How to relax

A constant state of stress will eventually take its toll on both your mind and body.

A constant state of stress will eventually take its toll on both your mind and body.

If you’ve had a stressful day at work, or just need to calm the farm a little, how do you relax?

Many of us would be lying if we didn’t admit our go-to method was simply kicking back on the couch with a wine and a mindless scroll through our mobile phones – perhaps with the telly on in the background.

But while that may seem like a winning formula, it’s actually one of the worst ways to achieve a genuinely relaxed mind, says Buddhist monk Gen Kelsang Dornying, the resident teacher at Melbourne’s Kadampa Meditation Centre.

“I think it’s impossible for people to relax because the methods that people choose to bring them some downtime in fact make people more unpeaceful and less relaxed,” says Gen Dornying.

He says the combination of alcohol, which serves a stimulant while you’re drinking it, and continually staring at our screens in fact makes us agitated and a little intoxicated. So when it comes to a reviving night’s sleep, forget about it.

“I think we’re living in a world of insomnia now. So many people come to meditation classes because they can’t sleep,” says Gen Dornying. “It seems like people reach this point where they can’t put their phone down. They become increasingly wired, discontent.”

And the cumulative effects of stress and insomnia are apparent in the increase in mental health issues, he says.

Dr Jo Mitchell, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Mind Room, agrees we find it hard to switch off.  She cites recent research showing that it’s not unusual for people to touch their mobile phones 2000 times a day.

It's time to unwind

It’s time to unwind… but how?

Another factor preventing relaxation is the expectation “that we are fed that we can be everything and do everything”, she says. “Perhaps people are thinking that they have to be an amazing mum, and an amazing worker and colleague and friend – and it’s hard to keep up.”

A constant state of stress will eventually take its toll on both your mind and body, Dr Mitchell warns. As well as mental health issues, those who can’t relax are likely to face more aches and pains, colds and illnesses.

So that’s the grim news. But how do we turn around the problem, and rediscover the gentle art of relaxation?

“I think the first thing is to give yourself permission,” says Dr Mitchell. “Know that it’s essential for your mind and body to rejuvenate. You need rest, you need downtime and you need to have some relaxation time.”

Meditation and being mindful are often in the spotlight for their relaxation benefits. But Dr Mitchell says it’s best to find the things that are relaxing for you (“I know that my sister likes to garden and that gardening for her is her relaxing time – I can’t think of anything worse. My Mum will cook, my Dad plays golf”) and to schedule those activities in, rather than leaving them to chance.

Holidays and weekends away are also important. But make an effort to schedule in little doses of relaxation every day. That can be as simple as stopping to take some deep breaths, taking a proper lunch break, having a quick chat with a neighbour or getting up and taking a walk, she says.

Spending time outdoors is one way to relax. It's important to do things that work for you.

Spending time outdoors is one way to relax. It’s important to do things that work for you.

Gen Dornying suggests switching off your devices for a while – particularly social media – and focusing on the sensation of your breath. Breathing very gently through your nostrils will help your mind focus, he says.

 “We don’t need to be a great meditation master … we just need 10 minutes.” He suggests focusing on something, whether it be the concept of love, acceptance, compassion – or even our own mortality.

 Reminding ourselves that we’re not around forever can help us relax and not take things so seriously, he says. Once you do relax your mind, that sense of peace will likely continue throughout the day or evening.

 “The world that we experience, we experience through the state we’re in. If we’re in a relaxed state we will have a much more positive experience of the world.”

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