Why we need to learn how to relax

Are you feeling tired and stressed but don’t have enough time to relax? Are you a stress athlete? Are your students or clients exhibiting characteristics of being anxious and/or tired?

When we are stressed or anxious our autonomic nervous system is activated into fight, flight or freeze, triggering the sympathetic nervous system and a cascade of chemical reactions through our bodies. This chemical cascade features adrenaline and cortisol and impacts on our whole system, including our breathing, heartrate, digestion, reproductive system and thinking capacity. 

This is fine if the trigger passes and we give ourselves a chance to relax. The cascade subsides and our autonomic nervous system switches to parasympathetic – relax and repair.

But what if you don’t relax? What if your body gets stuck in the sympathetic nervous system, with little or no time to relax? Many of us experience chronic stress and it is effecting more and more of our youth.

What happens is chronic stress, often associated with chronic anxiety, and this has some pretty dire effects on our minds and bodies:

  • Our sleep is affected which reduces our bodies capacity to restore and repair itself
  • Our digested may become interrupted, often we are not chewing properly, eating on the run and not relaxing properly in the evening
  • We become fearful and anxious
  • We may experience back problems or other skeletal-muscular problems due to the tension we are holding in our bodies
  • We may experience unexplainable anger
  • Reduced immunity and increased inflammation
  • Concentration and focus become difficult
  • And we get very tired.

Even worse than impacting on our daily lives, chronic stress can be a causal factor and/or exacerbate many chronic illnesses. These are some pretty persuasive reasons to learn how to relax – chronic stress just doesn’t give your body or mind a chance to heal itself.

However, there is something you can do about it. Regular relaxation reduces the effects of stress on your life, leaves you alert with a greater capacity to concentrate and able to make better decisions; you can be more effective in relationships; increase your resilience; and, well, it feels really, really amazing.

And the good news is that relaxation can be achieved easily in just a few minutes – all you need is yourself!

Some tips for helping you to relax

  • Each time you get in to your car or arrive at your desk, give yourself a few moments to notice your breathing, notice your body and notice your environment. This takes less than a minute and may make the difference to your whole day.
  • When you start to feel anxious, encourage your breath to slow down and even try a bit of belly breathing if it feels comfortable for you. This will slow your heart rate and switch your nervous system to parasympathetic.
  • Stop regularly and stretch through your torso, opening your whole chest.
  • Go for a walk outside and take the time look out and up, noticing the sky and your surroundings, consciously being aware of each step.
  • And as often as you can do a whole body relaxation. The technique below will only take you ten minutes and leave you feeling completely rejuvenated.

10 minute relaxation

You will feel relaxed and rejuvenated, and ready for anything – in just 10 minutes!

So find a comfortable sitting position and get ready to relax.

  • Once you are in a comfortable position with feet supported and a straight back, make sure you are warm, close your eyes and begin to become aware of your breath.
  • Allow your breath to deepen and slow.
  • Take your attention to your feet and tense them on an in-breath, then relax on the out breath.
  • Repeat this tense and relax with the breath systematically through the body: legs, lower abdomen, chest, back, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, scalp and finally face.
  • Once your body is relaxed, take your attention back down to your feet and breathe relaxing warmth, a warm tone or a soft light into your feet. Let it dissolve away any stress or tightness as you breathe out.
  • Bring the warmth up into your legs with your breath, allowing it to dissolve any tiredness or tension.
  • Continue to breathe this relaxing warmth through your body as tension and tiredness are dissolved through every joint and muscle.
  • When you reach your brow, sit in the silence that exists in this place and invite the stillness to move through your body with each breath.
  • After a few minutes imagine a vibrant golden light above the top of your head; with each breath becomes brighter, tingling with life.
  • Imagine the light cascading down over your shoulders, down through your arms, into your torso and through your spinal column.  Effervescent with energy, the light brings life into every tissue it passes through.
  • The golden light moves through your body from your crown to your feet, as you rejuvenate every cell in your body with your breath; reinvigorating your body with your own relaxed awareness.
  • When you have filled your body with sparkling life, deepen your breath and bring your attention back to clothes touching your skin and the sounds in the room. Begin to think about moving your body as you savour the perfection of this moment.
  • Think about wriggling your toes and fingers, then wriggle them. Stretch your legs and arms, with your eyes still closed; rub your hands together, cover your eyes and open them into warm, darkness of your palms.
  • Give your face and scalp a gentle massage as you gently allow the light in.
  • Be gentle with yourself and give yourself a few minutes to come back into your physical surroundings.

That’s how easy it is!

NB: This article appeared in the Generation Next Newsletter, 20th October 2015.Generation Next Newsletter - 20 October 2015

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