Few people who are working or studying will be able to complain about having too much free time on their hands. One of the distinguishing characteristics between successful people – “success” being a word that means very different things to different people – is good time management, which also means planning your relaxation time in order to get the most out of it.
While active relaxation may seem like a contradiction in terms, the truth is that passively relaxing – just trying to do as little as possible, without a goal or a plan – will often leave a person feeling less energized and rested. Anyone who wants to recharge their get-up-and-go for the next challenge would be well advised to try conscious, active relaxation instead.
Active Relaxation as a Remedy for Stress
Far too many people suffer from chronic stress and anxiety, possibly thinking of it as a condition that “just is” instead of something they can do anything about. Stress literally kills people, raising the risk of everything from having a heart attack to developing diabetes or clinical depression, so taking steps to get rid of it should certainly be a priority. Stress also affects a person’s performance at work and elsewhere, interfering with concentration and memory, making them take more sick days and leaving them more prone to error.
Stress has physical effects on our bodies: our pulse and blood pressure go up, our breathing becomes shallower and faster and our muscles become tense. Strangely, reversing these results of stress is also an easy way of dealing with the stress itself, and requires no medication whatsoever.
One useful exercise that can be done in ten minutes involves finding a comfortable chair in a quiet place and closing your eyes. Take a few moments just to become aware of your body and its muscles: your arms, neck, legs, even your face. Next, tense each muscle group separately while keeping the others relaxed: make hard fists while keeping your arms limp, then relax after holding this position for five seconds. Frown as if you’ve just bitten into a lemon, relax the facial muscles.
After working through all your muscles, feel through them mentally to see which ones are still tense and repeat the above exercise on those areas. Finally, turn your attention to your breathing: breathe into your belly instead of your chest, taking at least five seconds to breathe in. After a few minutes of this, you should be feeling much more relaxed than you did at the beginning, and are ready to open your eyes and face life head-on again.
Active Relaxation for Personal Development
Although active relaxation as described above is really a defined technique to treat anxiety and stress, there are also other ways to actively relax, and be productive in ways other than actually working.
The average American watches the unbelievable amount of 5 hours of television per day, meaning that for every day someone does not spend any time in front of the tube, someone else has it going for the majority of their waking hours. While people entertaining themselves is not a problem as such, the trouble with watching TV is that it’s a completely passive activity.
Unlike, say, reading a book or playing video games, staring at a screen requires absolutely no input from the viewer. This is reflected in a person’s brainwave activity: viewers exhibit patterns associated with being less attentive and less critical, making them more likely to absorb whatever information they’re presented with without evaluating it first. In fact, one of the characteristics of a good movie or TV show is that the director leads the viewer through a series of mental and emotional states to tell a story – something which advertisers try hard to condense into 30 seconds of airtime.
Plonking down onto the sofa may be a good way to rest your brain when you’re literally feeling too tired to attempt anything else, but making it a habit to the point where it interferes with other activities is likely not the best use of your downtime. Instead, interacting with others in a social setting or networking event, reading a book, exercising or learning more about some subject out of interest or to improve your professional skills do not put you into a virtual trance. Instead, doing so can make life more interesting and rewarding, meaning that you’ll really be living the full 24 hours in a day.