The world is a busy place and it’s only going to get busier.
There are countless things on everyone’s to-do list and also a never-ending stream of distraction screaming for your attention.
You’ve got the news, e-mails, social media, your phone, the internet, family, your job, things to watch, tasks to-do, people to see and people not to see; the list goes on and on.
The more you let these things take over your life the unhealthier and unhappier you become. Everyday life starts becoming a daily slug with no way out. You only sink deeper and deeper.
I’ve also in my time been caught up in all these things and have noticed how much these things can leave you feeling stressed out, de-motivated and most of all unable to relax.
Not only that, but even if you find time to relax your mind is going off in all kinds of different directions thrusting your mind back into all the craziness.
I’ve since researched the topic a little and feel I have come to a greater understanding of how to cope in such a busy world.
I’ve come up with my own insights and some of my own strategies to relax and how to relax effectively.
Note that I am not a therapist nor a psychologist and this post is not about treating anxiety, panic attacks or other disorders.
In this post, I’ll cover some of my thoughts on the whole cycle of busyness, how it affects you and how you can maintain some calm and sanity by learning how to relax.
Hopefully, by reading this you will learn how to relax and get your life back at the same time!
The Complexity of Relaxation
That’s what you say to someone who is stressed out. It makes sense. If you’re stressed out then that’s what you do, right?
But this is much easier said than done.
Many people just cannot relax. No matter how hard they try they cannot do it, and the more they realise they cannot relax the more stressed out they become.
On the other hand, there are some people who are just so chilled and can remain so even when they have important deadlines or a plethora of things to get done.
Not only that but when that act on these things, they get them done efficiently and effectively.
These individuals most likely know how to relax, and when they do, they replenish their focus, willpower and energy, giving them the edge they need during what many would consider ‘tough times.’
This is why proper relaxation and self-care is so important.
If you cannot relax, you cannot replenish your focus, willpower and energy. This is problematic because when you go about your normal day every little thing seems like a huge obstacle and life becomes a chore.
As a result, you may push harder and more than you should and you ignore your body signalling to you that you need to relax.
After a while, you may push yourself to a point where you constantly feel tired, sick, irritated and unable to concentrate on simple things.
I know as I have been there plenty of times.
Doing Less Means You Can Do More
I used to work a full-time job whilst running a side-hustle after work and on weekends. Even after sitting at my desk job all day I would come back home and sit up late doing the same thing. I did not know that I needed a rest and as a result of not resting, I produced sub-par work and my creativity and quality of work dissipated.
I learnt that working or doing things when you have not rested adequately dramatically reduces the quality, enjoyment and efficiency with which you do those things.
Even if you still have a hundred things on your to-do list the best thing to do is to relax and restore, rather than push through to finish the things on your list despite this seeming so counter-intuitive.
So if you are someone who cannot relax, know that if you want to do more and get more things done, you need to take the time out to relax.
By relaxing now, you’ll be happier and healthier when you later take on those tasks. This is the first rule.
The ‘When’ of Relaxing is Just as Important as the ‘How’
Not only is it important knowing how to relax, but also when to relax.
A lot of individuals will push themselves too hard regardless of their body signalling to them that they need to rest. If you push yourself beyond your limits too often without adequate rest, you’re more likely to reach your burnout point more quickly.
This is why frequent rest is important. It is better to rest frequently (even when you think you don’t need it) rather than wait until you’re stressed out before doing so.
By employing relaxing practices into your daily routine, you can prevent yourself from reaching that point where you become burnt out and irritated.
Relaxation = Information Out rather Than In
I think there is a misconception where relaxing is usually associated with watching TV or a movie with a bag of popcorn or simply doing anything that takes your mind away from your problems.
From my own experience, I’ve found that the key to relaxing the mind is best achieved by getting thoughts, ideas, and emotions out of the head rather than ignoring them through mind-numbing activities.
Activities such as watching your favourite TV show, listening to your favourite podcast, surfing social media sites and even to some extent reading, is not conducive to calming the mind as it involves putting more information into your mind when what you really need is to allow information to come out.
