The focus of many websites, self-help books, and podcasts these days is ‘getting more done’. This blog is a good example; its raison d'être is helping you achieve more, learn faster, and become better.
Yet I regularly encounter people who have no problem working harder. They dedicate plenty of time to learning and self-improvement, and they take their careers very seriously. They are secure financially and have healthy relationships (more or less).
The thing that they struggle with is cutting loose.
It may sound pretty unbelievable to some, but while half of the population struggles to knuckle down, the other half are struggling to swap their laptops and notebooks for a glass of wine and a PlayStation controller.
They just can't help it - they can't stop working. It might sound pretty strange, but the problem is more common than you probably realize.
Now, having a natural inclination towards hard work is better than not having one. It is certainly better to cultivate a taste for the fruits of hard labour than to shy away from it forever.
But struggling to unwind is just as much of a problem as struggling to be productive.
Perhaps not for your bank balance, granted.
Your addiction to work is hardly a problem for your bank manager.
But an inability to relax, to forget about the trials and tribulations of your day, to enjoy some “you” time – this can have a devastating effect on your mental and physical health.
Neglecting to make time for real rest and relaxation might seem like the way to the top, but in reality it is the fastest way to hit bottom, and hit it hard.
No matter how much certain ‘gurus’ try to glorify the churn and burn lifestyle, it isn’t a healthy, sustainable way to live your life.
After all, what good is hard work if you aren’t sane or healthy enough to enjoy the fruits of your ?
So, to help you switch off and properly relax, I’ve compiled the following short list. It comprises tips and habits that will help you kick back, switch off your brain, and give yourself some much needed down time.
Learning how to properly relax will help keep you both mentally sane and physically healthy in the long run. If nothing else, it will reduce the chances of you ‘going postal’ after a particularly stressful week at work.
Give Yourself A Set ‘Downtime’ Slot Each Day
As with pretty much everything, finding time to chill out gets a hell of a lot easier when you give it a set, designated time slot each and every day.
Doing things this way can really simplify your life.
We have very good intentions a lot of the time, but life often manages to get in the way. The kids need to be taken to their friend’s house, the car has a flat tire, you’ve had a particularly bad day, there’s something super interesting on the TV right now…you know, life.
It is just far too easy to tell yourself; “I was going to sit down and relax for a while, but this thing needs to be done right now.”
The problem is that there will never be an end of things that “should really be done now”.
So if you are always waiting to have a free schedule, you’ll never have time to relax.
Setting yourself a fixed, non-negotiable time slot for relaxation is the best way to get around this problem.
It doesn’t have to be long – just set aside 30 minutes before dinner and spend it doing something that relaxes you: read, meditate, listen to music, or bet of all, sit and do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
Build A Routine
Much like the tip above, building a routine helps you avoid all the pitfalls that prevent us from doing something.
Habits keep us primed for doing the thing we’re supposed to be doing. We aren’t quite as easily derailed by the little things that life throws at us when we have habits surrounding the behavior we’re trying to stick to.
Building habits is the best way to do everything from stopping smoking, to starting at the gym.
It is also the best way to stick to a relaxation schedule.
Build yourself a little routine around your allotted ‘chilling’ time. About 15 minutes before you are due to ‘clock off’ for 30 minutes, check your texts, check your emails, and then after 2 minutes, turn off your phone. Put it in the same place – ideally not in the same room that you’ll be relaxing in.
Take off your shoes, go into the same room, and close the door.
If the weather permits, open the window.
If not, turn on some soft music, or just enjoy the silence.
For the first 5 minutes, do a distracting activity that doesn’t involve a screen. Do a Sudoku, a crossword, even a word-search would do it.
Then, after about 5 minutes, put down the paper or whatever it is you’re focusing on, and just sit.
Sit in the same chair and simply let your mind wander.
Doing this every day, or at least a couple of times a week, will build a habit that primes your body and your mind for relaxation. Taking off your shoes will signal to your subconscious that some much needed down time is coming. By the time you start on the Sudoku, you’ll pretty much be on autopilot.
Building habits can take time - some estimate that it can take around 21 days to form a habit, and of course it takes a lot longer for said habit to become firmly established.
It is important to keep this in mind so that you are neither discouraged when you are still struggling after 7 days, and to give you a set number of days to aim for!
Take A Very Hot Shower
We all know that a hot bath will help you unwind at the end of a long stressful day.
But it isn’t the actual lying down that makes a good soak in the tub so incredibly relaxing. No, it’s the fact that you’re drenching yourself in hot water.
A hot shower can be just as relaxing as a hot bath, yet it takes a fraction of the time and uses a fraction of the water.
I’m not hating on hot baths here – I’m a big fan (I have a boat though so it’s a boy bath).
But if you’re somebody that needs help switching off, then chances are you aren’t taking long bubble baths every night. So it stands to reason that a shower might be more up your street.
A blast of hot water will instantly start to relax your muscles. The increased temperature will dilate your blood vessels, increase the work capacity of the heart, and pump more oxygen-rich blood to your aching muscles. It will increase blood flow to your brain, and ultimately leave you feeling much less tightly wound.
Add a hot shower to your nightly routine and you will really get a lot more out of your half-hour ‘chill’ period. Many people will tell you that a hot shower helps you sleep, which in turn helps you stay mentally focused, alert, and functioning 100% (not to mention emotionally healthy). This is such a common belief because it is true! Try a hot shower right before bed and you'll never go back.