Is the daily grind getting you down? We look at the benefits that learning to unwind can have on both your mental and physical health.
Whether it’s the demands of the office or organising the family planner, we live in a society that means we’re always rushing from one place to the next. Because our modern lifestyles are so jampacked, finding essential “me” time amongst the hustle and bustle inevitably ends up at the bottom of the to-do list. Added to that, many of us may not even know where to start.
How does relaxation help?
We respond to stress by releasing the hormone cortisol. This is our natural “flight or fight” response and it’s a good thing – it’s kept humans alive for thousands of years, after all. The downside though, is this stress response raises our heart rate and blood pressure, as well as tensing our muscles. By opting for a few "Do Not Disturb" minutes each day we can learn to turn those feelings of anxiety into calm, allowing us to focus on things more clearly.
A few ideas to help you relax
First things first … Switch off by switching off. Resist the temptation to respond to an email or scroll through your mate’s holiday posts on Facebook and instead put your phone in a different room. This way you can focus on the moment and be more present.
And breathe … There are many different techniques designed to help you relax so try a few out to see what works best for you. You can read more in our blog post about meditation here. My favourite technique is called controlled breathing. Sit back in your favourite chair, inhale slowly through your nose and count to four before exhaling through the mouth for four and then repeat until you start to feel more relaxed.
A good night's sleep ... As we drift off into the land of nod our body starts to restore itself. This helps boost concentration, regulate our mood, and sharpen our judgment and decision-making. Just think how things just seem to get on top of us more if you've not slept well the night before. If you're struggling with shut-eye, try the breathing techniques mentioned above. Another good way is to relax every part of your body bit by bit, starting at your feet and working your way up.
Over-thinking ... Remember that no one else has the monopoly on your thoughts, only you. So focus on the good things in your life and write a daily gratitude journal as a reminder. Research shows that jotting down our feelings and thoughts can improve physical and psychological wellbeing and keep our emotions in check.
You are what you eat ... If you can do your best to resist those late-night chocolate cravings and opt for balanced meals that fill you up instead, you'll quickly notice the benefits. We're all guilty of picking at the wrong things throughout the day or grabbing an unhealthy lunch when we don't have much time. However, this leads to weight gain and feeling sluggish, which just makes us feel even more stressed.
Get creative … Art engages the creative side of your brain, taking your mind away from your worries to focus on something else instead. Don't fret about creating a masterpiece; adult colouring books are a great option, while baking or jigsaws will help distract you too.
Get outside ... Mother Nature has a way of healing our soul, especially when the sun is shining. Getting outside helps lower blood pressure, enhance immune system function and improve mood. Enjoy a walk and a natter with friends, or lace up your trainers, grab your headphones and escape with a feel-good playlist.
And find an exercise you love ... As someone who discovered Pilates last year I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Not only does it strengthen your core muscles and promote better posture, but it can relieve built-up tension in your shoulders and back. Because it focusses your breathing it also regulates the nervous system, taking you out of that fight-or-flight mode and lowering cortisol levels. It's a great option if you're in the throes of menopause too; it's low impact but still helps increase flexibility, balance and muscle strenght.