Although it may seem like a full-time job, managing your health, mood and happiness can be a lot of hard work.
Start with these basic strategies:
1. Eat Healthy: healthy diet, free of meat and alcohol, with adequate fruit and vegetables
2. Sleep: Restful 6 to 10 hours per day, as needed. Varies according to person.
3. Exercise: moderate to vigorous intensity exercise for at least 150 mins/week, 3 or more times per week
4. Meditation: improves attention, staying in the awareness of the present moment, non-judgmentally
5. Counselling: Talk with a therapist or friend or professional, about what you’re dealing with.
6. Medication: Take your medication only as prescribed by your physician.
Relaxation: An Active or Passive Process?
I’ve heard so often, “I just want to relax and do nothing.” Doing nothing is probably the least relaxing thing you could ever do. Zoning out and watching TV probably does more damage to your feelings of well-being, than it does good. Why?
My experiences lead me to believe that relaxation may actually be an active process, and not a passive one. We often think of relaxation as letting go and just being, but that makes it seem so passive. However, it could be quite the contrary. What if, relaxation comes from doing, but being aware of what you’re doing and being absorbed in what you are doing. Some key points include focusing on breathing.
How can you actively relax?
1. Actively become aware of your breathing. Feel your breath entering your nostrils, hitting the back of your throat, opening your windpipe, filling your lungs towards your back and down towards your belly. Feel your breath going into your body and moving deep down into your lungs.
2. Become aware of your belly. It may feel like you’re straining at first, but push out your belly. It allows for more space in your lungs, and it allows your shoulders to come down.
3. Become aware of your shoulders and hands. Often when we are stressed, our shoulders become tight and we lose feeling in our hands. Instead of relaxing your shoulders, tense them forward. Your hands should naturally sit on your lap, not at your sides.
React or Breathe?
This morning I woke up and I could feel an itch near my pinky toe of my right foot. Since I woke up from a good sleep, I felt as if I had a choice: 1. to scratch it or to move to my foot to provide some relief, or 2. to breathe through the pain/itch and resist the scratch. I chose the latter and it reminded me of how I can treat feelings, anxieties, and my body. We always seem to have 2 options: to react and respond, or to breathe through it. The former creates anxiety and constant movement and discomfort. You may always try to keep adjusting until you’re in the exact right comfortable spot. But the truth is, there is no such spot. You’ll always have to keep adjusting, and scratching that itch.
Alternatively, the other option is to breathe through it. You can localize the pain to the specific location and try to breathe through it. Initially, this made produce some anxiety in the form of an increased heart rate. You will have the urge to adjust your body into a position to relieve the pain. But just remember, if you continue redirecting your breath to the area, the feeling will eventually pass. Because feelings are transient, they are not everlasting. They come and they go, just like thoughts.
The same approach of breathing through can be taken for anxiety, dwelling and thoughts and to body sensations. Rather than reacting and squeezing in response to these feelings, just determine the location, texture, and quality of the sensation, and simply breathe through it, and watch it fade away. Tune into your body at all times. Always be aware of how your body feels. Simply breath through any discomforts, pains, or anxieties. The numbing feeling is what you strive for. A good way to practice this is at the end of each night. Twenty minutes of body awareness meditation. Feeling your muscles without squeezing or reacting. Simply experiencing your body as it is, without interpreting and reacting to the feelings. Aim for two 20-minute sessions per day, always one before bed.
Life is a fine balance. A balance between working hard and resting. A balance between doing and non-doing. A balance between thinking and observing.
If you party one weekend, rest the next weekend. If you work hard all day, you should rest at night. If you talk all day, you should abstain from speaking at night. If you move all day, you should avoid movement at night. If you don’t sleep well tonight, sleep well tomorrow. If you can’t eat a lot today, you can eat more tomorrow. If you spend a lot of time with others, then spend some more time on your own or by yourself. If you ate a lot yesterday, eat less today.
If you ate some meat yesterday, eat vegetarian tomorrow. Always seek balance, or try to find the middle ground.
Balance is key. We often experience stress when we lose balance: too much of one thing or another. Even too much of a good thing, like exercise, healthy food, medication, enjoyment, entertainment, can be a bad thing. Have you found your balance?
Breath, Body & Attention
To initiate feelings of relaxation:
1. The first step is always awareness of the breath. It should be a quick, short yet deep breath in, and a fast, strong exhale out. You should almost be trying to exhale straight through the bridge of your nose. This creates noise, making it easier to hear your breathing and focus on it.
2. The second step is body awareness. You want to pay attention to how your body feels. Your primary attention should be focused on your shoulders. They should be down and relaxed. If they are not, do a few shoulder rotations and feel your muscles relaxed and drop after you rotate. Second, feel your hands. They should be relaxed. Avoid having your hands clenched or stretched.
3. Third, notice where your attention is in your brain, attention awareness. If it focused on your thoughts, you are likely to feel light-headed, or the feeling of attention in the back of your brain.
You are looking to feel like attention is your fore-brain, or really close to your forehead. This is your pre-frontal cortex and it is responsible for executive functioning, or attention in the present moment. By bringing attention and awareness to your pre-frontal cortex, you will be better able to respond to environmental cues and to be able to assess and evaluate your work in the present moment.
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