The other night, I meant to chill on the couch with a book. First, though, I decided to neaten up the family room. On a roll, I then tackled a pile of mail on the kitchen counter. When I went to grab a paper clip, I noticed our junk drawer was a disaster, so I organized that. An hour and a half later, I felt content to see everything in its place…and too zonked to read.
I relax just fine when I’m away on vacation, but in daily life, my to-dos come first. “In our work-driven culture, we perceive relaxation as nonproductive—it often becomes a reward for getting stuff done,” says Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute in Atlanta and the Mindful Living Network. Trouble is, the tasks are never-ending (hashtag Sisyphus). Add in a jam-packed schedule and it’s no wonder leisure time morphs into chore time.
Yet kicking back is hardly an unproductive activity; experts say that it keeps us healthy and happy. And research shows that regular de-stressing can help ward off heart disease and obesity, act as a buffer against depression, and even boost immunity against colds. Plus, when you’re calm, you perform tasks smarter and more efficiently, leaving you with time to—wait for it—relax. Check out these strategies and inspiration for R in R: relaxing in reality.
First, relax your body
It’s hard to sink into a state of zen if you’re one big ball of knots. “When you live a life full of demands, your body regularly releases adrenaline and cortisol, increasing energy expenditure that can result in muscle tension,” says Gregory Fricchione, MD, director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Try progressive muscle relaxation: Tense the muscles in your toes for at least five seconds, relax for 30, and repeat, working your way through the muscle groups up to your neck and head.