Attack in Westminster: A Call to Love

With news of the recent attack in Westminster, London, I want to share some words of hope.

Firstly, my deep condolences go to the people that were impacted by this attack, and their loved ones. My thoughts are with them at this awful time. I did have friends that were nearby when the attack happened. Fortunately none of them were hurt.

I would like to address the fear that immediately rises up both in the nation, and globally, when these kind of acts of violence happen.

I think it’s important that we, as a human family, continue to learn ways to put that fear down by putting things in perspective.

It’s sad for even one person to be hurt, let alone die, by a terrorist attack. But what’s also sad is the millions of people who could go on to live in fear because of these acts of violence. Some people end up never leaving their home. Others live a life in anxiety.

Fear is by far the greatest challenge we face in these times, and wisdom, hope and love are our antidotes.

Every single day, people in the UK die from suicide, accidents, poverty or other forms of violence. Every day. Does that mean we need to live every day of our lives in despair? Of course not. Not because it’s not sad. But because there’s many positive things happening every single day too.

What we focus on, has a tendency to grow and expand.

Excessive, unreasonable fear is the root cause of so many mental health challenges - anxiety and depression being the most common ones. In addition, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest our physical health is impacted by our mental wellbeing. So learning how to be less fearful and more trusting and positive is a powerful tool for our health and wellbeing. Which in turn leads to a happier, kinder and thereby safer world.

And what is the cause of this fear? Ultimately, it’s focusing on the negative.

Fear says: ‘Don’t leave the house. Watch out for strangers. The world is a horrible, violent, scary place.’

Wisdom says: ‘Hey, there’s about 10 million people living in London and 99.9999% have not being physically touched by this attack. Spending time with our fellow human beings and getting fresh air helps to break down barriers and brings our community together. This will lead to less attacks and less of other forms of illness too, which is far more common. Love and hope is always greater than fear and anxiety. London is open.’

These things will, unfortunately, continue to happen. Whether in London or anywhere else.

Let’s act wisely in these times as best we can. Let’s put the news in perspective. Let’s not just focus on what’s going wrong, but what’s going well. And let’s continue to contribute to the good.

Do the millions of daily acts of kindness hit the ‘Breaking News’ on CNN everyday? No. But that doesn’t mean they are not happening.

So let’s grow more love and kindness in the world today.

How?

Do a random act of kindness. Talk to strangers. Share positive articles like this one. Text an old friend.

The words from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, come to mind:

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

Sending love to you all.

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Leave your comments. I’d love to hear your response to what I’ve shared.

Why Caring for Yourself is SO Hard...and the Scientific Solutions to Make it Much Easier

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart.”
                        
--Pema Chödrön
                    

There are probably many demands on your time and energy, and looking after yourself can easily slip down the to-do list. Perhaps you’re a busy mom, a pressured business executive, or recently bereaved.

When faced with lots of demands, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. When you do look after yourself, your feelings of distress begin to turn into positive eustress, and you’re better able to meet life’s challenges with a smile.

Take a moment to think about how caring owners treat their dog. They wash and groom him, give him sufficient and healthy food, ensure their dog is at the right weight, and exercise the dog every day. They make sure they give their beloved animal time and attention and play games with the dog when out and about. At night they make sure their dog is warm enough and has a place to sleep. So dogs are given food, exercise, fun, love, and rest. And in return the dog gives unconditional love to the owner. We humans also need at least the same sort of love and care to meet life’s challenges with enthusiasm and hope.

Before you start thinking how little you take care of yourself, take a few moments to reflect on how much your body already looks after you. All day and night, your body breathes for you. Your heart beats over 100,000 times in a day to pump blood containing oxygen, nutrients, and immune cells around your body. Your digestive system processes 1,100 pounds of food a year. Your body urges you to eat, sleep, and move around to keep you alive and well. So in all these many ways, your body is taking care of you.

