Flicking through magazines, watching YouTube clips and browsing social media are welcome distractions when your body needs a time-out. Curling up on the couch with your latest Netflix addiction surely is entertaining, but there’s a big difference between chilling in front of the TV and real rest.
Real rest encompasses more than lying still and keeping activity to a minimum. It involves activating your body’s natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that balances your nervous system and promotes healing.
When you feel under pressure, your body releases stress hormones, triggering your sympathetic nervous system to prepare for fight or flight. The adrenaline in your bloodstream makes your heart beat fast, quickens your breathing and tenses your muscles. That’s very helpful in dangerous situations, but unfortunately it’s also activated by everyday challenges like traffic jams and work deadlines.
Contrary to this all-too-common stress response, the relaxation response acts like a built-in tranquilizer. It stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system to slow down your heart rate and breathing, relax your muscles and boost your immunity. Research even shows that mind-body interventions that activate the relaxation response, such as yoga and meditation, can reverse harmful inflammation at DNA level.
And what’s best of all: you have the power to produce this relaxation response whenever and wherever you want.
So let’s have a look at how you can maximize your downtime with 7 powerful practices.
Real Rest: 7 Ways to Truly Relax
- Take a deep breath. Transition your body and mind from a stressed state to a restorative one with deep belly breathing or the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
- Practice slow movement with awareness. Mindful exercising has more health benefits than working out while being preoccupied with other things. So activate that healing relaxation response by regularly doing yoga, tai chi, Pilates or aikido.
- Tune into your body and let go of build-up tensions with a relaxing body scan. Take your mind on a guided tour throughout your body and really pay attention to how it all feels, without judging.
- Get creative. Activities like painting, dancing, making music and writing can help you express your thoughts and feelings, which reduces emotional stress. What’s more: working with your hands produces feel-good chemicals in your brain that protect against depression. Instead of lounging around the house, do something creative (and fun!) to truly recharge emotionally.
- Visualize. Make the most of lying on the couch (or the beach!) by using the power of your imagination to unwind and recharge. Engage all of your senses to create a vivid picture of a relaxing scene, like the forrest or a starry sky.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation. By systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, you become familiar with how that feels. With practice, you’ll notice where tension builds up in your body – and what you can do to relax.
- Build mindfulness into your daily routine. You don’t have to sit in lotus with your eyes closed to calm your mind. Do a walking meditation strolling across the parking lot, silently repeat a mantra while you’re brushing your teeth or wash your dishes while paying full attention to the motions and sensations.
Make time each day to really relax with activities that slow down your breathing, release tension from your body and quiet your mind for a while.
For more in-depth advice on how real rest supports the healing process, check out How to Create Your Own Action Plan for Recovery, the step-by-step guide on rebuilding your health after illness or injury.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like: