When most people think of relaxing, they think of quiet spa days, massages, fluffy white robes, yoga, candles, meditation, and a gentle soundtrack of nature sounds: Ahhh, the Pinterest definition of #relaxation.
Not me, though. All that stuff kinda gives me anxiety. Seriously. I feel stir-crazy trying to lie perfectly still during a massage, and I’m not into all the gentle passive shit. I’d much rather deadlift to hip-hop than do sun salutations to Enya. I am, shall we say, too energetic. Driven. (Ok, maybe “aggressive.”) I like to crush it at life, and I find it impossible to just suddenly drop all that and zen out, just because there are babbling brooke sounds in the background. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value relaxation.
Knowing how to relax, in today’s overly revved-up world, is a super important skill.
Firing up the parasympathetic nervous system (a.k.a. learning how to calm the [email protected]#k down) is actually one of the most important aspects of the work I do with my clients. It’s truly astonishing how even small increases in deep relaxation can have such a profound impact on a person’s body fat percentage, ability to recover from workouts, confidence, self-expression, mental clarity, energy levels, and free-flowing joy.
Thanks to it’s hormonal and energetic impact on the body, “learn how to relax” is now my #1 tip when people ask how to lose fat, reduce chronic pain, learn to listen to their bodies, improve their eating habits, or become more self-loving. It’s THAT important!
But hey, we’re just not all cut out for spa days and candlelit yoga. So for anyone else who gets stressed out just thinking about calming down…
THIS LIST IS FOR YOU.
- Let go of physical tension and holding. We all hold some tension in our bodies, but fear and anxiety are especially constricting. Being anxious or stressed makes us physically tense up, shrink, and contract. That physical tension blocks the energy flow through our bodies, often adding to our anxiety, and making it damn near impossible to relax. One of the most common chronic holding patterns I see for women is the sucking in of the stomach. This habitual physical tension can lead to serious long-term health issues like muscular imbalances, digestive distress, and- you guessed it- anxiety! Holding your belly in, even a little bit, changes the way you breathe. Deep natural belly breaths are relaxing and grounding, whereas shallow quick chest breathing mimics (and thus, actually creates) more stress and anxiety. This is an important example, but holding constant tension held anywhere in the body has a similar effect. By learning to let go of these physical holding patterns and tensions, you’ll usher in relaxation long with improved health and vitality.
- Focus on INNER calm.. A spa day might seem externally peaceful, quiet, and zen, but if it doesn’t bring your mind and body to a more peaceful or quiet place, then it’s not actually “relaxing.” Pay attention to anything that helps you find a feeling of deep inner calm, and bring more of that into your life.
- Then again, don’t sell outer calm short. While the important thing is the inner calm, your environment totally affects you. Imagine trying to achieve inner peace at a parade or a political rally. It would be pretty tough, right? Set up your home and work spaces to optimize you chances of inner calm. Fung Shui. The Magic of Tidying Up. Whatever works for you. Keep a running list of places that instantly made you feel deeply relaxed and calm. Even if you can’t visit those places very often, see if you can borrow elements of them to bring into your day-to-day. Or just close your eyes and visualize that place when you need a relaxing break from the real world.
- Exhaust yourself physically. Trying to relax, after all I’ve done is sit at my computer all day, just doesn’t work. But after I’ve gotten my ass kicked with a day of surfing or snowboarding, or after a heavily neurologically-taxing workout? No problem. If you’re a high energy person, it’s probably going to take a little more than a quick jog outside, or a 30 minute bodyweight circuit, to achieve the level of physical exhaustion that causes your whole body to relax. Play around with it. You’ll know you did it right when you’re rewarded at night with that gooey, melting, everything-is-exactly-as-it-should-be feeling when you lay down to go to sleep.
- Breathe and be present in your body. Honestly, as crazy as this sounds, sometimes the word “meditation” stresses me out. It sounds so ancient and reverent and pressure-inducing. But breathing and noticing what’s going on right now in my body? I can’t really mess that up. After just a few breaths, I find myself feeler calmer, more centered, and less stressed. (Note: this practice is also often called “mindfulness.”)