But you have a role to play too. Taking care of yourself involves eating a balanced diet, sleeping sufficiently, and exercising your body. And just as important, you need to make time for socializing, having fun, and doing things you enjoy. Exactly what you need to do to look after yourself is unique to you, and only you can know what the right choices are. By being more aware of your body and mind, you can learn to take better care of yourself.

For example, one client of mine started getting painful spots on his legs. He tried to ignore them and carried on with his high-pressure job. Eventually they became so painful he couldn’t walk and had to get antibiotics from his doctor and take time off work. Now he’s more mindful of his body, and when the spots appear, he needs to make a conscious effort to practice mindfulness and take a little time off. He hasn’t suffered from a severe recurrence of the spots ever since.

For you the warning signs may be a headache, a bout with the flu, painful shoulders, or just dwelling on everything that’s going wrong in your life. Use these signs to remind you to be kind to yourself rather than pushing harder or reprimanding yourself for not being perfect.

This week, I invite you to look at your typical daily activities. You can then identify what, if anything, needs to be adjusted so that you’re nourishing your body and mind, not just depleting yourself.

The Challenge of Taking Care of Yourself

If looking after ourselves were easy, we would all be doing it well. But the reality is, there are challenges that prevent you from taking full care of yourself. Some of them are external factors, and others may just be attitudes in your own mind. Let’s look at a few typical challenges and tips to overcome them.

Lack of willpower is rated as the number-one reason we don’t take effective care of ourselves according to the American Psychological Association. If you know you need to go to bed on time or go for a run, but somehow end up wasting time, you may need some help to boost your self-control. 

Here are some science-based tips to help boost your self-care:

  • Mindfulness meditation increases willpower -- even a few minutes a day can start building up gray matter in areas of the brain that control decision making.
  • Exercise -- People who exercise are more likely to quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, eat more healthily, and even be more careful with their spending habits.
  • Sleep -- The closer you can get to about 7.5 hours of sleep a night, the stronger your willpower will be.
  • Build good habits -- When you’re under stress, you go back to your habits, good or bad. So by having good habits, you will be better able to handle or even enjoy the stress.
  • Being nice to yourself really works -- When you lapse, being self-critical reduces your willpower. One of the most well-tested areas in willpower research is that self-compassion is the most effective way to achieve good, new habits. Remember that you’re only human and can’t be perfect.

Bonus tip - Think you don’t have enough time?

Lack of time is a common reason people give for not taking care of themselves through measures like exercise or cooking a proper meal for themselves. If this is the case for you, I’d recommend you spend a week tracking how you spend your time, hour by hour. 

When I did this, just the act of setting an alarm every hour and writing down how I was spending my time made me much more efficient. I then managed to get to sleep on time rather than surfing online and exercised rather than working unproductively. 

Many time management gurus recommend time tracking as the first step toward using time effectively.

Conclusion

Self-care is important for many reasons. And one of the best way to boost your self-care is to boost your willpower. 

Mindfulness is one of several ways to strengthen your willpower so you make better decisions and are more caring and kind to yourself. Then your mindfulness is helping you to be kindful to yourself!

This post was adapted from Chapter 10 of my book The Mindful Way through Stress.

For 7 videos and a guided meditation, get started on our Kindfulness Course for FREE here.

The best (and worst) Mindfulness and Meditation Jokes of all time

A Meditation student asks their teacher how long it will take them to gain enlightenment if they practice diligently. 
"Ten years," says the teacher. 
"Well, how about if I really work and double my effort?"
"Twenty years."


A Meditation student asked his teacher, "Am I allowed to send you email?"
"Yes," replied the teacher, "But no attachments please." 


Q: Why do mindfulness students love going to airports?
A: Because they always get a free body scan!


Q: Why could the mindfulness teacher not decide which chocolate to buy?
A: Because she was practising choiceless awareness.


