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How to Relax? The Real Kind, Not the Netflix Kind

habits space stress Jun 11, 2024


In this age of constant distraction and stimulation, we've forgotten how to relax.


Let us count the ways.

Parenting -- this task fills our days with endless emotional, mental, and old-school physical labor. 

Work -- there's no such thing as a 9am to 5pm anymore. Nowadays, work involves the always-on, Whac-a-Mole-style, task of answering texts, calls, and emails at all hours.

Phones -- they now gobble up all the time that's leftover. The wait at the store. The delay at the doctor's office. That's now reserved, not for relaxation, but for feed-scanning and staying "on top of it all," whatever that means.

The result? Stress, stimulation, and distraction now fill our days.

Relaxation though. What does that even mean? 

So strong is this aversion to relaxation that we now view those rare beings who embody it with suspicion. 

That mellow yoga teacher at the meet-and-greet, that laid back parent at back to school night. Why are they not busy? We wonder. They must just be lazy and undisciplined, we think. How did they miss the memo that stress and busyness is the new signal of social status?

But the status of busyness comes at a high cost. Rates of anxiety and depression are skyrocketing. We're now tethered to our devices. And it's increasingly difficult to slow down enough to experience a sunset, the words of our partner, or the joy of playing with our child at the playground.

How can we slow it all down? 

How, in short, can we relax?




1. Create space.

More is always better. That's the ethos of our current age. More work. More to-dos. More projects. More information. More news.

And so we pile our days high with logistics, work, emails, texts, and other commitments because it feels so good to say "yes" to everything.

But the first step toward Relaxation is to say "no," to carve out wide open spaces for yourself, your kids, and couple time.

Of course, this too comes at a cost. Your friends, family members, and coworkers won't like it when you say "no" to them.

So you're going to have to defend these open spaces. Put them on your calendar. Prioritize them. Fight for your right to relax every now and then. 


2. Relax your nervous system.

Stress and overwhelm aren't just in your head. They reside silently, deep in the depths of your nervous system.

This momentum of stress and distraction is so strong that it can even make ordinarily relaxing moments uncomfortable. 

Have you ever felt the eerie discomfort of sitting still on the beach while your mind whirls through an endless string of micro-dramas?

Have you ever found yourself consumed by the anxiety of unread emails in your inbox while playing with your child?

We certainly have.

The problem here isn't with you. The problem is with your nervous system. The reason you feel so uncomfortable is that it never got the message that it's okay now to slow down and relax.  

But how can you relax a revved up nervous system? Here are a few science-based practices to try:

  • Yoga -- slowing down the breath and opening up tension in your body.
  • Extended exhale breathing -- relaxing the nervous system by breathing in for four counts and out for eight counts.
  • Yoga Nidra -- lying down on your back and bringing the body into a deep state of relaxation that hovers between waking and sleep.

Find the practice that works best for you and make it a regular habit.


3. Savor the experience.

Part of the problem is that we're so rushed and stressed that we've lost our reference point for what it feels like to be relaxed.

And this makes relaxation seem so far away, so distant, that it  begins to feel either unattainable or frivolous.  

So next time you taste that slow, silent, experience of relaxation, savor it.

Create an internal reference point for what it feels like to be at ease.

Remind yourself how much space, possibility, and freedom arise the moment you finally slow down.

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