Relaxation is a remarkably personal thing, and believe it or not, some people relax better when they are surrounded by activity, in situations that others might find stressful. Others need quiet, or they relax by doing something manual like gardening or playing around with arts and crafts, or preparing elaborate meals.
Spending time with family appears on many lists about relaxing, but what if you spend most of your time taking care of family – in that case you may find it much more relaxing to leave them behind for once and doing something that is ‘just for you’. That could be an hour sitting in a hammock and reading a good book, or sharing a cup of tea with a friend, or playing Candy Crush for a couple of hours without remorse about not doing something else.
There does not seem to be a common thread to what each of us finds relaxing in general, and add to that the fact that what we find relaxing today might cause anxiety tomorrow or next week. Things change, and that makes it all the more important that you find your own truth, every single time you try to relax.
First step: find out what you REALLY find relaxing
As mentioned above, we easily fall into the trap of believing something to be relaxing, simply because it is advertised as such. Quality time with family is such a thing, but also shopping, reading, playing sports, etc. can be things we only believe to be relaxing, but end up being stressed with.
Sports can become competitive very quickly (and thus not very relaxing as we start to push ourselves into a place of stress), shopping (especially when it takes the form of ‘retail therapy’) can be relaxing, but once we fall under the spell of the music, the lights and peer pressure we can end up being utterly unhappy about the activity and its fallout (remember those things you bought and the moment you got home you realised you didn’t really want them?), family time – especially if you have small children – can turn stressful at any time (the cuddly toy is lost, no toilets in sight when needed, the right type of food is unavailable, etc.).
Make sure you find out what you find relaxing, what you want to do at this exact moment, and do it. That could be something you have longed to do for a while, or something that takes your mind off the daily humdrum. It is important to NOT do something at that time that you feel cannot wait any longer, that would qualify as work, not relaxation. That being said, some people find work relaxing!
In general, finding that one thing is easier if you are on your own. Relaxing in group can be challenging, especially if there is a huge difference in age and preferences.
Step two: set the stage
Relaxation comes with soft steps, quietly approaches us and happens naturally. It’s not normally something you can force to happen. What you CAN do, though, is create the environment that allows for relaxation to happen like this.
If you can, find a place that spells “relaxation” to you, a place that is all yours and that whoever might be around recognises as your ‘relax space’ and respects it and the time you spend in it. Easier said than done, I know, but it certainly is worth finding that one place. Here’s a pointer: that spot does not need to be in your home (although it might be best that it is). A spot away from home might better ensure your space is safe, a spot at home will allow you to make use of it whenever you need to. Tough choice? Maybe find several spots?
Another way to get you into a successful relaxation is to set a time that is yours, always. Planning that relaxation time into your agenda will help ensure that you can actually make use of it, rather than slotting it in whenever you have some time left… which realistically speaking will rarely happen on its own. Treat your relaxation just the same as any other business or family appointment: make it an appointment with yourself and defend it at all cost. No backsliding allowed!
You will find it difficult to let go at all times, I’m sure. In order to help you give yourself permission to take time to yourself, it is useful to have a small ritual that serves as a reminder to your body and mind that NOW is the time to take a full-on break from regular life, and to slip into a relaxed phase. It’s very similar to the advice we keep getting about ‘preparing to go to be’ rituals or rituals that tell your child that it’s about bedtime, like reading a story in bed, or brushing their teeth, etc.
The ritual could be simple or elaborate, special music is useful and easy to set up, taking a moment to make that cup of tea while letting the mind drift while the kettle is coming to a boil, putting away work stuff in a pile,… anything goes, as long as it becomes a habit that initiates your quiet time. Don’t forget, you will need a bit of a ritual as well to come back from “relaxation time”. Once you are there you may want to remain there!
Step three: keep at it
You can probably see that doing this regularly is the key to success. A ritual really is a special kind of habit, and those take about 6 weeks to stick. Putting things into your agenda is not enough, you will have to defend that appointment with yourself over and over again, until you become used to it. It’s a good thing that finding out what relaxes you at that specific time becomes easier as you go along, though!
Doing this regularly will teach your mind and body to accept the time you relax as something good, refreshing, revitalising, and that the time is not lost but will leave you more ready than before to tackle whatever you left waiting during relaxation time.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.