Q: What did the meditation teacher say to the business man when teaching him meditation?
A: I want you take three deep, slow breaths....and then…very slowly, let go of your mobile phone.


Q: What’s the most mindful bug in the world?
A: Bees. They are always in ‘be-ing mode’


Q: Why did the meditation teacher give no change when a student paid for a meditation cushion?
A: Because change has to come from within.


Me: Hey buddy, would you like to learn mindfulness?
Friend: Nope...
Me: Why not?
Friend: Mindfulness...that’s crazy...My mind is full enough already!


Why do meditation experts stay away from vacuum cleaners?
Because there’s too many attachments involved.


Why do meditation masters enjoy playing tennis?
Because the scores always start with love, love. The game always begins with a service. And the winner gets a cup that’s empty.


Q: What’s london underground’s way of teaching you to be aware of the silence in your mind?
A: Mind the gap.


When you’re young, you’re always worrying what other people are thinking about you.
When you reach middle age, you no longer care what other people think of you.
And when you’re old, you realise, everyone was just thinking about themselves all along.


I think there’s 4 important things in life. 
Compassion for self and others. Recognising that others have difficulties in life, just like you, and to treat them as you treat yourself. Allowing and accepting things to be as they are in this present moment. Peace of mind is the highest happiness.

Or just remember the acronym CRAP for short.


I’m thinking of going on an online digital detox program.


If your brain and your heart swapped places...what would happen?

When someone suggests a new idea: Great idea, let me feel about it…
When you’re in maths class: What’s 2 + 2?  Easy, it’s love man.
When you’re not using your head: Don’t be so thinky! Use your heart for goodness sake!
When meditating: Let’s practice some heartfulness meditation
When on London Underground: Heart the gap
When playing games: I’m gonna try some heart training games to keep me loving in older age
When a student isn’t focusing in class: ‘Jonny, can you open your heart more please? 


What’s the difference between your friendly yoga teacher and a credit card.
Your yoga teacher is your flexible friend. Your credit card is a piece of plastic.


Why do they keep giving out free chocolate at our meditation retreat?
Because it’s a reTREAT.


For his birthday, one of his students gave the Dalai Lama a big box with a ribbon around it. When he opened the box, he found that it was empty inside. 
"Aha," he exclaimed, "just what I wanted!"

March Update

I hope you're having a positive start to 2017. I'm so grateful for the serendipity that led to a wonderful past 3 months.

In January I visited Gujarat in India to attend a powerful retreat with Nipun Mehta called Gandhi 3.0. Volunteer and friend Audrey did a beautiful write up on the experience. I discovered the transformative power of generosity and love, and had the privilege to meet many people with very kind hearts and open minds. A life-changing experience. I’m doing my best to implement what I learnt at the Museum of Happiness and with my team at Teach Mindfulness as we continue to grow.

In February I attended the annual Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. A very different experience. My friend Chi, who helped organise our Happier World Conference also attended and enjoyed the event. Popular speakers included Jewel, Tami Simon, Dan Siegel and Jon Kabat-Zinn. The key takeaway for me, talking to attendees, was to go beyond just bringing mindfulness and meditation into organisations. That’s just the start. We need to think about how to implement more longer term, positive changes in the culture of organisations. To help organisations go from places of stress, anxiety and anger, to places for creativity, fun, presence and compassion.

In March I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii for the first time! I was supporting my good friend and CEO of an innovative AI startup based called Fido AI in the Bay Area to recharge, with Mindful (Kindful) coaching to offer space for creative thinking and strategy. I loved my time there and we had lots of great ideas that we shall be implementing. I also spent some time on the beach of course! Teaching a free daily 'Hawaii Sunset Meditation Class' on the beach in Maui to people from the local youth hostel was one of the highlights of my trip! One visitor was a social worker and she found the meditation particularly useful and hopes to meditate regularly - heart-warming stuff.

