Four Ways to Get More Rest and Relaxation in Your Life
It may be among the most famous examples of idle thoughts turned into genius. After seven years of frustrating, difficult work, Albert Einstein decided to take a break from a series of intense mathematical calculations. As the days passed and he let his mind wander, Einstein was struck by the kernel of the idea that he would eventually turn into the theory of relativity.
Of course, not all of us have the same lightning-bolt intellect as Einstein, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics. But all of us require the ordinary ingredient that led to Einstein’s insights: a break from daily obligations for rest and relaxation.
Unfortunately, we’re getting less and less time off from schedules, to-dos and obligations, for example:
- Only 23 percent of Americans took their full amount of vacation days in 2017, according to a report by job site Glassdoor.
- Lower achievement in school and lack of physical growth directly correlate with kids who don’t get enough rest.
- Teens spend only about six minutes a day relaxing and thinking, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- And for adults that number climbs to just 16 minutes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If we’re always doing, moving and releasing active hormones, such as cortisol, we can’t sleep even when bedtime hits, experts say. “This is made worse by the fact that people stay on their phones or computers right up until bedtime, stimulating the brain and making it nearly impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Dr. Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute of Stress.
Does the lack of downtime matter, even if we're not going to make world-changing discoveries, like Einstein? Quite simply: Yes.
While resting, your brain makes connections that it’s otherwise unable to make when you’re active. Scientists have found that while concentrating, your mind “turns off” a set of brain regions. However, when your thoughts wander, those disconnected regions establish complex connections that have become known as the default mode network. They control vision, hearing, movement, attention and memory. So, when you give your brain a break, it’s doing work that it’s otherwise unable to do, including evaluating what’s happened to you and coming up with new ideas.
“We are in a society that believes in hard work and determination, yet have not embraced the importance of allowing our bodies to heal in order to continue on with the hard work,” says Buff Donovan, a licensed social worker and HAP’s director of Coordinated Behavioral Health Management.
4 ways to get more R&R
Knowing you need more rest is an idea we can all get behind. But getting more rest? That may seem as out there as Einstein’s E=MC2. Here are four ideas to make relaxing more real than imaginary, and give your brain and your body time to reboot.
Schedule it. It may sound contradictory, but scheduling downtime is a simple way to help create a new habit. Start with a once-a-week appointment, say 10 minutes, that you put on your digital or paper calendar. When that time rolls around, put away your devices and find a quiet place to sit, with no agenda or goals.
Journal. Get creative by giving yourself space and time to jot down ideas, inspirations and observations. Schedule your journaling time, if necessary.
Use technology. A variety of apps, many of them free, can help you carve out vital rest time. Lynne Goldberg, a meditation coach and cofounder of the Breethe app, credits meditating with helping her recover when the building blocks – marriage, pregnancy, her mother’s health – fell apart. “When you meditate, you’re giving your body cues that you are OK, that nothing bad is happening, and you’re changing your physiological reaction,” she says. Apps like hers make it simple and easy to routinely get a few minutes to pursue mindfulness.
Breathe. Resting doesn’t have to equal a long nap or an entire afternoon with no to-dos. If you feel hurried or anxious, practice simple breathing techniques. “Deep breathing helps slow the heart rate and clears the mind,” Goldberg says. Try one of these two breathing techniques:
Belly breathing: Sit comfortably, one hand on your belly, one on your chest. Breathe in deeply, feeling your belly hand push out. Breathe out, “pushing” in with your belly hand. Repeat several times.
4-7-8 breathing: Sit as if you’re belly breathing, but when you take a breath in, count to 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7, then breathe out to a count of 8. Repeat several times.