Relaxation is good for us in the right quantities. But for some people - perhaps you - it’s a constant struggle to achieve it.
Relaxation isn’t just a case of sitting down in front of the television with your feet up. It’s a complicated brain state that many find difficult to achieve.
If you take a look at popular magazines or search results on Google, you soon discover that the quest for true relaxation is universal. People want to be able to unwind genuinely, but find it difficult to do so in the modern world. Our bodies evolved in a time when there were no cities or streetlights, let alone complex jobs requiring an enormous investment of effort and resources.
You’re Constantly In Flight Or Fight Mode
One of the features of stress disorder is the inability to escape fight or flight. Over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system leads to constant fear and depression. And this continuous activation feeds on itself: the more stimulated our flight-or-fight mechanisms, the more likely it is to be activated in the future. It’s a vicious circle.
Getting out of this mental state is the first step toward achieving true relaxation. Cognitive behaviour therapists recommend a couple of strategies.
Avoid Rumination. Rumination, or the act of going over negative thoughts repeatedly in one’s mind, is anxiety-producing. It can put some people in a constant state of fear, preventing them from ever feeling like they can relax. The trick here is to nip any negative thoughts in the bud before they start to happen. Doing this is hard to begin with, but with consistent practice, it is possible. People who suffer from anxiety disorders can find something to focus on, like a stress ball, and repeat a relaxing phrase in their mind, such as “I am safe.”
Don’t Focus On Relaxation. Ironically, the key to relaxing is to prevent oneself from focusing on it. Forcing yourself to relax creates its own pressure, leading to stress and worry. Insomniacs, for instance, are often dogged by thoughts of sleeplessness which themselves cause sleepless nights.
You Drink Alcohol
Alcohol is supposed to be a relaxant - something that people use to unwind. But the problem with alcohol is that it masks the problem, and it often leads to poor decision making. Yes, it helps to prevent feelings of guilt and anxiety temporarily, but it cannot and will not solve the problem.
You Equate Happiness With Success
Modern life wreaks havoc on our body’s reward systems. We are told that to be happy we have to achieve financial and social success and that we need to work hard all hours of the day to accomplish this. But these standards are usually impossibly high: not everybody can be wealthy and have wonderful social relationships. Setting up these unrealistic standards provokes anxiety by ensuring that they are perpetually out of reach for the vast majority of people.
The trick to relaxation is to focus on the moment, rather than the past or future. Relaxation becomes possible when you accept that you are safe and secure right now.