In other news, this month marks the start of some major programs and happiness events, offline and online.

beach.jpg

Our next Teach Mindfulness Online training starts on 21 March. You can read more about it here.

We also launch our next Teach Mindfulness at Work program in March. Apply here.

And last but not least, our Kindfulness 8 week online video class continues to grow in popularity. Sign up for the first 7 days for free to give it a try, without any need to enter your payment details!

March also means it's UN International Day of Happiness on 20th March! We are working with several different happiness organisations to offer Facebook Live online video broadcasts throughout the day. Enjoy talks and stories about how happiness is being spread throughout the world, live, with tips and tricks to implement in your own life.

To receive updates on that, sign up your email on our Museum of Happiness site.

And if you happen to live in London, Karma Kitchen is back for one night only! They are offering their beautiful, delicious, unique pay-it-forward dinner at the Canvas Cafe. Sign up if you’re a Londoner! Highly recommended.

What Everyone Ought to Know About Relaxation [+ FREE audio]

The phrase ‘just relax’ sounds so simple. To relax you really just need to stop ‘doing’. And yet ‘stopping doing’ is easier said than done.

Your life has probably got more demanding over time. In those few moments that you have for yourself, relaxation may seem elusive. You may ask yourself questions like ‘How do I relax?’, ‘What’s the best way to relax?’ or ‘Why am I so stressed all the time?’ 

Here’s how to begin your journey from anxiety and worry to discovering ways to find greater ease and peace in your life.

Understanding Relaxation

Relaxation is a state of mental calm and focus, free from unnecessary bodily tension. Relaxation is associated with a feeling of peace and tranquillity. You can achieve greater relaxation in two main ways:

  • Using relaxation techniques, such as meditation, progressive relaxation or guided imagery.
  • Doing relaxation activities, such as taking a bath, going for a walk, improving your time management skills or playing a sport.

Relaxation techniques reduce your stress and put you into a state of body and mind where you’re deeply relaxed. This effect is called the relaxation response and is the opposite of feeling stressed. When your relaxation response is turned on, positive changes take place in your body and mind. You’re better able to digest food and fight disease. You feel calm and at peace.

Relaxation activities help to reduce stress rather than put you into a state of relaxation. Most relaxation activities don’t engage your relaxation response unless they encourage a calm focus of your attention, such as stroking a cat or doing a hobby that requires gentle attention.

You may not be good at relaxing at the moment, but you can definitely get better at relaxation. Relaxation is a skill and improves with practice. Learning relaxation techniques requires some time and effort, and you get the hang of them through trial and error, just like learning anything new.

Most people say activities like watching TV, having a cup of tea and chatting to a friend are relaxing. These activities do reduce stress and are certainly valuable, but they don’t turn on your relaxation response so they’re stress-reducing but not deeply relaxing. 

The state of relaxation isn’t sleeping. If you use a relaxation technique and you fall asleep, that’s fine but after you fall asleep, you don’t get any better at relaxing – you’re just asleep. In true relaxation you feel calm and free of tension, but quite focused too.

Living a relaxed lifestyle requires relaxing activities, regular practice of relaxation techniques and a relaxed attitude.
 

Discovering the relaxation response

When you’re stressed, your body turns on your stress response. Your blood pressure rises and your body prepares to run or fight. This is a process that’s automatic and hard-wired in your body once triggered. No effective drug currently exists to counteract the harmful effects of chronic stress, so the best way to counteract stress with no known side effects is to regularly elicit your relaxation response.

The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. It is also automatic once triggered in the brain, releasing chemicals in your body that counteracts the stress response. When your relaxation response is activated, the following changes take place in your body and mind:

  • Your muscles relax.
  • Your blood pressure goes down.
  • Your breathing slows down.
  • You use less energy.

The part of your nervous system that controls stress and relaxation is called the autonomic nervous system. This system controls your heart rate, digestion, breathing rate, salivation, perspiration, pupil size, libido and urination. Some of these things are partly under your direct control, such as breathing, but some aren’t, such as your pupil size and perspiration.

