Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
Chinese Proverb

Overview

Modern living seems to be so much about rushing around, attempting to keep lots of balls in the air and not having time to recover! Building relaxation time into your life is very important. It can help to keep your stress levels down, and will consequently help you to maintain and improve your health. Too much work and not enough time out for yourself can result in physical and mental health problems. Taking at least 20 minutes a day to wind down can be enough, whether it’s soaking in a lovely warm bubble bath, doing a quick relaxation session before going to sleep or simply listening to some relaxing music.

Relaxation is the key when it comes to stress relief therapies. Studies have shown evidence of many other benefits of regular relaxation treatments. These may include a decrease in the risk of heart attack, protection from mental health issues, a boost to your immune system and even improvement of your memory.

Stress levels are so much higher than they used to be and it is important for your health to bring these levels down. Finding time for yourself may be difficult, however it is essential for your wellbeing that you keep anxiety at bay. If your levels of stress hormones are raised they can cause your blood pressure to rise, making your brain behave differently.

If you are challenged with sleepless nights you will know how it feels to have your mind buzzing with anxiety while you are desperately in need of sleep. Relaxation can help you switch off and promote much better quality of sleep which in turn will help you to recharge your batteries and cope better generally.

Some people do find it challenging to relax and very often people say that they simply don’t have enough time. It can be challenging to find the time, especially if you’re a generally busy person, but to avoid burnout it is essential to plan in time for relaxation.

Breathing has to be the easiest form of relaxation and when you focus on breathing it can really help you to calm down if you are feeling stressed. There are many simple breathing exercises that require no equipment and can be done anywhere.

The benefits of building relaxation into your day are multiple and chilling out is a way to not only look after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally but is also the best way to soothe the soul.

‘Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.’
Ovid

Relaxation – Top Tips

  • Build in time for relaxation every day
  • Identify different relaxation methods that work for you
  • Listen to music to help you relax
  • Use simple breathing techniques to de-stress
  • Explore the range of relaxation remedies
  • Learn to be mindful and enjoy the moment.

How to Sleep Better

It is common for your sleep pattern to be disturbed when you are feeling stressed. If you are worried about something, it can often be on your mind even when you try to forget about it. This may cause sleepless nights or bad dreams. You may find it difficult to get to sleep or you may wake up a few times during the night. This can also make you tired and groggy the next day, which in turn can make you feel even more stressed.

Tips to improve sleep:

  • Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sticking to a routine helps reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle and can help you fall asleep better at night.
  • Don’t eat or drink large amounts before bedtime. Eat a light dinner about two hours before sleeping.
  • If you’re prone to heartburn, avoid spicy or fatty foods, which can make your heartburn flare and prevent restful sleep. Also, limit how much you drink before bed. Too much liquid can cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night for trips to the bathroom.
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening. These are stimulants that can keep you awake. Smokers often experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and smoking in bed is dangerous. Avoid caffeine for eight hours before your planned bedtime. Your body doesn’t store caffeine, but it takes many hours to eliminate the stimulant and its effects. And, although often believed to be a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can help you fall asleep faster and make your sleep more restful. Don’t exercise within three hours of your bedtime, however. Exercising right before bed may make getting to sleep more difficult.
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Adjust the lighting, temperature, humidity and noise level to your preferences. Use blackout curtains, eye covers, earplugs, extra blankets, a fan, a humidifier or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
  • Sleep primarily at night. Daytime naps may steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to about half an hour, mid-afternoon only. If you work nights, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight, which adjusts the body’s internal clock, doesn’t interrupt your sleep. If you have a day job and sleep at night, but still have trouble waking up, leave the window coverings open and let the sunlight help wake you up.
  • Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow. Features of a good bed are subjective and differ for each person. But make sure you have a bed that’s comfortable for you. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. Children and pets are often disruptive, so you may need to set limits on how often they sleep in bed with you.
  • Start a relaxing bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Doing relaxing activities with the lights dimmed can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.
  • Go to bed when you’re tired and turn out the lights. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you’re tired.
  • Use sleeping tablets only as a last resort. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep medications.

The Relaxation Response

We go through numerous cycles of the fight-or-flight response to stress each day, our bodies producing stress hormones that can leave us with, amongst other ill effects, muscle tension, high blood pressure and an increased heart rate. In order to counteract the toxic effects of stress, we need to relax. And not necessarily by falling asleep or slumping on the sofa either. Rather, our bodies’ natural relaxation response is triggered by the mentally active process of specific techniques that leaves us relaxed, calm and focussed.

Eliciting the relaxation response will probably take some practice, as there is no specific one-size-fits-all method that works for everyone. It is a case of finding the right one for you.

In choosing your relaxation technique, consider:

  • Your lifestyle
  • Your fitness level
  • Your schedule
  • Your relaxation preferences
  • The way you react to stress.

If your chosen relaxation technique does not feel comfortable, come naturally or fit in with your hectic schedule, then, of course, it will not effectively relax you. Choose a technique that you are comfortable with, and that allows you to focus and to quieten the internal chatter of your everyday thoughts. You could even try combining elements from different techniques to help you stay focused and motivated.

The way you react to stress may have a strong bearing on the technique that will work best for you.

If you often find yourself angry or agitated, quietening relaxation techniques such as meditation, guided imagery or deep breathing may work well for you.

If you have a tendency to become withdrawn or depressed, a more stimulating relaxation technique that energises your nervous system such as rhythmic exercise may be more appropriate.

If you are prone to mentally speeding up whilst physically slowing down, you may be better suited to power yoga or walking mindfulness.

If you are a person who tends to need alone time, practice your relaxation technique in solitude – choose somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. If on the other hand, you need social stimulation, you would be better suited to a relaxation class where you will find interaction, support and motivation.

Experts recommend that you practice your relaxation technique for at least ten to 20 minutes per day, and for up to 30 minutes to enjoy the maximum stress-busting benefits.

Learning the basics of your technique isn’t difficult, but as with anything new, it will take practice. If you feel too busy to commit time to relaxation, try a technique that can be practised at your desk, whilst commuting on the bus or train, or even over lunch.

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