Relaxation Is Not A Option
Relaxation is not an option.
...it is an essential
We tend to think of leisure time as something optional, maybe because during leisure time we get to choose what we do with it.
You must shift your thinking about this immediately.
Apart from the fact that we also have autonomy over our work (if it doesn’t feel like it, that is a whole other discussion), relaxation should be non negotiable.
Our bodies and minds are in one of two modes at any given time: the stress response or the relaxation response.
Stress response is our emergency state, fight or flight. It is meant to be a temporary state where your whole system is on red alert to fight or flee the very immediate threats like tigers, neighbouring tribes etc. We are only designed to be in stress response for 4 minutes because in that time (cavedweller) you either get away from, or kills the threat.
Relaxation response is when all healing, maintenance and repair in the body happens.
It should be our default state.
It is a great shame that it is named the relaxation response, because that implies an optional state that you might be able to give yourself for some of the weekends and holidays (as long as you do your 60 hour week perfectly).
I would like to rename it the normal response.
Victims of Our Own Success
Our brain is a victim of its own success. It has worked out how to come out of caves, and create the culture and technology that enables us to live a life without constant threats.
And with this we want more.
We want more security, more stability, more for our children, more opportunities.
Cavebrain, however, is still part of the operating programme for your brain. It is still installed because on an evolutionary level you are still a cavedweller. Cavebrain is on the lookout for threats. It is a mental bouncer who believes we are still cavedwellers.
This podcast episode on Cavebrain will explain all this in greater depth.
Now modern day life provides plenty of threats that are not immediate: threats to your future, your status, your children’s future. Financial worries. Stupid politicians. The environment. Some are real but far off, and others are potential. Yes ,your job might be at risk. You might lose that important client...but you might not. Everything could work out fine.
Not to mention airbrushed perfectionism that tells you you are ugly if you do not look like a film star.
Cavebrain just treats those future and potential problems as immediate threats and left to its own devices, puts you in the stress response.
Stress is at the heart of all the modern day diseases we have. It contributes to inflammation of the body and brain, which some experts say is the root cause of so many physical ailments and disease. Stress stops you digesting food, and can lead to binge/chaotic eating. It stops you burning calories so well.
The answer is not to let cavebrain get to the point where it is allowed to put you on red alert.
You have to use that big modern brain, your neo-cortex, to manage your life so the mental bouncer called Cavebrain doesn’t. You have to filter the input from the outside world so you manage these non immediate/potential threats.
You have to live with uncertainty. Death and taxes (and reading glasses, as my friend Nick likes to say) are the only certainties in life. Don’t make the mistake of making potential threats like losing a client/your job inevitable in your mind in order to give yourself some certainty. Worrying (hyper awareness of a threat without taking action) is something to weed out of your mind, not be proud of.
It is incredibly humbling and a healthy blow to your ego to realise that certainty is an illusion. We can’t invent it, even with our neo-cortex.
Let’s repeat: relaxation is not an option. So you have to train yourself to prioritise it. Here are some ideas:
*Have a time of day after which you absolutely will not work. Or, if that is a step too far, give yourself max 3 days a month you are allowed to work beyond that time.
*Environmental/physical you can make and routines to set up to tell yourself you have ended work and are now starting the evening or weekend:
Change your clothes
Go to bed for a nap (When I am feeling stressed I like to listen to a fiction audiobook
Watch a particular
Take make up off
Take a shower
Apply a face or handcream with a particular smell (to embed the signal to relax in
your sense of smell)
Read something light (fiction)
*Eating slowly. You can also use this to slow your mind down in the middle of a manic day (may be easier if you are eating alone)
*Can you work less hours and work smarter? Can you take a day a week - maybe not off work, but for forward planning, to do your paperwork which stresses you out?
*Set what seem like too short time limits for tasks. Sometimes this works! If I am brainstorming ideas and I feel I have too many or not enough ideas, what helps is only allowing myself ten or 15 min to brainstorm. This seems to say “it is OK, it’s
only a bit of work” to my brain, which can the relax a bit and creativity starts to flow.
*Pleasureable foods. To discuss in coaching sessions. Are you getting enough taste and enjoyment from your food?