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Feeling Stressed? Step #7: Relax

Relaxation techniques, muscle easing, flexibility movements, and the ability to let go are crucial in order for us to maintain perspective and balance in the midst of our busy, demanding lives. If we are feeling overwhelmed by stress, that indicates a lack of resilience. The time to build resilience is before we need it.

Does this sound familiar?

You’ve been pushing yourself hard, and working long hours; you finally take that holiday and either immediately catch a cold or spend the entire break struggling to truly wind down. That’s a clear sign that you need to build your resilience. The time to work on our resilience is before we need it – and the best way to do it is through rest and relaxation. Yet, in today’s demanding world, many people find it challenging to disengage enough or to fully disengage when they finally do stop and rest. This is exacerbated by technology and the prevalence of 24/7 communication. (To disengage from technology, read this.) Rest and relaxation are essential for resilience. No matter how busy we are, we must weave more restorative and relaxing activities into our day-to-day lives.

Relaxation shouldn’t only happen during a holiday. It should occur daily, through the smart use of our time and energy and an effective wind-down routine at home. Relaxation blocks the harmful effects of stress chemicals adrenalin and cortisol by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system function and the production of acetylcholine. Effective breathing is important, as is a period of renewal between high-pressured situations (such as meetings at work) – even just a moment to pause for breath is beneficial; otherwise the adrenals keep pumping out adrenalin without enough acetylcholine to balance it out.

To ensure that we have a ready supply of acetylcholine, we need a robust parasympathetic nervous system and good vagus nerve function. This is important in order to bring us back to balance quickly (homeostasis) and improve learning, memory and the ability to keep a cool head under pressure. We enable this by creating regular micromoments of relaxation – the time it takes to let go on one breath, a Saturday afternoon nap or a hot bath.

The journey home from work is also an important and useful time. Too often we are in a negative state of mind, particularly on packed trains without a seat or stuck in traffic. Changing your mindset about this moment of your day from pain to pleasure is one simple step forwards. Having something effortless and enjoyable to read, watch or listen to – a soap opera, TED talks or a documentary series, whatever you really like – enables us to reboot dopamine levels.

When we are in the midst of a busy week in a fast-paced, demanding environment, evenings can feel very short, particularly if you are working across time zones and emails continue to come in morning and night. The quick wind-down of a glass of wine or a beer is tempting because there is immediate effect. However, recovery breathing and sequential relaxation are just as effective and much healthier. It is worth cultivating your ability to relax and recover at will using your Physical Intelligence.

Parents need to be especially careful to get enough rest. Full- on weekends spent with the children, always with partners, caring for parents, helping out other family members or socialising are unlikely to allow you enough time to recuperate. Even the most social among us needs time alone. Review your support system and arrange for someone else to take the reins while you recuperate. Do the same for someone else in return. We recommend two hours per weekend alone, just for you – walking, having a massage, taking an afternoon nap, meditating, reading quietly with a large ‘Out of Office’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door. This takes some organising, but is vital for resilience.

One of the biggest mistakes low-resilience people make is that they don’t diarise rest and recovery. Look at their calendar – there are no days that say REST, there are no holidays booked in. When you look at the calendars of high-resilience people, however, you’ll find they diarise their downtime and have their restorative activities planned in: a massage every week, a date with an old friend, a few dinner parties or social events. Don’t be that person who never takes a holiday, is completely exhausted, and drives their team into the ground. Be the person who recognises overdrive, can pull back from it, and manages expectations. Be the person who understands how to REST.

LIFE HACK: When you know your schedule is very demanding, look through your diary for short windows of respite and write ‘REST’ in those blocks. Then approach those windows in an extra- restful way bearing in mind the need to REST – Retreat, Eat (healthy), Sleep and Treat yourself. It is also a reminder not to put anything else in the diary during those days or windows.

Think about work and life as all part of the same system. Whatever work you are doing, take pride in it and do it to the best of your ability so that your attitude supports your resilience. If you regularly REST, despite booking holidays, you shouldn’t feel desperate for them now because you will have been relaxing and recovering on the job as much as you can. Even a change of scene or specific type of activity can be as good as a rest. When we invest time in that kind of ongoing REST, we build resilience over time so that we can rely on our ‘bounce back’ mechanism and we can be consistently be at our best.

Let’s take a closer look at each aspect of REST:

Retreat: We all need short retreats away from the hustle and bustle of life. Holidays and weekends are vitally important because they provide time for the adrenal glands to fully recharge. Make time for the following activities in your schedule. Select those that most appeal to you and schedule them into your calendar before you finish this chapter

• Nap

• Walk in nature

• Practise recovery breathing

• Swim

• Do yoga

• Stretch

• Go to a relaxation class

• Soak up some sunshine

• Spend time with family and friends

Eat: Salads and sunshine go hand in hand. Whether on holiday or a staycation – or on any day of the week for that matter – challenge yourself to do the following:

• Take time to prepare fresh food, meat, fish and vegetables, experimenting with new and healthy recipes. This brings sensory pleasure and boosts the feel- good chemical dopamine, as well as helping the liver to recover from all those times when we grabbed a quick sandwich, reached for the sugary snack or had that extra glass of wine.

• Drink lots of water.

• Eat beetroot, which helps to cleanse the liver.

• Explore restorative non- alcoholic drinks that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system with your nutritionist. Magnesium and camomile combinations are excellent.

Sleep: Many people know that seven to nine hours’ sleep is optimal for human beings, yet many people get far less.

• Waking to an early alarm day after day is demanding on the adrenals, so allow yourself to wake naturally a couple of days a week. This may add only thirty minutes or an hour onto your sleep cycle, but it is still beneficial. This is because when we wake naturally, cortisol (which wakes us up in the morning) and melatonin (the sleep chemical, a sister of serotonin – the balance, happiness and wellbeing chemical) rebalance and the clearing and healing process that happens in our brains while we sleep can be completed rather than interrupted. If you sleep uninterrupted and allow yourself to wake naturally for an extended period of time, the brain and body is cleansed, inflammation is reduced and healing occurs.

• Plan a holiday where there are no activities that require an alarm clock.

Treat: There are two types of ‘treats’: those that are nice to start with but to which we are mildly addicted (sugar and alcohol being the main contenders), and those that are truly restorative. Keep the addictive treats to a minimum and develop a habit of indulging in the latter. Good treats boost dopamine (the pleasure and reward chemical) and serotonin (the happiness chemical). The next time you are tempted to reach for the addictive treats, do one of the following instead:

• Immerse yourself in a good novel

• Consume healthy food and drink

• Have a massage

• Have a good, supportive conversation

• Appreciate a hot shower or bath

• Attend the theatre

• Visit an art gallery

• Go out dancing

• Play a game of sport

It can be a real challenge to switch into REST and enjoy it. Too often our foot remains rigid on the accelerator and it takes time and skill to touch the brake without derailing the vehicle that is our body and brain. However, you now have plenty of resources to REST, to be used both in the moment and as part of your strategic planning to help manage your stress and build resilience.

For more information about how Physical Intelligence can help you, your team or your organization, visit us at or order our book, on sale now.

About Companies in Motion

There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)

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