Do you find it hard to switch off when you finish work?
Are you exhausted trying to juggle the household and keep everyone in the family happy?
Are you wound tighter than a two dollar watch and don’t know how to unwind?
You’re not alone; surveys show that up to 70% of employees find it difficult to unwind after work and are worried about their job outside of their working hours.
It’s important for us all to get some downtime to allow us to relax and recharge. We are not designed to go full steam ahead 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 365 days – year in and year out.
If you don’t factor some ‘me’ time into your daily routine then it could be forced upon you and if you get sick then you’re not going to be of any use to yourself, let alone those around you.
The best analogy I immediately think of is the advice given during every safety briefing after you board any aircraft and they always tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before you attempt to assist others.
Unwinding can take so many forms and does not need to occupy too much of your time. I think the key is to be able to switch off from all the things filling your head and you being able to focus on something else you enjoy doing that occupies your attention and distracts you.
When I was growing up, no shops were allowed to open past midday on Saturdays or anytime on Sundays and many people chose to spiritually recharge at a regular religious service. Many others took that time to sleep in, or visit friends and family or get out and enjoy the great outdoors, while others stayed in and watched TV. Yours might be to work up a sweat in the garden or run a marathon or to sit quietly and knit or crochet.
Today, shops and businesses often operate 7 days a week, many with extended hours of trading and we operate on a 24 hour news cycle so we don’t always have the luxury of getting regular time off.
Whether you’re being active or inactive, it’s important to give yourself some regular idle time to allow you to switch off, which will help rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit.
Unwinding when Stressed.
Distracting the brain is an important component to start the unwinding process, especially when you’re under any stress or pressure.
This rang home to me the weekend before last, when my 31 year old severely disabled nephew Matthew was rushed to the emergency ward at Westmead Hospital with suspected Coronavirus.
As Matt was born 16 weeks premature, his lungs didn’t get a chance to develop fully so he is often plagued with respiratory issues.
He was placed in quarantine and as his enduring guardian I was suited up in a hazmat type gown and gloves and mask until we were all cleared of Covid-19. While it was a relief he didn’t have coronavirus, it turned out to be our biggest fear – aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by him inhaling food into his lungs and I spent the night by his side as he was given massive amounts of antibiotics intravenously and kept overnight for observation. I’m delighted to say he’s now making a good recovery.
By the time I arrived home after all the drama, I’d been awake for over 30 hours but I just couldn’t switch off or even start to unwind, let alone go to sleep.
I tried reading but my mind kept drifting back to the events at the hospital and found I was reading the same page over and over again but not taking anything in.
I thought I might be able to distract my mind by watching some TV but all that managed to do was make me more anxious as Covid-19 was at the centre of every news bulletin and my mind was working overtime.
What finally helped me relax was concentrating on something inane and repetitive to force my brain to focus on the task at hand.
Crosswords, Wordscape, Sudoku and Solitaire are my favourites and on this occasion all of them received quite a workout until I was able to clear the clutter in my head.
Other times I find it great to unwind by painting and doing craft.
Take a Hot Shower or Bath
There are so many benefits, when you’re trying to unwind, to a relaxing bath or a nice hot shower. The water relaxes your muscles, the steam does wonders for your sinuses and you can feel the stresses of the day float away. Adding Epsom salts to your bath is an easy way to get much needed magnesium into your system, which also helps relieve muscle cramps. Adding essential oils to the bath water can help in many ways too. Lavender oil is relaxing and eucalyptus helps clear the mind.
One of my dear friends is a hairdresser, who stands on her feet all day with her arms raised chest height and above for a great deal of the time. She often gets hair she’s cut embedded in her skin. Her joy is a relaxing bubble bath at the end of each day to soothe her muscles and help her unwind and relax in silence.
Find some ‘me’ time
Many friends of mine, who are self-employed or run their own business, are reluctant to take a real holiday, let along take a day off. As a sole trader who has been freelancing myself since 1990, I must admit I’m guilty of this too. Case in point; I’m writing this article on a Sunday.