The autonomic nervous system has two sides: one side causes you to be stressed, and the other side causes you to relax: the sympathetic nervous system triggers your stress response – it’s like your accelerator.

The parasympathetic nervous system triggers your relaxation response – it’s like your brake. All relaxation techniques are designed to turn down the stress response, controlled by your sympathetic nervous system, and turn up your relaxation response, controlled by your parasympathetic nervous system.

You can think of these two systems as sides of a seesaw. The purpose of relaxation is to bring your seesaw back into balance. If you’re too stressed at the moment, by putting in some relaxation techniques or doing your everyday activities with a more relaxed attitude, these will help to bring greater ease in your life.

Nobody is perfectly balanced all of the time. That’s unnatural and an unhelpful aim to have. However, you can become better at noticing when you’re leaning too far towards stress, and discover ways to shift the balance back, quickly and effectively. Using unhelpful coping strategies to manage your stress, such as isolating yourself, ignoring your problems or drinking excessive alcohol can end up leaning you further towards stress.

Here are the different functions that the autonomic nervous system controls, and what happens when the stress response or the relaxation response are triggered.

Considering different dimensions of relaxation

You can think of relaxation in three dimensions – body, mind and spirit. Effective relaxation operates on all three dimensions. Each of the dimensions is like the legs of a three-legged stool. The stool is balanced in the way that your life feels. If you took a leg out, the stool would be unbalanced. In the same way, if you didn’t give each dimension your proper attention, your life would feel out of balance and stress would creep in more easily.

  • Physical relaxation (body): Using techniques to ease the tension from your body.
  • Psychological relaxation (mind): Using ways of calming your mind, reducing anxiety.
  • Holistic relaxation (spirit): Reflecting on your own meaning and purpose in life, living your life according to your own values, feeling as if you’re making a positive contribution in the world, and developing a sense of ‘wholeness’ in your life.

Spirituality certainly does not require a religious belief.

Looking at the main ways to relax

Here is a brief overview of the main techniques you can use to relax your body, mind and spirit. Although I separate these techniques into three different groups, the groups all overlap. For example, you can’t relax your body using a breathing technique (body) if you don’t also give your full attention to the process (mind) and have a sense of looking after your health (spirit).

Body techniques

Body techniques are based on releasing muscular tension in your body. The main body techniques are:

  • Progressive relaxation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Physical exercise
  • Yoga, t’ai chi and qi gong
  • Biofeedback
  • Massage and self-massage

Mind techniques

Mind techniques are based on being aware of your thoughts, and then stepping back from your thoughts, stopping your thoughts, changing your thoughts to be more realistic and positive, or seeing your thoughts in a different way. Mind techniques help to soothe your mind and include the following:

  • Meditation, including mindfulness
  • Guided imagery
  • Self-hypnosis
  • Cognitive behavioural techniques
  • Music
  • Problem-solving techniques
  • Humour

Spirit techniques

Spirit techniques focus on holistic methods to create greater meaning and purpose in your life, and opportunities to explore old barriers you’ve created between yourself and others. Ultimately they’re not techniques, but ways of living. Spirit techniques include the following:

  • Gratitude and self-compassion
  • Connecting with others through socialising or a shared interest perhaps
  • Prayer, meditation, chanting and singing
  • Volunteering, showing kindness to others and being generous
  • Reflecting on your own inner thoughts and feelings and writing them in a journal
  • Forgiveness

Appreciating relaxation as mind–body medicine

The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.
Hippocrates

In the East, mind and body have always been seen as totally related and interconnected. Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) and traditional Chinese medicine seek to treat body and mind. In the West, however, for many years medicine focused on fixing the body and ignoring a person’s thoughts, emotions and lifestyle as a possible contributor to the disease.

