You probably have no idea how to relax. I mean how to really relax – to actually remove stress from your life. But don’t worry – you’re not alone. Learning how to truly relax – how to not just sit around and take it easy, but actually actively removing stress from your mind and body – is a skill that most Westerners don’t take their time to develop.
You might be wondering what I mean by “actively” removing stress. Actively removing stress is actually taking steps – performing some sort of action – to remove stress from your life. You see, most people do nothing and hope that the stress will just disappear on its own. “Sit on the couch, turn on the TV and let your mind go blank” is what many people think relaxing is, but that isn’t relaxing – it isn’t even close.
Sitting Around Doing Nothing Doesn’t Get Rid Of Stress – It Just Doesn’t Add Any More
If you want to get rid of stress, you have to do something to remove it. You have to take action; I know that may not be what you want to hear, and may sound counter-intuitive, but trust me on this.
There’s already many things in your life actively creating stress, right?
- Working a tough job
- Paying non-stop bills
- Taking care of pets
- Taking care of kids
- Dealing drama queens and kings
- Going back to school
- Falling home values
- The crippled economy
The list goes on and on. With so many things actively adding stress to you life, you’ll never keep up if the only thing you do to get rid of it is sit around and wait for it to go away. Stress is very sticky, and doesn’t like to leave on it’s own. If you don’t try to take care of it, you may think that it’s left, but really it’s just sitting there waiting to rear its ugly head the next time your life gets crazy again.
Ways To Actively Remove Stress From Your Life
There are a lot of good ways to de-stress yourself and really let your mind and body heal. You probably already know what they are, but you’ve never wanted to try them for various reasons. Here’s a few of my favorites:
1) Take a hot bath
This is definitely one of my favorites. You can do it any time you want, and it doesn’t cost too much money. Feel free to pick up some bath salts and bubbles from Walgreens (it doesn’t have to be from an over-priced aromatherapy place at the mall) to make the most of your tub-time.
I like eucalyptus and any sort of mint to help soothe sore muscles, or if you’re not working out hard enough to really be sore then lavender is great for general relaxation. Pickup whatever is your favorite though.
Really do it up too. Try to take a bath when you’re going to have some peace and quiet in the house. I like to bring my iPhone into the bathroom and put on the “Spa” channel on Pandora for some soft music. Burn a candle too, and really get all your senses into it, and let stress melt away.
2) Get a massage
This one – if you get a good massage therapists – can be HUGE. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you know someone that can give you an occasional back rub, but it’s not the same. A real massage therapist can work out massive kinks and pains, will put you into deep relaxation, and will have a studio where everything is set to maximize your massage time.
If you’re not comfortable with going to a massage therapist, find someone that will work with you and your fears. A good therapist will let you keep as much clothes on as you want, and will do anything to make you comfortable with the experience. Soft music, pleasant smells, and warm sheets will all work to help you relax.
They can be expensive, so call around to get introductory offers. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on something that isn’t truly amazing.
3) Tea and a book
A cup of herbal tea and a good book can go a long way. Make sure its non-caffeinated though. I know, I know… I’m a caffeine-fiend myself, but caffeine stimulate your adrenal gland, which runs counter to what we’re trying to achieve here.
Image by aclintonb on Flickr
I’ve never gotten very in-depth with this one, but Dr. Junger highly recommended it in the book Clean. From speaking with people who have delved into this art, it really isn’t necessary to sit cross-legged on the floor chanting, “Oooooooooooommmm….” in order to meditate.
Anything you do that lets your mind freely wander can be meditation. For myself, running is the best form of mediation I’ve ever tried. No other exercise really does it – I think it has something to do with the steady repetition. The bottom line is, find whatever works for you.
5) Try Yoga
Now, there’s a lot of types of Yoga out there, and a few of them aren’t right for relaxing. In fact, during a power Yoga session I hurt my back badly enough to be out of work for a week straight. None too stress-relieving, let me tell you.
I’d suggest finding a good Hatha or Iyengar Yoga studio. These two styles are much more meditative, and about deep breathing and flow of movement, which is exactly what you want. Many of them will even have a little guided meditation at the end of the session to help you fully relax and de-stress.
You’re going to want to stay away from Bikram Yoga, or anything labeled “hot” or “power” Yoga. These practices are wonderful – don’t get me wrong – but they’re not going to help remove oodles of stress from your life, and often times they’ll be adding some to it.
