When work deadlines loom, family and friends demand your attention, and your To-Do list is never-ending, taking time to relax can appear to be a luxury.
However, relaxation is critical to your health. Discover how it can benefit your wellbeing and some of the best relaxation techniques.
What exactly is relaxation?
Relaxation is a deep, restful state that has been shown to reduce the impact of stress on your mind and body. It accomplishes this through the following effects:
- slowing down your breathing
- lowering your blood pressure and heart rate
- Muscle relaxation
- regulating blood sugar levels
- enhancing digestion
- improving mood and concentration
- enhancing sleep quality
What happens if you don't take the time to unwind?
If you rarely relax, your stress levels may continue to rise, resulting in a variety of symptoms such as:
- stomach aches
- extreme exhaustion
- Sleep issues
Prolonged stress has also been linked to long-term health issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
So, what prevents us from unwinding?
Typically, long-term stress. In a stressful situation, the 'fight or flight' response keeps your muscles tense, your heart rate racing, and your body on high alert.
To recover from this state, you must consciously take steps to calm your nervous system – which is not always easy in today's hectic modern world.
Long-term health conditions, work, money worries, and social media were identified as the top causes of stress in a 2018 UK report by the Mental Health Foundation.
Technology is another issue that is consuming our leisure time.
More and more of us are finding it difficult to switch off amid the pressure to always be online, responding instantly to messages, notifications, or emails.
What are some tried-and-true ways to unwind?
Many people relax by listening to music, while others can lose themselves in a good book.
While some of us believe that activities like playing video games or watching TV increase our stress levels, others claim that they relieve tension and aid in relaxation.
If you're looking for a scientifically proven way to relax, research shows that certain techniques can activate your body's relaxation response – they slow your heart rate and breathing, as well as lower your blood pressure.
Among these methods are:
- Slow breathing entails taking long, deep breaths while clearing your mind of distracting thoughts. A 2018 Indian study found that 100 young, healthy men who practised 30 minutes of slow breathing five times a week for three months had lower stress levels and blood pressure.
- Meditation, particularly mindfulness – try sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and focusing on the present moment, such as your breath. If your thoughts begin to distract you, simply let them go and return to your breathing. In 2014, US researchers reported that meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, may reduce stress and anxiety.
- Guided imagery – close your eyes and imagine a scene or location that makes you feel very calm and relaxed. A 2005 Japanese study discovered that practising guided imagery for 20 minutes a day could improve people's moods, health, and stress levels.
If you don't like meditative techniques – and some people find them stressful to follow – you could try something more practical, like taking a warm bath or spending time outside in nature.
How to Unwind When You're Stuck at Home
Isolation in any form can be stressful for us as social creatures, so it's critical to keep an eye on your mental health. Learning how to relax your mind is one useful thing you can do; knowing how to calm down those thoughts and relax can help to relieve feelings of anxiety and stress.
We've compiled some pointers to assist you in doing so!
Continue to be active.
Just because you're stuck inside doesn't mean you can't work out. Why not look up a fun dance routine, body-weight strength workout, or relaxing yoga session on the internet? If you're looking for some home exercise ideas, we've got some ideas!
It has been proven that exercising – in whatever form you prefer – can help improve your mental health. Your self-esteem will improve, you'll gain experience setting and achieving goals, and to top it all off, exercise causes chemical changes in your brain that can help lift your mood.
Top tip: Choosing an activity that you enjoy and are more likely to stick to is more important than attempting the 'hardest.'
Make a note of it.
Sometimes it feels like our minds are racing at 100 miles per hour, flitting from thought to thought erratically or overthinking a particular topic.
Especially when you're alone.
When you're feeling this way, how can you tell what's really bothering you? Writing down what you're thinking is a great way to deal with these stressful thought processes. Then you can go back and read what you wrote to see if it was a valid issue for you to address or just a passing flit of anxiety.
Contact your friends and family.
You've experienced it. When something bad happens or we are forced to spend extended periods of time alone, life can become overwhelming.
However, sometimes all we need to do is talk to our loved ones to make everything seem a little less heavy.
Even the most introverted people require contact with others, so don't be afraid to call. Who can say? They could be in a similar situation to you, and you could be assisting each other.