Now we know that mind and body are closely interconnected. The field of medicine called mind–body medicine uses the power of thought and emotion to aid the healing process. Most prestigious medical institutions around the world now have mind–body programmes. Mind-body medicine is no longer considered an alternative treatment to traditional medicine and has become an accepted part of mainstream medicine in some institutions. 

When you’re stressed, you release stress hormones into your bloodstream, affecting all your bodily organs. Negative, aggressive attitudes increase the chance of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cholesterol. Your attitude can affect how long you live with a chronic disease or whether you contract a life-threatening ailment.

For example, research into people living with HIV found that those who had a faith in God, a sense of compassion towards others, a feeling of inner peace, or who were religious, lived longer than those who didn’t have these values. In another study looking at women with late-stage breast cancer, the women in a weekly support group lived twice as long as those who weren’t in the support group.

Not all pressure is bad for you. A sense of pressure releases norepinephrine, which helps create new memories and improves mood. Problems feel like challenges and the creative thinking stimulates new connections in your brain. 

The problem is when pressure becomes too high for you – what I define as stress. You need to reduce your stress, not eliminate all pressure.

Having fun with relaxation

Relaxation is likely to be more elusive if you have a tendency to take life too seriously. If you are under a lot of stress or have depression, you probably don’t think anything is much fun.

Try to work through the exercises and techniques in a lighthearted way. After you find a technique that you enjoy, try to stick to the approach and reap greater benefit from it.

Children are good at having fun. Some researchers claim that children laugh on average 300 times a day, compared with 20 times for an average adult.

Children have fewer responsibilities than adults, but we can still learn from them. You probably laughed a lot as a child and still have that capacity within you to have fun and relax.

Slowly and surely, as you begin to put more ‘me time’ into your life, and enjoy a taste of relaxation from time to time, you’ll find a smile appear on your face when you see the blue sky or the eyes of a child or hear the gentle sound of rain on your roof.

Discovering the Benefits of Relaxation

The more I research relaxation, the more I am astonished by its benefits. This helps to motivate me to ensure that I put relaxing activities and techniques at the top of my list of priorities. Health is important for everyone, and keeping stress at a reasonable level is a vital part of healthy living.

I encourage you to enjoy relaxing through socialising and staying fit, as well as practising daily relaxation techniques to elicit the healing power of the relaxation response.

Effects of relaxation on your body

When you’re stressed, your body is in a state of alarm or shock; your body is acting as if it’s about to be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger. You discover that you’ve no energy to start fighting that flu you have, or digesting breakfast. You’re going to be sabre tooth’s breakfast if you don’t act fast! All your energy goes away from digestion, immune function, reproduction and growth.

When you relax, your body starts working on long-term projects to look after your health and wellbeing. Your immune system and digestion are energised. In a more relaxed state, you’re less likely to get ill, you digest your food effectively and efficiently, and you feel generally more comfortable. Your muscles don’t need to be tense when you relax, because you’re not about to start running or fighting, so you save energy physically.

Research shows that relaxation has a positive effect all the way down to your genes, promoting long-term physical health. Relaxation slows down the rate of ageing by reducing the rate at which bits of your DNA wear out. Relaxation helps you live a longer, healthier, happier life.

Effects of relaxation on your mind and emotions

Relaxation turns on the more advanced, emotionally intelligent part of your brain. When you relax, you can think clearly and don’t focus too much on your worries and concerns. Stress creates a tunnel vision type of thinking, whereas relaxation helps you see things from the stand of ‘the bigger picture’.

Relaxation helps you with creativity. You’re more positive and willing to take risks in your relaxed state of mind. You don’t see everything as a threat but more as an opportunity. A relaxed mind is generally better able to focus. You can do your tasks more efficiently, without wasting energy. You are more hopeful about the future. You feel calmer and happier.

