How Relaxation Can Improve Your Health
This past Tuesday was National Relaxation Day, and in my usual fashion, I'm coming in late to celebrate it. Though I don't necessarily need a specific date to entice me to unwind, I'll gladly partake in it. Rest is an incredibly important factor of wellness loaded with emotional and physical benefits. And while sleep is a big component of rest, it's not all we need.
A few weeks ago, Eric and I spent the weekend with my family. My parents live on 5 acres about 45 minutes outside of the city. You can practically feel the pace of life slow with each mile marker. Even though I've never actually lived in the house my parents have now, it still feels like home. We woke up without an alarm, made some fresh coffee, took the dogs on a leisurely walk through a well-worn path in the woods, and returned to a home-cooked breakfast my dad made before heading out to ride horses. I was able to take photos (a hobby of mine) as we enjoyed a rare crisp July afternoon outside. We ended the day sitting around the bonfire, gazing at the stars. I remember thinking, "This has been a perfect day." I felt full, energized, and ultimately relaxed. I also realized it had been quite a while since I'd felt like that.
When is the last time you felt totally relaxed?
Relaxation is defined as the state of being free from tension and anxiety.
(yes, please 🙌🏼)
A sufficient amount of relaxation can relieve stress, increase our creativity, improve our sense of happiness and life satisfaction, decrease anxiety and depression, support our decision-making skills, and enhance our productivity. It can even decrease our blood pressure and improve our immune and cardiovascular systems.
So by all means, for the sake of our health, let's chill out.
Being healthy isn't just about losing weight, eating nourishing foods, and exercising regularly. It's also incredibly important to make sure we are actually enjoying our lives and finding time for things that bring us joy.
So if you've recently thought to yourself, "Wow, I really need a break, like yesterday," then I highly recommend you create space for some much needed relaxation. And while a spa day may top the list of some people's idea of ultimate relaxation, it's important to have a few other go-to activities that are more easily accessible:
1. Spend Time in Nature
Enjoying the great outdoors can increase our concentration, increase our levels of vitamin D, encourage our creativity, and ultimately make us happier. There's even one study that suggests the color green that nature offers can make exercise feel easier. So head to your favorite park with a blanket and a good book, and spend some time just enjoying nature.
2. Find a Hobby
For me, it's photography. I started learning how to use a camera three years ago, after realizing I needed a hobby that didn't involve fitness. It was completely new and exciting, and I loved learning how to use the camera to create different images. So whether it's playing the guitar, knitting, painting, or snapping photos, find an activity you enjoy that requires your full attention and immerse yourself in it.
3. Get Lost in a Story
If you love to read, this is good news: Studies show that reading can help reduce stress levels by 68%. Cognitive Neuropsychologist, Dr. Lewis, said, "This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness." This is one of my favorite parts of my nighttime routine.
4. Get a Pet
I may be slightly biased here. If you know me at all, you know I'm mildly (read: extremely) obsessed with my golden retriever, Luna. But it's not without good reason. Research shows that pets can have major positive effects on our health. Spending time petting or playing with a pet can result in an increase in oxytocin (the love hormone) and a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). Other benefits include lowering blood pressure and aiding in recovery from heart disease. So adopt or borrow a friend's pet, and you'll be feeling chilled out in no time.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Whether you take 10 minutes to enjoy your coffee in your favorite space in your home, or light a candle and practice breath work before bed, take some time to clear your mind and simply be. It doesn't take a lot of time or money, just intention. Click here to learn how to make mindfulness a priority.
So here's to resting easy. And often. What's your favorite way to relax?
*Photo by Kelsey Cherry.