Socially, we’ve adopted the idea that doing nothing is the same as relaxing, but how to be relaxed does not (only) involve lying on a log on the beach or doing nothing…though I highly recommend it.
Relaxing the mind (how to be relaxed) is an active process that requires your intention without adding a whole bunch of tension.
Let’s explore this idea:
1. Become Aware Of The Noise.
One reason we Can’t Seem To Be Relaxed: Did you know that the average work session is about 11 minutes before your work is interrupted, or you give up on it?
- Someone calls, knocks, or needs something.
- The constant ding of social alerts.
- The unending “urgent” emails.
- The texts, messages, messengers, deliveries, appointment reminders. ARRRgggghhh!
The list of how many things can sidetrack us is unending, but, to some degree, we have become unaware of their presence.
These interruptions have become insidiously ingrained into our culture. So much so, we’ve become habituated & conditioned to their presence so that we don’t see them as an interruption anymore, just the “way things are.”
I am not knocking all the available technology we have. I AM questioning the degree to which we accept them without question.
Each year, a new platform or forum “requires” our engagement & is added to our lives. If we passively consent to their presence, we aren’t actively deciding which ones we’ll use or how often we’ll use them. Eventually, burnout can result as a consequence.
So, in the midst of all the dings, rings, and pings, while you’re working, remember this other thing you HAVE to care for, your body & state of mental wellness. This skill helps to sharpen our ability when learning how to be relaxed.
2. What Intentional Rest Is & Why It’s Different Than Doing Nothing.
We may think that doing nothing is rest, but often, it’s an escape from our own exhaustion because we haven’t learned how to ‘Functionally Rest’ our brains. Escape is dysfunctional rest in that it is a passive distraction. Passive distractions don’t rest our minds in a functional way like intentional rest does.
Functional rest is both intentional and, at the same time, not overindulgent.
Functional rest is intentional: not in the sense of another thing to do on the checklist – it’s absorbing & being present in the moment where ever that is for you.
Looking into the distance at the sky, your backyard, or a shrub. Indulging your senses in the smells, sights & sounds around you. Letting your mind wander into that space for even just 5 minutes…that’s functional rest.
This includes watching something on Netflix…I mean, really indulge it – it’s not rest if you think about work the whole time. So fully laugh, cry or scream (whatever Netflix genre is your jam) your way through the show.
When your mind wanders off to work, gently bring it back to the show you’re watching. Let yourself be absorbed by gentle focus, not rigid attention.
Rest is not OVER-indulgence: a treat can quickly become a burden if we overindulge it. For example, watching Netflix for 30 mins is enough to recharge me, but when I veg out for hours, I walk away feeling like a zombie.
3. ALICE! Beware The Rabbit Hole.
You’re deep in your work & the ideas are flowing, then the rabbit hole appears:
Seriously, me one day:
Tess during a writing session:
“‘…this is the way our mind creates…’ No, I need a better word for creates.”
One second later I’m looking up a synonym for “creates”.
One minute later I’m watching videos of bunnies & one hour later I’m knee-deep in Michael Jackson’s top hits.”
The rabbit hole is the shiny object that distracts you while you are researching something else. It’s the gift that promises but never delivers.
Go in, Get what you need & Get Out. This is my husband’s approach to shopping. Unlike me, who can wander the aisles getting distracted by those shiny objects & wasting a lot of my time while I’m at it! Because I know this about myself, I make sure that I walk the aisles intentionally & I manage my mind to avoid wasting my time.
However, this goes both ways: I can intentionally, mindlessly walk the aisles because enjoyment is ALSO resting, right!? If I’ve intentionally decided to have fun with it, that’s different than using up my time mindlessly ;).
Our brains get tired of jumping like a bunny from one topic to another. It is also a habit-forming behaviour & if we want to learn how to be relaxed, noticing & redirecting this habit in our brains will help.
To add more time to your day &, therefore, more time to rest your mind, avoid those shiny, glittering, tantalizing objects!
