Have You Noticed……….
The number of self help books, dvd’s and online information there is aimed at getting us all to de-stress and relax?It’s astonishing, but also a telling sign of the times we live in that we need to be told what to do to relax.
If you do a Google search you’ll find any number of articles giving you information teaching you ways to relax. From “How to Relax – 40 ways to relax in 5 minutes” to 3 Easy Things you can do to relax and unwind from stress”.
Now, I’m not denying many of us could do with some help with relaxation techniques. But, when did we lose the art of knowing what to do to rest? And how many of us know what it actually means to rest for that matter.
In today’s digital world it seems despite all of the information out there on how to relax and de-stress we’re more stressed than ever.
I Learned How To Relax The Hard Way
Too many of us rush through our days running from one task or deadline to another. I was one of those people. A high achieving professional very much concerned with how I performed at work, taking no time just to simply rest.
After a full on week of work and travel, I’d have an endless list of household chores, gym classes, shopping trips, and socializing to do at the weekend. I would often do more work for my job during weekends too in the vain hope I’d be getting a jump start on another grueling and busy work week. But, somehow I never managed to get ahead of my workload no matter what I did.
I’d almost kill myself rather than allow a professional deadline to be missed and couldn’t tolerate slackers who regularly turned up for meetings late or even worse, unprepared.
After years of pushing myself in this way I had convinced myself I was tough and could keep up this pace indefinitely. But, boy was I wrong. It seems I wasn’t tough after all, rather simply delusional.
Long story short, I ended up with adrenal fatigue syndrome, which many years later morphed into chronic fatigue syndrome as my system broke down and I still hadn’t learned the lost art of simply resting.
It Started Me Thinking
When I was first diagnosed with adrenal fatigue syndrome, my naturopath told me to go home and do nothing but rest. This appointment coincided with the start of a ten day long holiday. I started to tell my naturopath how it was great timing because, as it was a holiday I planned to fly to the beach for a week.
However, much to my surprise as I thought he would see a beach break as relaxing, he told me to cancel my plans. He didn’t want me to fly anywhere, he told me to go home, lie in bed or on the sofa, take a bunch of supplements, eat some healthy food and do nothing.
And he meant do absolutely nothing for ten days. Jeez, this was going to be the most boring holiday ever. I don’t think I had ever simply ‘done nothing’ for ten days.
Feeling as crappy as I did at that point I thought I had nothing to lose and may as well give it a try. So I loaded up my Kindle, stocked up the fridge with his healthy food suggestions, turned off my phone and hibernated for the full ten days.
I did a lot of reading and watched a little TV, and I kept swallowing the adrenal supplements according to the schedule he gave me. I read a book on adrenal fatigue recommended by my naturopath. This helped me understand all the weird symptoms I had been experiencing and why I was waking up regularly on the dot of 3.15 am every morning.
Much to my surprise I also slept on and off during the day. I’d never been one for having naps, naps were for softies I always thought. Growing up it was considered a bit weak in our household to nap during the day, none of my family members would even consider it. It simply wasn’t done, you were expected to push through if you felt a bit tired and just ‘get on with it’.
However, my naturopath told me that due to my adrenals switching on at all the wrong times and waking me in the early hours of the morning for several months I was now in a sleep deficit and I had plenty of catching up to do. He urged me to take as many naps as I could.
I couldn’t get to grips with napping during the day. But despite this, guess what, after this enforced ten day rest period, I bounced back and my energy returned which started me thinking maybe there was something to this whole adrenal fatigue and resting thing. But, I made the mistake of thinking that I was fixed, I’d got over this annoying adrenal fatigue episode and now I could get back to work.
Talk About Being A Slow Learner
Despite reading my adrenal fatigue book from cover to cover I thought it was just a sort of ‘one off’ type of a thing. So I foolishly didn’t change my work habits and went full tilt back to work with renewed energy and vigor after my holiday. In fact I didn’t change one thing about my schedule and continued working in the same way as I had before.
And guess what, after a few months the all too familiar feelings of experiencing mid afternoon energy crashes returned along with all of my other annoying adrenal fatigue symptoms.
Once again, I took some supplements and made a recovery. And this was a pattern that kept repeating for quite some time. I just didn’t understand, or didn’t want to accept that I had to make changes to my lifestyle and the way I worked if I wanted to heal my adrenals completely. It was the stress of overwork that was causing my poor adrenals to become fatigued, but I refused to acknowledge this.
Our 21st Century Lives Can Be “Too Connected”
It seems many of us think it’s some sort of crime to take sufficient rest. Busyness, is somehow aligned to success in our psyche. However, taking time out during each day to create balance is essential in our ultra ‘connected’ and always ‘on’ lives. A recent study found the expectation of checking work emails during home time has a harmful effect on workers.
Today it is difficult to ignore emails and messages sent to your phone as the digital age has drastically changed the way in which we all work. Using our phones to connect socially makes it difficult to ignore any email messages from work that may be showing in our inbox. Feelings of worry, fear, guilt or FOMO has us slavishly checking work emails during out of office times.