Effects of relaxation on your behaviour

Stress makes you react automatically to most things as if they are a threat, whereas relaxation gives you space to reflect. When you relax, you’re more likely to respond wisely rather than react automatically to a new situation or what someone says. As you’re more focused, you can pay attention to the tasks you need to do and get them done quickly. You complete your work with greater precision and less likelihood of mistakes.

Relaxation improves your relationships. Your emotional intelligence is heightened and you respond to your partner’s requests with more understanding instead of starting arguments.
Being more relaxed means you don’t move from one emergency to another. Instead of living life on survival mode, you step back and think about what you want from your life.

Lower levels of stress mean you don’t snap at your children and other people so often. Your mood is more balanced. Children copy what their parents do, so by being in a relaxed state of mind, you’re better able to offer a positive role model.

Uplifting your spirit with relaxation

If you’re religious, you may pray, chant or attend worship. Your religion can give you social support, offers an opportunity to rest and reflect, and adds meaning and purpose to your life. Through this process, you’re better able to handle difficulties in your life as you see them as part of a bigger picture.

If you’re not religious, spiritual relaxation may mean seeking meaning through art, nature, a hobby, voluntary work, or living in a philosophical or ethically meaningful way. You may practise secular forms of meditation, such as the relaxation response meditation or mindfulness meditation. These techniques are among the most powerful ways to both relax, with all its benefits, and train your brain to be more emotionally positive and resilient in the face of future life demands and challenges.

Letting Relaxation into Your Life

Moving from a stressed, frantic lifestyle to one of relaxation and calm focus isn’t an instant process. It has taken years to build up the various habits and tendencies that compound the stress in your life, so it will take some time to undo the stress – perhaps not years but at least a few months.

A life of greater relaxation is built on having the right attitude to relaxation in the first place. From there, you may like to take stock of how stressed you are and the causes of your stress.

Doing relaxation techniques without knowing the source of your stress may help you a little, but the underlying causes will still be there. A balanced combination of relaxation together with sorting out the specific causes of your stress is best, whether the cause is your inner thought processes or external demands.

Clarifying where you’re starting from

Many of my clients first realise they have an issue with stress when they become ill, either with a physical illness such as a heart problem or with a psychological illness such as depression, clinical anxiety or panic attacks.

Humans are creatures of habit. To begin living a more relaxed lifestyle takes some determination and time. If you’re a motivated and disciplined person, you can probably follow my suggestions easily. But if you’re like many people, finding the time and inner resolve to carry out the relaxation techniques, or reorganise your life balance to begin living in a more relaxed and calm way, is a big challenge. 

The first step is to take stock of how your life is going at the moment, how much tension you carry around with you, how agitated and irritable you are on a daily basis, and what your health’s like. Some exercises will help you identify how stressed you are and how urgently you need to begin your journey from too much stress to a relaxed, calm, focused way of living.

Overcoming resistance to relax

There may be a range of reasons why you don’t actively pursue relaxation in your life. Here are some possible reasons and what to do if they apply to you:

  • You don’t know how to relax. You know you need to relax, but whenever you have the time, you simply read a paper or call up a friend. But you still feel a constant underlying tension in your body and worries in your mind. You don’t know how to let that tension go. Trying out the relaxation audio tracks and creating a relaxation plan will help you. 
  • You don’t think you have time to relax. You wake up as late as possible and rush from one task to another. Any spare time is filled with errands to do, or you have a very low energy level. Time management skills can help you to find time to relax. If the President of the United States can find time to relax, you can too.
  • You feel guilty or ashamed spending time on relaxation. This is a common reason. We live in a society where anything we do for ourselves feels selfish. But remember, when you’re on a plane, you’re always instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before you help another, even your child. Why? Because if you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after others. It’s the same with relaxation. If you don’t take time to rest, you get ill and inefficient. How can you then help others? If anything, it’s selfish not to take out time to relax.
  • You don’t think you need to relax, despite your lack of health or wellbeing. You may think stress is just ‘normal’. You may ignore health warnings and put them down to everyday modern living. Looking more carefully at any symptoms of stress you’re experiencing may help you to see how high your stress levels are, and how urgently you need to act. If you have a stress-related illness, a visit to your doctor may motivate you to take action. 
  • You don’t have the willpower to relax. You know what you need to do to relax, but can’t find the inner resolve to actually carry it out. Crashing out in front of the TV or staying in bed for an extra 20 minutes instead of doing your daily relaxation is just too tempting. Your stress makes you feel fatigued and you get into a negative cycle, unable to find the energy to relax. Reading a book such as this, joining a relaxation or exercise class, or relaxing with a friend can give you a little nudge in the right direction.