How to Unwind Your Mind with a Good Night's Sleep
Getting enough good-quality ZZZs every night is beneficial in so many ways. One of these is our ability to deal with daily stresses, because being tired makes you more likely to become agitated. A good 7-9 hours of sleep per night (depending on your age and other factors) is important for your mood - a lack of sleep can make it difficult to stay happy and relaxed.
But wait a minute, how are you supposed to sleep well if you're stressed? Is this some kind of catch-22 situation? That is how it can feel! Here are some suggestions to help you sleep better:
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine.
- Take a bath, practise yoga, or engage in another relaxing activity before going to bed.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable – blackout curtains and earplugs can help.
- Keep the television, computer, and phone away from the bedroom – they can make it difficult to relax.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which can keep you awake all night.
- Maintain an active lifestyle through regular exercise.
- Consider a lavender sleep kit – lavender can help calm an active mind, relax, and drift off for a good night's sleep – and it smells great!
Podcasts for mental health relaxation
These relaxing podcasts have been designed to help us get through times like these, with topics ranging from mindfulness and sleeping strategies to simple, light-hearted conversations to make us smile.
Podcasts about meditation and mindfulness
The ability of meditation and mindfulness techniques to relax the brain is widely acknowledged. They introduce a sense of calm by taking a step away from our busy or stressful lives, leaving you in a better position to deal with the daily issues we face.
Mindful is an excellent place to begin if you are new to this type of practise. Most episodes are 10 minutes or less in length and cover various topics that aid in being present in modern life.
- Podcast on Daily Meditation
These 20-minute daily meditations guide you through various techniques for dealing with the stresses of the day with calm and positivity. Its recent publications on coping with uncertainty and crisis are particularly relevant to the current constraints we are all facing.
This podcast introduces the experts behind the Headspace techniques, as well as inspiring guest speakers such as explorers, athletes, and scientists, who investigate how the mind can drive us towards our goals.
Holistic relaxation therapy
- The Tapping Method
Tapping is a holistic healing tool developed by clinical psychologists that is used to reduce anxiety, calm the mind, and aid in relaxation by restoring energy balance. The technique involves tapping patterns on nine acupressure points on the body while concentrating on your stress. This disrupts the brain's pathway to these anxieties, allowing them to be released.
Podcasts that will help you sleep
Finding effective techniques to help you switch off from the day, unwind, and get that all-important rest is critical, with 22 percent of people in the UK struggling to sleep every night.
These sleep-inducing podcasts could be the answer you're looking for.
Combine them with a natural sleep or relaxation remedy to get the most out of your sleep time.
- The Dreamy Radio
You're never too old for a good bedtime story, and when familiar tales are told in a low, rhythmical voice like Otis Gray's, you'll struggle to finish before falling asleep.
- Radio Slow
Slow radio broadcasts lo-fi, calming background sounds that allow you to disconnect from the outside world.
Listen to the sounds of the sea, mountains, or countryside - a gentle but effective relaxation therapy.
Podcasts with special guests
There is a wide variety of engaging podcasts with guest speakers that discuss relaxation, positivity, and wellbeing techniques.
- Live More, Feel Better
This podcast, hosted by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee and featuring leading industry experts, shares practical advice on maintaining a healthy mind and body and covers a wide range of topics, including how to deal with the current lockdown situation.
- The Happiest Place
A dose of levity is sometimes all that is required to relax. Fearne Cotton accomplishes this through her podcast, where her mission is to spread good, simple happiness.
Her guests include comedians, athletes, and authors who open up about their experiences with mental illness.
How often should I unwind?
Set aside time every day to unwind.
Begin with a few minutes at a time and gradually increase as you gain confidence.
Choose a time of day when you are not pressed for time and will not be interrupted.
Remember that the more frequently you use relaxation techniques, the more effective they will be.
Still unable to unwind?
If you're constantly on edge, consult your doctor, who can determine whether any physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, stomach upset, or aching muscles, have an underlying cause.
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, they can also refer you to a counsellor or therapist.
Looking for more relaxation advice? Check out our article on 5 ways to boost your health and happiness.
The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used to replace medical care. Before attempting any supplements, treatments, or remedies, please consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional. Food supplements should not be used to replace a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.