Those words used to be like a nail on a chalkboard. People telling me to relax would make me even more angry and stressed out than I was possibly feeling before they said those two words. How did they know I needed to relax? Maybe I was just excited about something. Maybe I was deep and thought about a decision I had to make. Regardless, it irritated me.
Nowadays, I don’t take it so personally when someone tells me that I need to relax. Instead, I respond by using it as a way to self reflect on what they may be seeing in me that I am not. It is a great reminder to consider whether I am feeling more irritable than normal, more tired, more unfocused. Relaxing has been a hard thing for me for most of my life. However, I think I am getting a better grasp on it these days than ever before. So, someone telling me to relax is a good reminder that I may or may not be as “chill” as I think I am.
Why do we need to relax?
Perhaps the best place to start is to consider why someone even needs to relax. What do we think people will gain if they could just relax more? Well, we know that stress is really unhealthy for humans. Our fight or flight hormone system was programmed a million years ago so our bodies would be primed to run when the saber-toothed tiger was creeping toward us in the woods. Our adrenaline system is designed to help us react quickly and dramatically to situations, and then shut down. However, with our fast-paced, alert filled lives in modern times, doctors have concerns that we are constantly in this fight or flight state. Long periods of time in this state can cause negative health issues like weight gain, loss of focus, irritability, exhaustion, heart issues, and more. Thus, relaxation allows us to get ourselves out of the fight or flight state and reset.
Relaxing vs escaping:
There is a difference, however, between relaxing and escaping. Relaxing is removing ourselves from something that causes us stress so that our minds and rest and we can return better than before. Escapism is removing ourselves from something that causes us stress so that we can turn off our mind and better DEAL with something upon return. We don’t want to escape from our lives. We want to relax and always be moving forward through the aggregation of marginal gains. Those aspects of our lives that we are escaping from will prevent us from moving forward.
Everyone is different when it comes to what causes us stress, how we know when stress is too much, and what we need to do to recharge. However, there are a lot of common themes we can point to. When you are feeling constantly tired, irritable, or sick, you probably need to relax a little. If you are eating more than normal, or never have an appetite, these can be signs of too much stress.
How do we relax:
A great way to relax and recharge is to sleep. Sleep is a great form of separation that allows us to recharge. Similarly, taking walks or find another mindless activity will work wonders. Relaxing isn’t about turning off our brains, that’s how you escape. Relaxing is about refocusing the brain onto a task that allows your brain to rest and refresh. Some people use hobbies, like shooting, chopping wood, fishing, painting, etc. to relax the mind. Others use exercise. When your workout is really intense, you can’t do much more than focus only on what you are doing right now.
Anyone who says they never need to relax is lying to you. They relax, they just relax differently than you do. Some people need big periods of relaxing, like going away for a long weekend or a week long beach trip. Some people can get away with what I call “micro relaxing.” Micro relaxing is short periods of time throughout your day where you relax your brain and let it focus on something easy and repetitive. Micro Relaxing might include working out for an hour, listening to some classical music on your drive home, or reading a good book for thirty minutes during the middle fo the day.
If you want more information on relaxing, and how it is different than escaping, check out our podcast episode.