I also don’t really prescribe to the idea of meditation of just watching your thoughts and coming back to the breath (although I recognise people say that it works for them). Rather I feel you should address your thoughts and emotions, especially the ones that keep reoccurring and deal with them in the appropriate manner.
So now we have two new rules.
- When you want to relax try doing something where you are not putting more information into your head or activities that are too information heavy. By taking in too much information you will only add to the number of things your brain needs to process and think about.
- The best thing is to do an activity which allows you to process these thoughts, pent-up creativity and expel information that needs to come out.
I’ve found that the more I adhere to these two steps whenever I need to relax, the easier and more relaxed I become over time.
The Best Ways To Relax
In this section, I look to cover some of the best methods and activities you can do that meet the two rules mentioned above.
These are the ones that came to mind when I wrote this, however, if I get any more ideas I’ll add them later.
Use Pen & Paper (The Mind Dump)
Sometimes it is the thousands of thoughts in our mind that prevent us from being able to relax.
I find the best way to deal with this is to sit down with a notebook and a pen and write down whatever comes to my mind.
Such things you may write down could include the argument you had with a colleague and how angry it made you feel, or about the current problem you have with a work assignment.
You could jot down all the things that you have to get done by the end of the week or how much you would love to go on vacation right now, it doesn’t matter. Just write down whatever comes to mind.
This may take 10 minutes or even 2 hours, time is not important as long as you keep writing until you’re left with nothing more to write down.
It is at this point that you can choose to review all the points you just wrote or come back to it a little later. Whichever option you choose you will want to go through each point and make a decision on how to act on each point either now or in the future.
For example, regarding the argument you had with a colleague, you can decide you want to put this problem behind you right now. You could call your colleague and clear up any issues, or you could find the lesson learnt from this experience, or you may choose to grab a pillow and punch it to release the anger.
On the other hand, If you wrote down a long list of things you need to get done you can write a plan of how you are going to tackle each task or put in your calendar when you are going to do each one.
Slowly but surely, you would go through the whole list and deal as best as you can with what you have written down.
If you continue to do this practice (which I refer as a ‘Mind Dump’) on a frequent basis, you’ll gradually have less and less of these issues popping up. Hopefully, over time, you’ll reach a place of greater relaxation.
By learning to deal with issues and thoughts that frequently circle your mind when they first appear, you will soon be able to relax more effectively when you need to.
Reduce Your Use of Electronic Devices & Irrelevant Information
Another fundamental step in aiding in relaxation is to put away or limit your use of unnecessary electronic devices.
Whilst we live in an age where technology is an important aspect of everyday living, limiting it to only what is necessary is the best way to manage stress and prevent information overload.
Trying to keep up-to-date with every e-mail, message, social media feed and news notification only wears you out and causes you to live with your mind in a fragmented state. You become unable to focus or relax and live in a constant mode of checking. What’s worse is barely any of this information is ever important, valuable or urgent.
I could write a whole book on this concept but I’ll try to keep it simple.
Here are some quick bullet point best practices you may want to consider.
- Consider quitting social media – How satisfied do you feel after using it and how much time could you have spent doing something more important?
- Turn notifications off (messages, e-mails etc.) and instead check all these things at a certain time during the day. Outside of these times no checking.
I am a big fan of technology and it has many great uses. However, it can also be damaging if we do not learn how to filter the important information from the unimportant information.
Journaling works in much the same way as the mind dump mentioned above, however, journaling tends to lean more on expressing your thoughts and what you have done, rather than on what you have to do.
If you aren’t journaling on a regular basis I highly recommend you try it out as it’s something that can greatly improve your mood and baseline level of happiness.
By expressing your emotions, feelings and thoughts out on paper (or in digital form), you can help ‘organise’ the mind of your thoughts and things you have done, and also release unwanted emotional stress that you have kept hidden inside.
Journaling in many ways can be therapeutic as its almost like talking to a close friend.
Walking in Nature
Going for a walk can be greatly calming and also benefits the mind by helping to reduce stress and anxiety.
The best places to walk are away from busy city centres and streets, and instead towards green areas, such as by streams, trees and down quiet pathways.
