Let’s start with relaxation! It’s much easier to make changes to the other pillars of health when we feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
Some things to think about:
- Our stress response is meant to be helpful and results from evolution, allowing us to think sharply, move quickly and handle difficult situations. Extreme stress can activate the fight, flight, and freeze response. As part of our system prepares for action (increase in heart rate and breathing, energy sent to our limbs, increase in adrenaline), some other parts shut down, like our desire to eat, sleep and reproduce (i.e. sex drive). Our ancient ancestors knew it was counterproductive to have a bite to eat or try making a baby when a lion was lurking around or a war was brewing. In our modern world, it is not a lion we need to worry about but everyday stresses like peer conflict, math tests, difficult co-workers, the frustrating commute home, and activities or commitments that keep us on the go every day.
- Our stress response is thousands of years old. Unfortunately, it can’t tell the difference between that lurking lion and overwhelming work tasks, final exams, or hearing about stressful events over social media. Being overwhelmed, stressed, and busy on a regular basis can lead to mental health problems. We are designed to experience short bursts of stress, not prolonged ones. If our children or we are experiencing prolonged stress, then our stress response can go from being helpful to unhelpful and problematic.
- Too much stress can cause difficulties with emotional dysregulation, like anger and irritability, sleep issues, trouble concentrating, a decrease in sex drive, and gastrointestinal problems.
- Leisure and relaxation should not be considered something we do if we have time for them. They are vital to our mental health and maximizing our potential. As humans, relaxation can benefit us in multiple ways by providing us with energy when needed, helping us regulate our nervous system, and allowing us to access our creativity.
- Not including relaxation and leisure can lead to overworking and burnout. Most parents find themselves“time-poor” and feel like relaxation is a luxury! We get it. But even 10 minutes a day can make a difference to your mental health.
Some things to try:
- For parents with young kids, try doing arts and crafts with no rules or plan on what to make, engaging in free play while you follow your child’s lead, looking at books or reading, having a warm bubble bath, or going for a walk to the park and stopping as often as your child wants to check out their environment.
- Avoid using screen time as the only form of relaxation time. Your body may be inactive and “relaxed” when watching TV or flipping through social media, but that doesn’t mean your mind has quieted.
- Meditation can be helpful for learning to focus, be mindful, and enjoy the present moment. Several YouTube videos and apps are available to assist with meditation. Apps that you can try include Smiling Mind, Headspace, or Calm. If you are more of a visual person, Netflix currently has an easy-to-watch, eight-part series on meditation called: Headspace – Guide to meditation.
- Journalling your thoughts and feelings can help you relax, be present, and sort out what’s going on in your life.
- Nap! Or even lay down for 10 minutes, close your eyes, and enjoy the silence and a few moments of peace.
- Play a card or board game with your child or partner.
- Try 15 minutes of “me time” every day – there are three rules that can help you reach relaxation mode: no screen, no guilt, and no one else!
- Listen to music and stare at the ceiling or close your eyes.
- Find ways to reduce the pull to screen time on your device and take control of when you look at your phone. Try to remove or minimize app notifications and set phone limits to no more than two hours of social media per day. You could also place your phone just 10 feet away when you are engaged in an important task to reduce the chance that you will automatically pick it up. It’s funny how even having to walk into another room to check our phone is enough to discourage us from using it as much!
Author: Danielle Rozon, M.Ed. Registered Psychologist