4. Use Cognitive Distancing to Learn How To Be Relaxed.
You’ve been practising social distancing for over a year…let’s try cognitive distancing now.
A consequence of having a lot of stimulation is the inability to calm-our-minds-the-heck-down!!
I don’t need to list all the distractions. But, I can tell you that they are a big reason for anxiety & the inability to relax.
Being relaxed begins with what is going on IN your mind, not around it.
The environment will stay busy; let’s find a way to rise above that by creating a calm stasis in our minds and bodies so that whatever happens around us (that we can’t control), we can find peace.
Cognitive distancing is the capacity to see your anxious, racing thoughts as options. Not truths. Your mind is always looking for 3 things:
- To Be Correct.
When you feel anxious, hyper-aware, or activated somehow, your mind starts looking for answers. It believes you when you feel anxious and thinks danger is ahead. So it will look for the danger to avoid it.
This is great if there is danger ahead, but if emails and texts and housework are making you anxious, then getting into a protective/defensive state won’t help.
Further to that, whatever you think or feel, your mind wants to prove you right.
If you think you “HAVE to finish ALL these things on this list, how terrible that is, and why does everything fall on your shoulders…” type-of-thoughts, your brain will work to find evidence to prove you right.
And it will find it.
It will find all the reasons you are unfairly treated, how terrible things are & why you are so overwhelmed. And then you will find yourself focused on those things.
Some of that may be true, I don’t know your situation, but I know that ruminating on the worst perspectives takes us further into anxiety and less into relaxed states.
Employ some distance from those thoughts, not suppression, Distance. Distance looks like; distraction, redirection, or just physical movement – any one or all of the following will help:
- Contrary to the rumination-based thought
5. Being Relaxed Requires Some Action. Whaaat?
Our mind likes it when we can act on something. Action is a signal that we believe in our abilities to follow through or at least try. It also covertly tells us that we aren’t stuck where we are.
The next time you are tempted to brood on everything you have to do, tell your mind this instead: “Ok, brain, I hear you. There are some things I have to do, but let’s break it down instead of wallow in anger or pain about it. Have a good cry maybe, but then let’s do something active instead of ruminate.”
Question your brain’s conclusions: how many of those things on the list HAVE to get done? What is the definition of “have to” anyway? If you redefine “Has to” to mean “or someone will die,” it puts things in a different light.
Of course, we all have responsibilities, and I’m not saying blow them off; but there is some grey in the things we think require our attention as if they are a matter of life and death.
6. Write Things Down & Learn How To Be Relaxed.
Do you ever write how you feel or what you think? It doesn’t have to be a long journalling session; that’s not everyone’s thing, and it’s unnecessary.
Writing one word to describe your current feeling or thought creates a change in our minds.
Follow that up by writing the feeling or thought you’d like to be having instead & you’re beginning to practise neural re-wiring, my friend.
Here’s What Happens When We Write:
- The act of writing tells your brain that what is going on is important.
- You will act on & remember words that you write down better than words you only think about.
- Writing helps you get a different perspective on the current situation.
- Putting pen to paper forces you to slow down as well as absorb & reflect on more information. In addition, it can open up options you had not considered.
7. Divorce Your List.
When I say “divorce,” I mean split it up. You know, that long list that seems to move from one day to the next. My list, for example, used to contain 5 things on it at any one time that kept getting pushed to the next day.
Divorce that List.
Take each one of those items and add them one by one to one day in the week—one item, for one day.
Your mind will look at this as a doable request. Admittedly, that list is daunting, but one task in one day is not.
That’s me today; I’m committed to learning how to be relaxed if you are! So please share with us what rests your mind in the comments…let’s find some functional rest together!
Let me know in the comments below what your functional rest ideas are. We learn best when we learn from each other…
🎁 A GIFT:
If you want to stay connected & learn more ways to produce thoughts that heal, not hurt you, click the link here to: Unravel Your Negative thoughts: An Intentional Thoughts Guide. 🎁