If you keep putting off your relaxation time, practise a relaxation technique for a minute. Tell yourself ‘I’ll do just one minute now, and do more if I feel like it’. Most of the time, people start to enjoy the relaxation technique and extend the time they spend on it.

Starting to use relaxation techniques and activities

If you’re like most of my stressed-out clients, you make little time for relaxation. You may lead a very busy and intense lifestyle with a lot of responsibilities or work in an environment that’s very challenging for you. You may like the idea of relaxing more but just don’t know where to go or what to do. But you do know that something needs to change. 

Everyone is different. Every person has a completely unique upbringing, set of genes, attitudes and life experiences. Each person achieves a balance of relaxation techniques and activities that’s right for them. No one perfect technique works universally for everyone. The techniques for relaxation have been tested on thousands of people and found to work for the majority of people, but you need to find your particular preference.

Building relaxation into your daily life

To live a more relaxed and healthy life, more able to cope with the pressures that life throws at you, I recommend you practise a relaxation technique daily that you enjoy and that’s suitable for your temperament and personality. 

Try to look for opportunities to ease off from time to time. You don’t have to wait till your stress levels are sky high and you have a stomach ulcer before you reach for this book. As mindfulness meditation expert Jon Kabat-Zinn says, ‘Weave your parachute every day rather than leave it to the time you have to jump from the plane.’ 

Practise relaxation when you feel relatively calm as well as when you feel stressed, to buffer you against future stressors. For example, if you’re waiting in traffic, do some deep breathing. When you’ve finished writing your report, go for a gentle stroll around the block. After putting the children to bed, soak in the bath for a while. Do some mindful yoga stretches at home before you head to your aerobics class. Be creative and think of clever ways to integrate relaxation in your life. In this way, relaxation becomes a way of life that you look forward to instead of yet another thing to add to your ‘to do’ list.

Here are a few suggestions to build relaxation into the daily grind:

  • Use ‘waiting time’ as time to do some simple relaxation techniques. You could do some guided imagery as you wait in the queue at the post office.
  • Each time you finish one activity, and before you start another, take a few moments to relax. For example, once you arrive home in your car, just sit for a few moments and connect with one of your senses to help you to let go of the stresses of driving before entering your home.
  • Make a list of things you do on a typical day. See if there are any activities you find draining that you can stop, and any activities you find relaxing that you can start or do more of. For example, cut out surfing online everyday and join a local meditation class instead.

Everyone has days when they don’t feel like doing their relaxation technique or find relaxation boring. That doesn’t mean you need to give up. Just like going to the gym, you reap the rewards from relaxation in the long term.

Try to keep practising, whether you like it or not, and then enjoy the benefits. With experience and practice, you’ll come to enjoy using relaxation techniques and be able to enter a state of relaxed focus and inner calm within a very short time – that’s something to look forward to! Just be as patient with yourself as you can, and you’ll get there in time.

Ready to relax? If you're want to ease the tension in your body, try this progressive muscular relaxation audio from my book. Proven to be effective in many studies. Feel free to download and share. 

 This blog post is an extract from my book Relaxation for Dummies. The  full book includes lots more guided audios and details on how to do 20 different relaxation techniques. 

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