I won’t even ask if you’ve experienced increased levels of stress this year. I’m pretty sure that I know the answer and I’m pretty sure that you’ve had enough. But, it keeps on coming so let’s work on building in some recovery time.
Stress can be good and used to our advantage. We have to stress something to strengthen it. Think about the muscular system. We lift weights to strengthen our muscular system, we do aerobic exercise to strengthen our cardiac muscle. Stress can be useful.
We also need to recover. We cannot go back to the gym day after day and do the same lifting routine, we can’t run a marathon every day or ride our pelotons for hours on end with no break. Eventually, we hit a wall, have a detraining effect and we will likely get injured.
Your mental and emotional muscles need a break too. We need time to recover. It’s not an option, it’s a necessity. However, this is not how many of us have been trained to think. Most of us were taught to work hard, keep pushing, be relentless, no excuses, just do it. We didn’t have someone on the sidelines telling us to take a nap, take a break, knock off early and go do something fun, you need some time to recover.
There is a price to pay when you continue to drive yourself relentlessly and it’s your wellbeing and happiness.
More, in this case, is not better. We need to recover physically, emotionally, and mentally. We must allow ourselves this time to function at our best and to experience happiness in our lives.
You may be thinking that there is no way that you can slow down now. Covid has made an already stressful life and schedules even worse. I agree with you. The pandemic has brought an entirely new set of challenges. But, what if we shift the focus from what is out of our control to what is within our control?
Highly successful and happy people build-in recovery time. I’ll share some options ranging from little changes in your day to more substantial and long term changes. Let’s start small.
- 20-20-20 rule for your eyes. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away from the screen at something in the distance that is about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Give your eyes a break. Allow them to rest.
- Then, do some gentle neck stretches. Sit or stand with good posture. Think about opening your chest, pulling your shoulders back while keeping them relaxed, rib cage lifted. Gently lower your chin towards your chest feeling a stretch in the back of your neck. Take 2-3 deep breaths and lift your head back up. Next, slowly tip your head to the right bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Keep the shoulders down and relaxed and take 2-3 deep breaths. Repeat on the left side. Finally, do some gentle neck rotations turning your head slowly to the right and left allowing your neck muscles to relax and your distance vision to work as you look around the room.
- Change your state. For every 60-90 minutes of focused work, you need to take a break. Focus on one thing at a time and you will be much more productive. Shut off the phone, close down the email and concentrate solely on the task at hand. Set a timer for 60-90 minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and move. Go for a quick walk, eat, check your emails, make a call, put on your favorite song, and dance. Change your state, do something different, and then go back to work.
- Just Breathe. We’ve heard it before, right? But do we practice regular deep breathing or do we take for granted that we have this unique ability to calm our stressed-out system?
- When we do deep diaphragmatic breathing, we activate the Relaxation Response. That name was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson decades ago. We often hear about the fight or flight response – the stress response. Our incredible bodies can also flip the switch and activate the relaxation response. When we breathe deeply we stimulate the vagus nerve which tells our body it’s time to relax. The cool thing is you can feel the benefits immediately. The really cool thing is that when you practice this simple and brief exercise, you may be benefiting on a much deeper level. There is research suggesting that deep breathing can reduce stress, anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and much more.
Next time you feel the need for a little recovery, a decrease in stress, a boost of happiness and overall wellbeing, stop and take three deep breaths.
Sit in your chair with good posture, lengthen your spine, shoulders back and relaxed, rib cage lifted, and chest open. Imagine that there is a balloon inside of your torso and as you take a deep breath in through your nose, that balloon inflates and expands. You feel your belly expand, your rib cage open, and your chest rise. As you exhale, picture the balloon deflating as you allow your body to relax and let go. Repeat 3 deep breathing cycles.
Compare how you feel before and after using these tools. In the next blog, I’ll talk about recovery through a good night’s sleep.
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