My mom always told us she much preferred us loving and caring for each other (I grew up with 3 siblings) daily instead of a big gift once a year on mother’s day. There is so much wisdom in my mom’s desire for consistent health that I wanted to share it with you today. Following today’s advice will improve the amount you get done each year as well as how well you feel getting it done with this same wisdom!
North America’s work structure is setup to provide people with few vacations spread out over vast amounts of time. Most entry level employees earn about 2 weeks for themselves each year. When you move up the ladder, unless you are absolutely at the top, you may gain a whopping 4-6 weeks! This is fundamentally unhealthy for people because it sets up the expectation that all rest and fun must be done during your vacation time. I have a few thoughts on this with accompanying tips. Keep reading if you want to live the good life and continue to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy your occupation…. either change yourself and begin enjoying it, or start your own company! (I’ve expanded on this in another post).
I will borrow an idea from the Old Testament/Tanakh and, more specifically, the Pentateuch (first five books). There is a command to set apart a day each week and do something different on that day. There is also a command to set apart a year every 7 and do something different as well. I sincerely believe, and can back it up with research in psychology, that if you begin actually resting your body and your mental and emotional faculties on a regular basis, you will begin working more efficiently AND you will reach your goals much more quickly because of your focus. Let me explain and give you a few tips to help out:
First off, you need to have a basic understanding of how your mind rests. Keep in mind that throughout the past thousands of years the human brain has kept us safe by staying vigilant at all times. If you sense danger (it doesn’t even matter if it is real), your brain sends signals to the rest of your body to be ready to fight, freeze, or flee. This reaction happens lighting fast and was really useful when we were in real danger from wild animals on a daily basis. It doesn’t serve the same purposes today (maybe I’ll save that discussion for another post). When this part of your brain (Limbic system – if you want to do more research on your own) is active, it sets off a chain reaction. Cortisol and Adrenalin are pumped through your body and you are able to move and react faster for a period of time. This reaction is called your Sympathetic Response. If you want to really rest… something you will need to do is kick in the opposite response; the one that allows you to relax and replenish your vitamin stores. The ability for your body to relax again is called your Para-sympathetic Response (again, the jargon is for those who want to learn more about this on your own). If you are similar to almost everyone in North America, your reaction to danger in your mind and body is active most days and for many people it doesn’t ever completely shut down.
If you aren’t able to relax, you WILL develop mental disorders because the body loses it’s ability to function normally. You will use important vitamins because your brain thinks it is still in danger. You will lack focus and efficiency because your brain is telling you to be careful at all times.
So… The question you need to ask is: How do I allow my body to relax more often and kick in my Para-sympathetic response on a consistent basis? It is healthy to react to danger, but it is also healthy to calm down again. Following are some tips on learning how to rest well and some things you should avoid if you want to fully rest.
A few ways to rest:
1. Take time to breathe deeply. There are many helpful breathing exercises that you can practice often throughout each day. When you take long, deep, steady breaths you are telling your brain that you are safe and your brain listens.
2. Touch someone or snuggle up with a pet. All mammals calm down easier and faster when we experience close physical contact with another mammal. It works much like the first tip, above, in that it reminds your brain you are safe. The beauty of this is that even if you don’t have a partner or a child or parent to sit beside on a couch, your body and brain will react to close contact with a pet. That means if you live alone you’ll still get the touch you need. Also, even if you live with someone, you may not feel really safe or comfortable touching that person (a head or back massage is great for this, but even throwing your leg over someone else’s lap works). Most people feel comfortable petting a dog or cat for a little while.
3. Take a time out if you are in the middle of an argument or have just come away from a stressful situation. It takes most people around 20 minutes to fully calm down after a stressful situation. It takes much longer if that situation is more traumatic. For these 20 minutes of rest, you will want to actually rest, not simply do another activity that keeps you busy.
4. Longer term, have breaks consistently and pay attention to the quality of your sleep, eating habits, and exercise. These small details in life make the largest difference to our stress and rest levels and yet we so often ignore them. If your sleep, food intake, and exercise patterns are strong and healthy, you most likely won’t even get stressed in the same way as others. You will also come back to a restful state much quicker after a stressful situation. The brilliance of taking care of yourself in these areas is that these are things, for the most part, that you are already doing. With very small changes in your daily routine you can see HUGE benefits in your ability to relax.
5. One day off a week is better than a week off every month and a half. Even better is a few minutes spread out through each day. Begin learning to take care of yourself on a daily basis or even multiple times each day (with 3 minute meditations or breathing exercises). As you do so, your ‘normal’ will be relaxed instead of stressed.
A couple things to avoid:
1. TV doesn’t allow your mind to rest and calm down. Television programs are designed to engage your emotions (even if you are basically turning your thinking brain off). If you want to rest you’ll need to find a different activity. Most people who say they are resting in front of the TV are simply distracting their rush of thoughts for a period of time. There are so many better ways to take care of those thoughts!
2. Long vacations that you only take every once in a while. If you are only resting once a year, you will most likely get sick a lot more often throughout the months when you aren’t on vacation. If vacation time is infrequent it can also put a ton of pressure on you to enjoy every last minute of your time off (which ends up being stressful again).
Lastly, there are benefits to resting that most people don’t realize. When you are consistently in a restful state you will be much more efficient in your work and be better equipped to help people around you. That means better relationships and more money from increased ability to work. Not bad results from simply taking better care of yourself. Other great benefits? Less sickness and injuries… I’m completely serious. If you are consistently rested in every way, you will need fewer sick days off and you may even avoid a lower back injury! I actually healed my back (herniated disc) by following this principle. No invasive operation… simply proper care of myself.
Have a wonderful weekend… and make sure you are taking some time for yourself over the next couple of days to fully rest. It may be odd and even uncomfortable at first if you are not used to it. Don’t worry, it’ll feel great pretty soon.