6) Add Heat
This is definitely one of my favorites. Sitting in a hot room – whether it’s a traditional dry sauna, steam room, infrared sauna, Turkish bath or a Native American sweat lodge – has been considered a healing practice for thousands of years.
Anytime people have been doing something that long in the name of health generally means there’s something to it.
I personally love the feeling of quickly going back and forth between a steam room or sauna, and cold, clear water. In many Scandinavian countries they have saunas on the shores of pristine, glacier-fed lakes. They’ll heat up in the sauna and then jump into the icy waters, back and forth, as many times as they need.
Since I don’t have access to a glacial lake here in Milwaukee (just Lake Michigan, which isn’t all the pristine, let me tell you…), I normally just hop into the shower to cool off. I go back and forth, clearing out my pores with buckets of sweat, and washing it away with cold water.
Normally after two or three times I feel like I’ve sweated out all the toxins in my body, and my whole week feels better after one of these sessions. Try it – you just might like it 🙂
Why People Don’t Try To Actively Remove Stress
There’s a lot of reasons why people don’t try to actively remove stress from their lives, but none of them are particularly good reasons. I’ll try to address some of the more common reasons I’ve heard.
1) There’s No Scientific Proof That It Benefits Your Health
This is one that is a personal peeve of mine. It’s true that many of the ways of relieving stress – such as taking a bubble bath or meditating – can’t produce measurable results, but not everything in life is based in science. Not to mention, there’s no scientific proof that taking steps to remove stress doesn’t help.
Far too often the medical community assumes something is false until proven otherwise, but that simply isn’t the case, nor does it follow the scientific method. Instead, the correct stance is:
Something is unknown until proven either false or true.
Until someone proves that taking bubble baths or meditating does absolutely nothing beneficial for your mind or body, or better yet, proves that they’re detrimental to your health, I’m going to keep being a proponent of them.
2) We’ve Been Convinced That Taking Care Of Ourselves Is For Wimps
Somehow, somewhere along the line, we’ve been sold a huge lie:
That it’s good to be tough, and being tough means treating yourself like crap.
I’m not sure how this came about. Maybe Hollywood sold us on this bill of goods from the likes of Dirty Harry and essentially every character Bruce Willis has ever played. Or maybe it’s from our distorted idea of success, seeing people throw the health of their bodies and minds down the drain in order to make more money and try to become a titan in their industry.
Whatever the cause for this ideology, it really couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, tough guys don’t go from eating burgers and downing whiskey shots at the bar, to fighting off three guys at once, followed by a 30 minute long pure action-sequence… No, in reality those guys get too excited watching a football game and die of a heart attack at the age of 37.
The reality is, tough guys take care of themselves. I learned this from my time spent in mixed martial arts. After one particularly tough workout, Adrian (the guy that owned the place) recommended people take a hot bath when they get home, or go for a nice stroll, or put on soft music and stretch.
This made a lot of the newer guys – including myself – chuckle cause we all thought he was joking. But every experience fighter there just nodded their heads in agreement. They knew what was up, and knew that he wasn’t kidding.
He’s had over 140 professional fights to his name, and there’s only one way to have that kind of longevity in such a physically demanding field – by actively removing the stress inflicted by hours of training every day for six or seven days a week.
He’s not the only one. Many people have heard the stories of Fedor Emelianenko – the winningest MMA fighter of all time – and his “Banya” (an ancient Russian sauna) rituals. To quote the great fighter himself:
“Just resting all weekend can’t help your body to recover, but banya does.” And as for going for a walk in nature to recover, he has this to say, “”The air is so fresh in the country, it helps to recover your strengths.”
And Just In Case An MMA Legend Doesn’t Convince You
Just think of it like taking care of your car. Changing the oil and spark plugs on your car doesn’t mean that it wasn’t well made, right? It doesn’t mean it’s any less tough of a vehicle just because you have to perform some maintenance on it, right?
As a matter of fact, I bet you that most race cars and off-road racers get WAY MOREmaintenance than your car does. And it’s obvious why that is: the harder you push the vehicle, the more maintenance it needs.
This is no less true when it comes to you body as when it comes to your car. The more stress you put yourself through in your life, the more you must do to remove the effects of that stress.
Hopefully now you have some real, actionable ways to remove all that stress that finds its way into your life. Many thanks to our reader Jenn for inspiring me to write this post!