Busy, busy, busy.
Productivity is the watchword of our age. Our worth to society is so often measured by how much we contribute economically; by how busy we are. Saying ‘I’m too busy to…’ is almost like a badge of honour – a declaration of one’s own social value. But what are the things we are too busy to do? Often they’re the most wholesome activities. Spending time with our children. Cooking a meal with fresh ingredients. Finding the time to exercise. To relax.
In the short term, the consequences for skipping these things are reasonably small. You can play with the kids tomorrow; cook a meal at the weekend; join the gym soon. And as for relaxing, surely you do that when you sleep. After all, there aren’t enough hours in the day, so who has time to waste them doing nothing? The purpose of this blog is to persuade you that far from being wasted, time spent relaxing is not just beneficial, but actually vital to our wellbeing.
Rest and Digest.
Firstly, our bodies need it. When we relax, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called the rest-and-digest mode, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system – fight-or-flight mode. It is a system that promotes calm, allowing the body to do essential maintenance work. Physically, the following things happen:
- Your saliva is increased
- Digestive enzymes are released
- Your heart rate drops
- The bronchial tubes in your lungs constrict
- Your muscles relax
- The pupils in your eyes constrict
- Your urinary output increases
As well as all this, happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin are released, flooding your body with feel-good messages. This is why true relaxation is so enjoyable.
But it’s not just physical housekeeping that goes on; it’s mental too. As relaxing as reading a book or watching a film may be, it remains a form of consumption. In the midst of the digital data revolution, we live in a world where we’re bombarded by more information than ever before. It 2013 it was estimated that 90% of all data in existence had been produced in the previous two years alone.[i] Time used to switch off from this constant deluge is vital to promote mental wellbeing, wresting a few vital moments respite from the illusion that all of it is as important as it makes us believe it is.
There are many different ways to relax. There’s mindfulness meditation, which is becoming increasingly popular, with countless studies demonstrating its health benefits.[ii] While relaxation is not the principal aim of mindfulness, it’s a profound side benefit of this important practice. Another way might be through focused breathing. I teach many of my clients how to release tension quickly and easily using a simple technique that can rapidly turn your whole body into a giant noodle. And then there is of course hypnosis – relaxation through suggestion. It’s amazing how quickly the body relaxes if you tell it to. This is because the body wants to relax. It wants to do all the things I mention above – it’s grateful for the chance. Whichever method you choose, and I often work with all three, the more you practise, the more quickly you are able to achieve a deep, nourishing, restorative state of relaxation, which quickly becomes so enjoyable that you want to do it for its own sake (which, by the by, is the best reason to do anything at all).
You can think of relaxation as doing by not doing, if you find that helpful. You’ll gain all the physiological benefits, and many of the psychological benefits too. But if you can shift your perspective just a little, and come to think of that relaxation time as simply being, in its pure form, you can gain even more. By accepting that not everything in life must be result-oriented, pressure-driven, and time-limited, you allow yourself a daily window into a different world. And over time, this switch in perspective can come to inform everything you do. And this doesn’t mean giving up the ghost, abandoning your ambitions, or god forbid, becoming lazy. It simply means that your value systems might get a little tweak, and you may find the things you have always deferred until tomorrow, are the things you find yourself prioritising today.