- Limit your screen time. I’m not gonna patronize you by naming all the studies that prove how much less stressed you’ll be if you limit your screen time, because you know this already. Right now you’re all like “oh yeah, cutting down on screen time would probably be good, but instead of turning off my phone and tv, I’ll just relax with some Netflix while browsing Instagram and Pinterest for ideas of DIY fancy cupcake ideas…”Listen, I get it. I’m not here to tell you what to do. But you’re the one reading an article on how to crush it at relaxing. Something tells me that deep down in your heart of hearts, you already know that you compulsively rely on screens to numb and distract yourself, even though it keeps you in a constant state of low-to-moderate stress.We all do it. But you deserve better, so turn that shit off.
- Stop multi-tasking. This one freaks everyone out. “But how will I get everything done?!” you’ll say. Good news: it’s been proven that you are MUCH more effective and productive when you attempt to single-task rather than multi-task. It also helps you stay centered and physically relaxed, and allows you to switch gears at the end of the day, instead of still clinging to all the things left undone. This might take some restructuring of your work or family life, but you’ll reap huge relaxation rewards. Get comfortable being “unavailable” for designated chunks of time while you work on a particular task. No phone, no emails, no internet browsing, no randomly remembering you need to pay the phone bill by Friday and switching gears mid-task. One. Task. At. A. Time.
- Reconsider your relationship to coffee. Bear with me here: I’m not saying coffee is bad, or that you have to give it up. (Trust me, I love coffee.) But stimulants have very real physiological effects, including a marked increase in anxiety, in people are prone. Therefore I’m simply suggesting that if you struggle to relax and calm down, it might be worth examining your caffeine consumption.
- Get into your body and out of your head. Your brain is amazing, but relying too much on your head without listening to your body often leaves us frazzled and fried. The body is a grounding force, and living in it deeply and presently will automatically calm you down. Do whatever you find accomplishes this for you, whether it’s yoga, meditation, dancing, centering exercises, focusing on pleasure, massage, or anything else. I’m personally a big fan of body scans.
- Spend more time in nature. Being in nature helps you relax. Because science.
- Stop judging. Being in the habit of thinking mean, judgemental thoughts about other people (or yourself!) is the opposite of relaxation; it makes you wound up, negative, defensive, tense, anxious, and self-conscious. It leads to more chronic physical holding, and less deep breathing. True relaxation requires an inner landscape of feeling safe, compassionate, connected, positive, and loving. Practice compassion and love by seeking to see the best in other people (and yourself), and you will feel tension literally melting off you.
- Fill your life with nourishing, restorative activities! This goes hand in hand with limiting screen time and multi-tasking, because those behaviors tend to drain our time and creative/inspired energy. Ever notice how even if you haven’t done anything all day but lay around and browse the internet, you somehow feel exhausted and stressed? Exactly. Pay attention to what activities deeply absorb, restore, and nourish you. Then fill your life with them. Maybe your restorative activities are calm-sounding, like journaling, reading, petting your cat, knitting, coloring, meditating, solving math equations, raking a zen garden, or trimming your bonsai tree. But hey, maybe they’re not! No judgement. Maybe what makes you feel absorbed and restored is crushing it at the gym, or dancing your face off to rap music. Maybe it’s traveling, surfing, jamming out on the guitar, shooting guns, riding a motorcycle, or walking over hot coals.
All that matters is that when you’re done, you feel more centered, more present, and less tense; that energy is flowing through your body uninhibited, and your mind feels a little more spacious. This is true, authentic relaxation.
Important note: Don’t be fooled by sneaky “numbing” activities disguised as “relaxing.” Netflix binges, overindulging in food or drink, and reading judgey celeb gossip can all seem momentarily relaxing, while really leading to feeling more stressed and drained. You’ll know what activities are truly “nourishing” to you, based on how you feel both during and after.