I’ve noticed that walking in busy streets only increases my stress as I have to navigate past rushing pedestrians, tourists, on-coming cars and concentrate on crossing busy roads. By avoiding such areas you can not only avoid all these hassles but also avoid the noise and pollution at the same time!
Relaxing YouTube Videos
“What! You said no TV or videos!”
Yes, however, there are some videos on YouTube that are posted for the sake of helping you to relax! You just have to find the type of video that works for you.
There are many styles of relaxation videos on YouTube but my favourites are the ones in which a camera pans a certain location without any form of audio commentary.
One example is the above video of flying over Norway, which I find very relaxing.
Another of my favourites are one’s that involve POV footage of someone walking down everyday streets in Japan. You can get different location, cities and environments but for some reason I find Japan relaxing.
Try watching some of these videos on a large TV with a cup of tea!
That being said don’t get sucked into the other distractions that come with using YouTube such as clicking on trending videos, enticing thumbnails and reading comments. Stick to one video then be done with it.
Adult Colouring Books
I’m not sure if the adult colouring book craze is now over or not, but regardless it is an effective way to relax. It also allows creativity and freedom to express yourself through colouring.
You can buy adult colouring books online with all the drawings already done for you. All you need to do is relax and colour in the pictures as you like.
There are also different themed books, from shapes to animals all the way to curse words. If you are interested in trying them out see our post on the best adult colouring books.
Chatting to a Close Friend
Note the word ‘close.’
Chatting with a friend who isn’t really a friend can lead to the conversation staying in a shallow zone where the talking revolves around useless gossip and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ type talk, which doesn’t help you to relax.
Chatting with someone who is understanding as well as a good listener can help you to get emotions off your chest. Talking with a close friend can be therapeutic.
Be sure to watch out that you don’t become a chore to listen to, however, this is one reason why your person of choice should be a close friend and someone you have a good connection with.
Activities & Hobbies (Preferably with Flow)
Certain hobbies and activities can help cultivate a state of relaxation.
These are not hobbies such as video games, watching TV or browsing your favourite website but instead activities which help you enter a state of ‘flow.’
Flow is described in the following way:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterised by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.
Entering this kind of flow state frequently is said to increase happiness and life satisfaction. If you have an activity which helps you get into this kind of state it can help with relaxation and leave you feeling satisfied.
The best ‘flow’ activities are ones that are creative, challenging or allow you to express yourself.
Some example of ‘flow’ activities could include:
- Outdoor sports such as hiking, biking & climbing
- Music creation
- Playing an instrument
- Art such as drawing, painting or sculpting
- Woodworking or metalwork
- Working with fabric – sewing, knitting or stitching
- Playing sports
By adding more ‘flow’ activities into your life, you’ll help bring down your stress levels.
I was wary about putting down this suggestion as it’s not something that is always a readily available option. In addition, the idea of a vacation can be approached with the wrong ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mindset.
Furthermore, taking a vacation often takes planning, money, more information and requires energy, which can further increase stress.
If you do take a vacation make sure that it doesn’t end up being too stressful. Staying in one location such as in a luxury resort where everything is all in one place is advisable for the most relaxing type of vacation.
Too much hopping across different locations and having to deal with multiple hotels, flights and timezones is something you want to avoid.
The best option may be to stay within the borders of your own country to save yourself from all this potential hassle and to help keep things simple.
It may seem counter-intuitive but exercising can help you relax.
There are many stress-relieving benefits of exercising one of which is that it helps produce endorphins (which help you to feel good and able to manage stress better). Furthermore, exercising can also help improve your sleep.
Using exercise as an effective method of relaxation can take time to perfect. There are many types of exercise you can try such as light stretching, walking, running, cardio, weights and different sports.
You have to be able to choose which type of exercise you enjoy and which type is best for you at the moment.
Someone who needs to release a lot of frustration may require something vigorous such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
However, not everyone likes HIIT. For most people, something like stretching or a light jog may be better suited for instilling relaxation.
Proactive Steps to Prevent Future Stress
As well as knowing how to relax it is also important to start cutting out the things in your life that cause you to become stressed in the first place.
Sometimes it’s not always possible to cut all the things that are stressful out of your life, but there are some simple options you can try.
