How Can I Relax?

The constant rush of life tends to wear us down.

Yet, when we want to wind down, rest, and prepare for the next sunrise, we sometimes find ourselves feeling agitated or worrisome. Many of us can relate to the experience of laying awake in bed as your mind races through the many responsibilities and deadlines ahead.

Why do we do this?

According to one of my mentors at Duke University, Dr. Mark Leary, our ability to be self-conscious and reflect on our life in an abstract ways, although advantageous for planning and preparation, can also be a curse (see Leary, 2004).

His book, The Curse of the Self, provides an excellent look at the many ways we humans tend to stress ourselves out. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend it!

What should I do about it?

Several methods for relaxing oneself can easily be implemented into a daily regimen.  Below I have provided a list of quick fixes for your physical feelings of unease or anxiety.  The best part is, these should cost next to nothing.

  • Deep breathing – Yes, it really works!  Take a few minutes alone to take 6-8 second breaths.  In other words, inhale for 6-8 seconds and then exhale for 6-8 seconds.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of research articles can be found that illustrate the efficacy of deep breathing exercises (for an example see Pal & Velkumary, 2004).

 

  • Listen to some relaxing music – Although this might seem fairly commonsense, few people actually do this.  A study by Knight and Rickard (2001) found that listening to relaxing music helped people to reduce stress reactions as well as lower their blood pressure.  Try changing your driving music to Enya or perhaps some sort of ambiance.

 

  • Get in a quick workout – Check out my page on Exercise for more on this!

 

  • Take a long shower – Again, this is probably commonsense.  Yet, a shower is a great way to be alone for a while and recenter yourself.  The hot water also tends to act like a stress reliever, almost as if your body has no other choice but to relax.

 

  • Go for a walk with a friend or loved one – Some people like to meet consistently with a walking buddy a few times each week, partially for the exercise but mostly for the social interaction.  The best part about walking is you should be able to maintain a conversation (unless, of course, you encounter a nasty hill).  I find it really helpful to check in and share my experience with others.

What else should I do?

Although many of the tricks for reducing anxiety can be helpful, often there are other things at play that may be causing your distress.

I strongly recommend seeking out a therapist and working through some of the underlying stressors that might be responsible for your feelings.  Although some people may be hesitant to seek counseling, sometimes just one meeting can help things feel more normal.

Be adventurous, give it a try!

 

References

Knight, W. E., & Rickard, N. S. (2001). Relaxing music prevents stress-induced increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy males and females. Journal of music therapy, 38(4), 254-272.
Leary, M. R. (2004). The curse of the self: Self-awareness, egotism, and the quality of human life. Oxford University Press.
Pal, G. K., & Velkumary, S. (2004). Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 120(2), 115.