In­vest in rest

Find­ing time for mean­ing­ful rest and re­lax­ation isn’t just a lux­ury – it’s as im­por­tant for your health as a good diet and reg­u­lar ex­er­cise

Nadia - - CONTENTS -

Re­search is show­ing that rest isn’t a lux­ury – it’s a health ne­ces­sity more of us need to pri­ori­tise

Have you been hang­ing out for the hol­i­days and your chance to un­wind after an­other busy year? Beaches, bar­be­cues, sun­shine and lazy days are call­ing. But what will hap­pen once sum­mer is over and nor­mal life re­sumes? How long be­fore you feel stressed and ex­hausted, and for­get you ever had a break at all?

There is plenty of science to prove that re­lax­ation is vi­tal for good health. It low­ers blood pres­sure, boosts im­mu­nity and brain power, and helps us man­age our moods – a chronic lack of rest can lead to anx­i­ety dis­or­ders, panic at­tacks and de­pres­sion.

How­ever, tak­ing a break once or twice a year isn’t good enough. Rest needs to be­come a daily habit.

“It’s not seen as a pri­or­ity,” says life coach Louise Thomp­son, au­thor of

The Busy Woman’s Guide To High En­ergy Hap­pi­ness (Pen­guin Ran­dom House, $35). “We’ve de­monised do­ing noth­ing; in­stead we cel­e­brate be­ing busy. Women in par­tic­u­lar suf­fer enor­mous feel­ings of guilt if they’re not con­tribut­ing to some­thing or some­one ev­ery mo­ment of the day. We’ve down­graded rest and re­lax­ation when we need it in or­der to func­tion at our op­ti­mum – not just phys­i­cally, but men­tally, emo­tion­ally and spir­i­tu­ally.”

Louise is pas­sion­ate about help­ing peo­ple cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for rest in their lives be­cause she has per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of how bad things can get when you don’t take time out. In her pre­vi­ous cor­po­rate job, she pushed her­self so hard, she col­lapsed. “I burned out so com­pletely, I couldn’t work for a year and was bedrid­den for four months,” she says. “Look­ing back, it was just so stupid.”

It’s time to re­frame re­lax­ation as an ev­ery­day ne­ces­sity in life – as vi­tal as healthy eat­ing and ad­e­quate sleep.

The trou­ble is there isn’t a sim­ple pre­scrip­tion for how much rest each of us needs or what it should in­volve. That tends to come down to fac­tors like our per­son­al­ity type or stage of life.

Gen­er­ally rest falls into two cat­e­gories – ac­tive and pas­sive – and we need both. When she is feel­ing men­tally tired, a box­ing ses­sion is re­lax­ing for Louise be­cause it re­quires her to put ev­ery­thing else aside and fo­cus her brain com­pletely on what she is do­ing. But when she is phys­i­cally ex­hausted, a med­i­ta­tion ses­sion is a bet­ter op­tion.

It’s all about prop­erly lis­ten­ing to the sig­nals your body is send­ing you and fol­low­ing them, she says. “We have such a strong cof­fee cul­ture in New Zealand and when we’re tired, we take it as a sig­nal to go and buy an­other flat white. In fact, that is the body say­ing it could do with some down­time to recharge. Your body knows when it’s time to rest, it’s just that we ha­bit­u­ally over­rule it.”

One sur­vey in the US found that 62 per­cent of par­ents feel guilty re­lax­ing and a third of peo­ple felt stressed just think­ing about it. In this screen-ob­sessed mod­ern era, many of us worry more

“Tak­ing a break once or twice a year isn’t good enough. Rest needs to be­come a daily habit”

about the bat­tery on our phones run­ning low than our own in­ter­nal bat­ter­ies. That is crazy, says Louise, who ad­vises her clients to use check­ing their phone bat­tery as a cue to also check in with their bod­ies. If their en­ergy lev­els are feel­ing de­pleted, it’s time to build some rest and re­cov­ery into the day.

Med­i­ta­tion is a proven re­lax­ation strat­egy. It doesn’t seem to mat­ter which type you choose – all of them help to re­duce stress, anx­i­ety and fa­tigue and show po­ten­tial to ame­lio­rate more se­ri­ous con­di­tions such as asthma, heart dis­ease, chronic pain and ir­ri­ta­ble bowel dis­or­ders. Tech­niques such as tai chi, yoga nidra and qi gong are ben­e­fi­cial, but if you’re juggling work and fam­ily, it can be dif­fi­cult to fit in a ses­sion.

Pro­gres­sive mus­cle re­lax­ation is a very sim­ple strat­egy that can be prac­tised pretty much any­where. This helps re­lease ten­sions you might not even be aware of. Start by tens­ing the mus­cles in your toes for about five sec­onds, then re­lax them for 30 sec­onds. Re­peat with each of your mus­cle groups, slowly work­ing your way up the body. Prac­tis­ing this daily will help you learn to dis­tin­guish be­tween your re­laxed and tense states.

Mind­ful­ness is an­other way of tak­ing po­tent mi­cro-breaks through­out the day. Al­most any­thing can be done mind­fully, from brush­ing your teeth to wash­ing the dishes, but the key is to fo­cus to­tally on the ac­tiv­ity at hand rather than dwelling on the past or think­ing about things that haven’t hap­pened yet.

Fo­cus­ing on breath­ing is also a key to proper re­lax­ation. Many of us mouth­breathe from the up­per chest, which trig­gers the sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, accelerating the heart rate, in­creas­ing blood pres­sure, stim­u­lat­ing our fight-or­flight re­sponse, and lead­ing to feel­ings of anx­i­ety.

A re­lax­ing breath should come from the lower chest and ab­domen. At rest, an adult ought to take around 10-14 breaths a minute; the ex­hale should be longer than the in­hale and finish with a short pause. Most im­por­tantly, breath­ing should be through the nose rather than the mouth.

An ideal method of re­lax­ation might be brows­ing a mag­a­zine or read­ing a re­ally good book, or just sit­ting and gaz­ing at the gar­den. “We look at it as do­ing noth­ing,” says Louise. “But you are do­ing some­thing – you’re rest­ing.”

If you have the type of per­son­al­ity that thrives on work­ing to a sched­ule, she sug­gests book­ing some rest into your plan for the day. That may mean sched­ul­ing a reg­u­lar med­i­ta­tion ses­sion or set­ting up a smart­phone re­minder to take reg­u­lar breaks.

Some of Louise’s clients keep a pair of train­ing shoes in their car.

“On their way home from work, they stop for 15 min­utes and go for a walk that no­body knows about, then get back in their car and go home,” she ex­plains.

“We all need a pe­riod of time in our day when we are not giv­ing our en­ergy to an­other hu­man be­ing, even if it’s just for 15 min­utes.”

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