02 Nov Why relaxation is good for your mental health
‘Do nothing with the body but relax.’ That’s one of my favourite quotes by Tilopa, an 11th-century Buddhist sage – and perfect advice for our fast-paced modern world. Yet many people struggle with relaxation. They’d like to be able to relax but they’re often unable to do it.
It’s not surprising that many people find relaxing difficult. As a society we’re occupied – even obsessed – with keeping busy. We like to be doing something all the time and when we’re not – it feels wrong somehow. This is particularly true at work where ‘doing’ is valued, hence we want to be seen as taking action and achieving. But to sustain this busy way of living we need to take time out to rest and relax.
Why relaxation is important
When we’re tense, our bodies feel tight. Try tensing your muscles now and notice how ‘closed’ your body feels. The energy here doesn’t move. Everything feels locked in. If that tension isn’t released, it can have a negative effect on physical and mental health. At its worst, an inability to relax can lead to chronic stress, burnout and poor mental health.
Relaxation allows your body to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which repairs tissues and cells, lowers heart rate and increases the feel-good chemical serotonin. The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares us for our ‘fight or flight’, PNS returns us to relax mode. We feel unlocked and re-energised. Our minds can rebalance, our bodies can recover and heal.
How to relax by ‘being’ not ‘doing’
Relaxation is often considered as activity (our need to always be doing something again!). But I like to think about relaxation as a state of being.
One of my clients, a senior manager, started to feel exhausted and rundown at weekends and during holidays he’d regularly come down with a bad cold or flu. He told me he thrived on stress at work and he did active things like hiking with friends to relax at weekends – he wasn’t sure why his health started to suffer. When we got deeper into our conversation and I asked him what could help him to relax more deeply… he replied after a long pause … I see myself lying on the sofa in a quiet, dark room at home – all on my own. He admitted that it was a very strange thing to consider as it wasn’t his usual way to relax.
Although he was sceptical at first, he was also curious and during our coaching sessions he tried different relaxation techniques, starting with muscle relaxation, guided imagery and breath focus then experiencing complete silence. Through this process he slowly eased into a new ‘non-active’ way of relaxing. Now the dark room made sense to him as a way of unplugging from external stimulation and taking time for deep rest and relaxation.
He started to like his ‘not doing’ and ‘just being’ time. He described it as a deepening of the connection with his body and a sense of feeling peaceful and energized at the same time. He started to notice how he could maintain this relaxed state throughout the week, and how he was able to reconnect with it when stress took over. His work routine didn’t change – but he was now able to experience more energy and less tension, less tiredness and more good health.
Maintaining a relaxed state
At first, it may feel difficult to relax. Many people tell me that sitting quietly for a few minutes isn’t relaxing! They say their mind keeps whirring, getting loud and that they feel restless. And I say – that’s great! – because in those quiet moments you’ll be able to hear your mind’s chatter and understand what drives your habitual restlessness. You’ll also realise that you don’t have to listen to the chatter. When you give yourself the gift of ‘just being’ the chatter will quieten down and you’ll start to connect with yourself at a deeper level.
And you’ll start to feel it – that unlocking of tightness, the opening and softening as tension melts away. Relaxation is a state of being. It’s a place in you, like a mountain spring bubbling up with fresh water. It refreshes, reinvigorates and renews you. Take from that mountain spring as often as you can.
* For details on my relaxation programme, call 07930 459337 or drop me a line.
Be the first to know about new freebies, exclusive offers and special events, by signing up to our mailing list.