The idea of forcing yourself to relax is a bit akin "Don't think about the pink elephant", trying harder won't make you more relaxed, it'll just make you feel more stressed, meaning you won't be getting any rest there. Although you can't force rest or relaxation, you can coach it out and over the years I've learned how to do this quite well. Day to day and moment to moment there are varying degrees of success, but isn't that true of all things?
Today I thought I'd share some of my insights on How to Rest.
- The first step has to be changing your mindset about relaxing. We tend to think of relaxing or resting, as passive time. Since we live in a society that's very focused on how active we are, the idea of being passive has acquired a bit of a nasty rep. It's no wonder then that it's hard to relax when you are achieving nothing in the time you're spending there. It's untrue though. Resting is not just doing nothing, resting is active healing. All biological beings need a combination of rest and activity. Our bodies have two 'modes' if you will. When you are stressed or actively engaged (trying to achieve something) you are sympathetic nervous system is activated. This makes your heart beat faster, your muscles tighten and your breath quicken. But that's not all it does. It also shuts down the digestive system and various other things. We know this as the 'fight or fly' response and general think of it when we think of bad stress, but it's also active when we're hunting something ourselves (like a goal!). The body can't be in this mode for too long, it's unhealthy, so we need it's counterpart to fix us back up; The Parasympathetic Nervous System. This helps, for instance, to activate the digestive system and makes it easier for us to eat and get nourishment from our food.
Why is this important? Well, studies have found that when they encourage birds to hunt more, their lifespan decreases, simply because they don't get enough rest. So Rest is extremely important in order to be healthy. Active healing yay!
- Now it's time to get some rest. Try to set up a calm space where you won't be disturbed and try these things that help stimulate the PSN :
- If you can, put on some comfortable clothes, preferably soft ones
- If you like it, get a hot water bottle (the warmth can help you feel calmer)
- Hug something
- Hug yourself, your body doesn't know the difference between someone else stroking your arm or you, so you can totally do this for yourself. It may seem weird but it works!
- Turn on some calming sounds, maybe waves or sleep sounds (I'm partial to the sleep music on Headspace)
- Try using earplugs & a sleeping mask
- Don't be afraid to use some lavender oil or mist or anything that makes you feel comfortable and calm. Try to make it a pleasant time, so you'll WANT to rest.
- Use a mantra to calm yourself, some things I try to think to myself are: Everything is okay. You've done everything you needed to do. You don't need to do anything right now. Everything else can wait. You are doing great. I don't have to think about that right now. I'm proud of you. I love you.
Yes, I use all of these and although it felt a little silly at first, it helps. I repeat almost all of these over and over when I need to. In the meantime, I listen to the sounds. I find these especially helpful because I am bound to start thinking and when I do I'll often find myself distracted suddenly by the sounds. As an "Oh yeah right, I was trying to rest." and then I listen to the sounds again until I either drift off or start thinking again. That'll happen over and over and that's totally fine. Even if it distracts me only temporarily, that still helps.
The above things are a guideline that works for me personally. As it was explained to me; do everything you would do to a baby in order to calm and soothe it. Soft gentle touches and fabrics, gentle sounds, etc. But to yourself. I try to see it like this; I have this body thing and it needs me to take care of it, it can't do it itself, just like a dumb little baby, so well, I'd better do it! This makes it feel less like I'm 'taking care of myself' (possibly selfish) but rather I'm doing something nice for this body-thing that I've got and I can be proud of myself for doing a good thing.
- Set a timer. I know that sounds weird, but it's not a timer so you won't sleep too long, but rather that you don't get up too fast. If you're like me you can be pretty antsy and resting can be boring and seem like it takes a long time. I've learned though that it takes me about half an hour to really get to a place where I begin to relax, where my thoughts drift further and further from active thinking and my muscles really relax. So I set a timer for an hour. (or more if I need it!) that way I can fight the urge to 'check the time' and wake myself up again.
I hope this helps! :)