If that’s you, then making a commitment to take some time for yourself and actually blocking out some designated times in your diary to do so, will help you stick to your relaxation plan.
Make a work list
If you’re unable to get work off your mind when you’re away from the job then you might find it helps to make a work list or do a brain-dump of all the information in your head.
Dr Barton Goldsmith, an award-winning therapist, psychology writer and author, says research on memory has revealed we are better at remembering unfinished tasks than ones we have completed.
This phenomenon, called the Zeigarnik Effect, is applied constantly by entertainment outlets when using cliff-hangers to keep viewers thinking about the program until after the commercial break and until the next episode.
This can occur when you leave work too. If you haven’t finished the job at hand or you have more jobs that need completing, you might find these are the things that dominate your mind when you’re away from the workplace and are stopping you from chilling out.
Instead of pondering over it and allowing it to dictate your thoughts, try writing a work list to help clear it from your mind.
This also applies to any unfinished business that’s playing on your mind and could even be an unresolved disagreement with a family member, workmate or friend.
Take time to breathe
Take time to breathe might sound like a silly thing to say as we automatically breathe without thinking about it, but there are deep breathing techniques we can implement to help us unwind.
Inhale deeply through your nose, fill your diaphragm, and then exhale out through your mouth. Yoga teacher, body empowerment educator and founder of Curvy Yoga, Anna Guest-Jelley suggests taking five deep breaths on a regular basis and as you do, she encourages you to notice the natural pause between inhaling and exhaling and between exhaling and taking your next breathe.
Guest-Jelley says exhaling for longer than you inhale triggers a chemical change in our brain that slows our heart rate, which in turn will calm you down. Try inhaling for five seconds and exhaling for seven seconds, conversely if you’re weary and need a lift then try inhaling longer than you exhale.
She also advises that many of us unknowingly carry tension in our jaw and recommends we open our mouth wide for half a minute or so, breathing naturally through our nose. Then when you feel you’ve stretched a bit, allow your mouth to gently close and repeat this a few times when you feel your jaw tensing.
Whether it’s a workout at the gym or a walk around the block or the gentle movements and stretches through yoga or tai chi, doing any form of exercise or physical effort will release endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals and that can help release the pent-up stress and tension we’ve brought home with us from work.
Getting your body moving outside in the fresh air and sunshine is also ideal to help clear your thoughts.
A good deep tissue massage will also loosen tight muscles and help you unwind and by adding essential oils it will help relax you even more and lift your mood at the same time.
Focus on Others
Another way to calm down is to shift focus from your worries to concentrating on what’s happening with others around you, especially those who need your help. It might be simply lending an ear on the phone to family and friends or helping them in other supporting ways.
A recent British study found that people who started drinking tea had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after six weeks compared to those who consumed a placebo beverage.
Jackie Keller, a Los Angeles-based nutrition and wellness coach and author of ‘Body After Baby’ says that drinking something hot literally makes you slow down.
Taking stock of the amount of caffeinated liquids, such as coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks you’re consuming and over what time periods, can help you control your heart rate and reduce your anxiety and stress levels and in turn help you unwind easier.
If you find it hard to break your caffeine habit, try having a big glass of water before every cuppa. It will help you stay hydrated and the extra liquid might help reduce the frequency of the caffeinated drinks you feel like consuming.
Singing, Dancing and Music
Belting out your favourite tune or bopping along to your favourite songs are perfect ways to unwind and destress.
You’ll be amazed how emotionally liberating it can be when you dance like nobody is watching and sing like no one is listening.
Susie’s singalong song suggestions.
- I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
- Good Vibrations – Beach Boys
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
- I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
- Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
- What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong – which he recorded in one take.
Stay safe…cheers susie
Susie Elelman AM – Author, TV & Radio Broadcaster