The Power of ‘No’
If you have a habit of saying ‘yes’ to everything, then you are also saying ‘yes’ to more stress.
- When you say ‘yes’ to every new TV programme you are burdening yourself with more shows to keep up with and less time to engage in relaxing activities.
- When you say ‘yes’ to every invitation you maybe wasting your time with relationships that may be of no real value to you. You could instead be using this time to pursue other things you value.
- When you say ‘yes’ to that new social media channel you are stuffing yourself with more information that is valueless and a waste of your time.
- When you say ‘yes’ to that favour someone asked of you, you could be giving away your own precious time rather than using it for your own important things.
Saying ‘yes’ only adds more things to your life that you have to stress or think about. By learning to say ‘no’ you can begin to cut out the needless ‘fluff’ from your life and spend time either relaxing or on the things that are important to you.
Saying ‘no’ to people may seem selfish, but it is your life and you have the right to decide what you do with your own time without feeling guilty. I would also add that by saying ‘no’ you can get some alone time which can prove to be better off for everyone around you.
For example, if you’re stressed out and in desperate need of a rest but do not take time out for yourself because you keep saying ‘yes’ to everyone else, you could eventually pollute the people around you with negativity and anger.
By taking the time to do what you love or to get adequate rest, you can come back in a better mood and in a better frame of mind to help those around you.
I want to add that I am not saying that you should say ‘no’ to everything. The idea is to only say ‘yes’ to things that are of value to you. By saying ‘yes’ to only the most important things in your life, you can filter out the valueless things and begin to cherish the things you have.
When you think about stuff you can add to your life to make it better, remember that it’s actually the opposite that is true.
Elimination is the key to living a more relaxed and simple life.
The Problem with Social Media
I have already discussed why more technology keeps you in a distracted state with an overload of information. But there’s also another angle of why technology, specifically social media, can cause you to become stressed and unhappy.
Studies have shown that social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook can cause us to become more unhappy. One of the main reasons is that most people will only post pictures of the best versions of themselves or the best moments of their life.
You’ll see the latest snaps of your friend looking happy standing on a beautiful beach in the Carribean or maybe they will post a picture of the lobster they had at a luxury restaurant the night before.
Constantly looking at these types of images only makes you feel worse about your own life. You’ll also feel pressure to conform to the idea that you need to be doing luxurious things and always have a polished smile on your face to be happy.
Wrong ideas such as this can seep into your subconscious and programme your mind to believe that this is what reality is really like and that people are always doing exciting things.
Your friend (if they really are a ‘friend’) who posts all the glamour pictures is never going to post a selfie of themselves when they are depressed and sitting in a corner because they are bored out of their mind.
If you still decide to use Social Media, remind yourself that you are seeing the best versions of everyone else, and the people who post the glamour pictures are themselves looking at other people pictures believing that their lives are missing something too.
This false view of reality is not only limited to social media but also in much of the advertising done today.
If you learn this truth or stop using Social media altogether, you can begin to realise that its okay to do the ‘boring’ things and get joy from them. In truth, it’s these ‘boring’ things that you can get the most joy out of and thus, help you relax the most.
The Key to Relaxing: Good Lifestyle Choices
Much of this article mentioned things you can do to relax such as journaling, going for a walk etc. However, I think the most important thing to take away is that how you manage your life and the things you pay attention to are most important to becoming a more relaxed person.
Knowing how to relax is important, but it’s more of a reactive/band-aid method to hide the fact that there are numerous things in your life that are causing you unnecessary stress in the first place.
You can never eliminate all stress from your life, and it’s often said that small amounts of stress can be a good thing, however you want to make sure you aren’t overloading yourself with stress that emanates from an activity, person or thing that doesn’t add value to your life in the first place.
If your dream was to start a business or learn a new language and there is stress that comes from these things then that is inevitable and can be seen as a positive side effect that you are pushing yourself.
What’s more important to you is that the stress comes from something that you value.
However, when you do become stressed you can use some of the strategies outlined in this article.
Hopefully after trying them out, you’ll feel replenished, happy and ready to take on your most important tasks in life.