However, a growing number of countries, primarily in Europe see this as a problem and are introducing “right to disconnect’ laws. These laws help create or rather ‘enforce’ boundaries between work and home life that have been reduced by technology and which we seem incapable of enforcing for ourselves.
What Does It Mean To Rest
This is where so many of us have difficulty, we’ve forgotten what resting actually is. The first step in getting all the benefits of resting, is actually knowing what it means to rest.
Perhaps it helps to start with what resting IS NOT.
- Playing video games is not resting.
- Idly scrolling through social media on your phone is not resting.
- Walking around the mall window shopping is not resting.
- Going to have your hair and nails done is not resting.
- Doing a tough spin class is not resting.
The above activities may make you feel a temporary form of relaxation as you shift your time from true ‘work’ mode to ‘after hours’ mode. However, it is not real honest to goodness resting.
To rest adequately you need to rest not only your body, but it is equally important to rest your mind too. Your brain uses up an enormous amount of energy. In fact your brain uses more energy than any other organ in your body.
As much as twenty percent of your body’s total energy is used by your brain. The majority of this energy is used by nerve cells sending signals, whilst the remainder is used for the maintenance of the brain cells that keep your brain alive.
Although your brain is a relatively small organ compared to other body parts, it uses a lot of energy. It makes sense then that when you rest, you should not only rest physically, but mentally too in order to recharge your entire body completely.
How Do You Rest?
For many people it is really difficult to simply do nothing’. But, try to analyse why you personally find the concept of doing nothing so strange. What feelings are stopping you being able to rest. Do you feel:
- Guilt – Do you feel guilty that you are being lazy?
- Shame – Do feel a sense of shame that you are resting while others are working?
- Uselessness – Do you feel you are underachieving if you are not constantly busy? Remember, being busy, is not necessarily being productive.
- Wasting Time – Do you feel that life is short and you need to make the most of it by constantly ‘doing’ and ‘being busy’.
By analyzing why you are refusing your body the rest it needs, hopefully you will be able to acknowledge then get over these feelings and allow your body to achieve a more balanced state between work and rest. Once you know the reasons why you keep pushing yourself, take steps to introduce more rest into each day.
Start by consciously limiting the time you spend on your phone/tablet each day. Try switching your phone off for a couple of hours when you arrive home from work. This is one easy way to give your brain some rest.
Another of the simplest ways to sneak rest into your daily routine is by meditating for short periods. It is an extremely effective method of not only resting your body, but resting your brain too.
I used guided meditation every day when I had adrenal fatigue to help me rest my busy brain and de-stress after work. There are many apps you can download that work well. The Breethe app is great and offers guided meditations of different lengths, some as short as 5 minutes. It also includes motivational talks and relaxing music to move your brainwaves into a rested state.
Unfortunately, whenever meditation is mentioned many people have a vision of sitting cross legged in the lotus position in a darkened candlelit room. Of course, if this is the way you want to meditate, then great, but it’s not the only way to meditate.
Simple Morning Meditation
If you dread the moment your alarm goes off each morning, make it a more welcome sound by setting it 10 minutes earlier and using it as a signal that it’s time to start your day with a short restful meditation.
Sit up in bed and take 10 long slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe think of 10 things that you are grateful for in your life. Think of each item for a couple of moments carrying the feeling of what it is like to have this person, item or circumstance in your life.
I follow this routine in the evening too, and is a great mindfulness technique to introduce feelings of gratitude into your life. You’ll start your day in a more grounded state and end your day with a quieter more rested mind ensuring a sound sleep.
Try to get away from your desk at lunch time to create some space and rest from your work environment. By changing your environment, even for a short time it helps change your focus from work to rest. Walking outdoors for a few minutes also stretches tight muscles from sitting at a desk during the morning.
Start walking slowly and take a few deep breaths to calm your mind as you become fully aware of your surroundings, how your body is moving and feeling. Start by being aware of your feet and how they feel as they touch the ground while you move. Notice where any feelings of tightness in your body occur.
Notice how your body is feeling for a few minutes as you walk, then slowly become more aware of your surroundings. How does the air feel on your nose as you breathe in, is it cold, or warm? What does the air feel like on your skin, on your face and arms or hands? Is there any particular scent in the air, what is it? What can you see around you? What do you hear? Which sounds are close to you and which far away?
Simply by being aware of the present moment, your mind will start to become calm and rested, forgetting that deadline you’ve spent the morning working towards. It can wait for a few more minutes as you rest. After this short walking meditation you can return to work for the afternoon renewed and refreshed.
Putting It All Together
Switching your phone off and introducing meditation into your life are both great techniques for introducing mindful resting into your day. But, something else you need to work on is not filling your schedule chock full for each and every waking moment.
Try not to schedule even more ‘busy-ness’ into all of your weekends. You may feel it’s good for your health to play more sport, attend some classes etc., but sometimes what you really need is down time. Time to just veg out on the sofa with a book, lie in bed longer, simply do nothing but rest without feeling guilty about it. Everyone needs down time to rest and recharge their batteries.
As always, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear ways in which you build more rest into your days.