You’ve been in overdrive all day — juggling logistics, people, project deadlines, and endless to-dos — or maybe putting out fires, squeezing in errands, finding lost toys, and making sure you’ve filled out all the forms for school tomorrow.
All-day, you eagerly anticipate finding just 30 minutes to relax, catch up with your significant other, and relax into sleep.
But the problem is … though your body is ready to plop down on the sofa and decompress, your brain is still going a mile a minute.
It’s stuck in “go-go-go” mode. As a result, you’re there with your loved ones, but you’re not really present. You think, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I relax?”
The answer: Nothing is wrong with you!
Physiologically, it’s actually really challenging for your mind and body to transition from navigating the stress and potential “dangers” of the day at breakneck speed to suddenly letting go into the peaceful, relaxed, “safe” state you crave. Harvard researcher Herbert Benson, MD says it may sound counter-intuitive, but you have to train your mind to relax with ease.
You have to give your brain permission to unwind.
After hours of driving “fast and furious,” there’s a fear of letting go. After all, what if you drop the ball on something when you let your guard down? What if you lose your edge or can’t ramp back up into productive mode again? People even become addicted to the rev of busyness, making withdrawal downright scary.
So how do you let your body relax AND bring your mind to rest with it? The answer is to create series of simple transition rituals that alert your mind and body that it’s time to wind down and takes them through the process (versus just shifting gears abruptly). Here’s how to do it:
1. Close your day. Before you even try to walk away from the bustle of the day, take five minutes to “capture” any loose ends on to-do lists and calendars. This reassures your brain that it doesn’t need to keep scanning all night for any misses nor stay alert, reminding you to schedule the vet appointment.
2. Practice “going neutral” during the day. You will not lose your edge and, in fact, you’ll actually be more productive if a few times each day, you bring your mind and body back to a more relaxed state. Athletes know these rituals are the key to sustained performance.
You can set a reminder alarm, or use an app like GoodHabits to cue yourself to pause. Take some slow deep breaths, look around, stretch, move, look out the window, and renew your energy in whatever way you need in the moment.
3. Create a “Relax Time Ritual” that trains your mind and body to let go. Just as bedtime rituals help children learn to settle down, relaxation or transition rituals help adults unwind.
Unfortunately, the usual screen time approach is not brain friendly. But, there are a zillion ways to help your body and mind invoke the “relaxation response,” from simple breath work and meditation to quick walks around the park, warm baths and music. The critical key is to pick a routine you like and can practice regularly. The more wired and amped you are at the end of a day, the more you need this ritual.
The good news is, it really only takes a few weeks to make your ritual a habit. So, start taking advantage of your precious down time to better connect with your loved ones and yourself — improve your sleep quality, and awake refreshed to tackle the next day. Ready to experiment?