can actually increase blood flow and boost immunity. Laugh with a friend/coworker, watch a funny YouTube video or just think up a funny joke that makes you chuckle for a quick moment away. (3)
> Sip some herbal tea. Green tea is a source of L-Theanine, a chemical that helps relieve anger. So take a soothing sip to simmer down. (1,3)
> Stretch. Taking a moment to get up and stretch can relieve tension in your muscles. Try some simple shoulder rolls or reaching gently to touch your toes. (1,3)
> Just Breathe! Slow, deep breaths can lower stress levels, blood pressure and heart rate. Check out my blog post about breathing here (1,2,3)
> Turn off your electronics before bedtime. Good sleep (7-8 hours) is one of the best stress-busters we can implement in our lives- it is our natural way to reboot. However, we must create the environment for this, so unplug yourself before you slip into slumber. (1,2)
> Exercise. There is ample research regarding the benefits of exercise with decreasing stress, let alone mental health issues. Taking a jog in the morning, riding your bike to work or hitting up the elliptical before dinner are great ways to get those endorphins moving- pun intended! (2,3)
> Love on someone! Spend some time with your significant other, kids or your furry companion and just focus on them! After all, they should be the things that matter the most. (2)
> Get outside. There’s something calming about taking a walk or just sitting on a park bench for a little while. Enjoy the scenery, eat your lunch outside, take some deep breaths and let your mind unwind for a little while. (2)
> Do a puzzle. Crossword, sudoku, word search, it doesn’t matter. Activities that take a lot of brain power help take your mind off of the task at hand. (3)
> Take a day off. I like to call it a “mental health day.” We stay home when we are physically sick, why can’t we take a day to let our mind and soul rest? If you have sick/vacation days piling up, spend one of those days with yourself, doing what you want to do and centering yourself again. (2)
(1) Glassman, Keri. (24 Aug 2013). Relax- and Fast! 8 Quick Tips for a Relaxation. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/relaxation-tips-quick-and-easy_n_3636315.html.
(2) Babauta, Leo. (26 Apr 2007). 12 Ways to Decompress After High Stress. ZenHabits.com. Retrieved from http://zenhabits.net/12-ways-to-decompress-after-high-stress/.
(3) Lebowitz, Shana. (8 Mar 2014). 40 Way to Relax in 5 Minutes or Less. Greatist.com. Retrieved from http://greatist.com/happiness/40-ways-relax-5-minutes-or-less.