August 3, 2016

Rest & Relaxation: the new Radical.

{Salt of the Earth} at Flickr

Finally. I have an hour with nothing scheduled. Some precious alone time. I can just sit and stare at the clouds and listen to the breeze whistling through the leaves.

Time for the self-care I crave as someone who is sensitive to the moods of others, to noise and over-stimulation.

So I settle down into my chair by the window; I’m ready to relax.

And then I feel an urge to check my phone. To have a quick look at Facebook. I resist for a while—but give in for a few minutes. Put the phone away.

Ah, welcome back blissful quiet time.

And then I remember all the emails I’ve left unanswered. Should I just quickly reply now and get it done? No…it can wait. I need this time alone to recharge my batteries.

Then something else from the ever-present to-do list pops into my head. And something else. And then I get to feeling guilty because I’ve got so much I “should” be doing.

Sound familiar?

Why is it so difficult to do something as simple as sitting in a chair and allowing ourselves to relax?

We can resist relaxation because our brains, our bodies and our minds have been trained for years by over-scheduled lives and over-stimulated nervous systems to expect to feel stressed.

With such a lifestyle, we’re always on the go, always on the alert and desperate for that next fix of stimulation. And because it can feel so difficult to relax, we may stop trying. We know that when we stop our thoughts will get louder, so we keep going. Add in some FOMO (fear of missing out) and we just can’t switch off.

The adrenaline hit of stress becomes a habit, and we learn to keep feeding the addiction. We keep going; we keep over-loading our nervous system until our body gets so exhausted it forces us to stop by getting ill.

I use these practical techniques.

If we want to be able to relax and recharge, how can we change the stress habit?

I use these practical techniques I’ve learned from my yoga and meditation practice.

I start by getting mindful and noticing the effects that thoughts or feelings are having on my body. I feel into the guilt or pressure and observe where I feel it in my body. I actually let it in.  

For me, I feel it as tightness in my throat or a fluttery, tense feeling in my stomach. You might feel it elsewhere: gripping in your chest; clenching in your jaw; a feeling of floating above your body; heaviness in your muscles and bones.

Thoughts and emotions have a tangible effect. We can help to release the grip of the emotion or thought by working to release the physical effect.

So I breathe out, inviting the tension (or holding) to release. Other times I imagine the pockets of tension filling with light—to open, heal and soothe.

Or I get up and stretch, dance around the room, do some yoga, or go for a walk. Anything to get out of the thought patterns and tension inside my body—to let it go and to come back into the here and now.

Then I might ask myself these questions:  

Why am I feeling guilty?

Why am I not allowing myself to switch off?

Where’s this message coming from?

We live in a culture that glorifies busy. And there’s strong social-conditioning that women in particular should do everything for everyone and look after themselves last, if at all. Are these thoughts of guilt really “my” thoughts? If not, I’ll bid them “goodbye.”

And finally, to really move through the resistance to relaxation, I ask myself this question:

What brings me the most joy?

The chance to relax, or ticking something off the to-do list? Doing jobs around the house or sitting still in meditation? Indulging the FOMO and checking Facebook? Or watching the birds in the garden and the clouds in the sky?

Whenever I can, I give myself permission to relax. I go for a walk. I have a massage. I meditate. I curl up on the sofa and read a book. I put some music on and dance around the room (and don’t care about what the neighbors think). I gaze at the clouds in the sky. I hug a tree.

Letting ourselves relax can feel like a radical choice in this oh-so-busy too-often uncaring world.

So, I’m being a radical. I’ve decided to choose joy and inner peace. The dusting can wait.


Author: Stella Tomlinson

Image:  Rachel Erin/Flickr / Pexels

Apprentice Editor: Melanie Jackson; Editor: Toby Israel

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