Go out of your mind

by | Jan 11, 2021 | Leadership

How are you? This time of year can be challenging at the best of times as you get back into the swing of things after the Christmas break and hunker down given the short winter days.

This year, many of us are also dealing once again with national lockdown restrictions after a subdued festive season. Not to mention, if you have children, the return of juggling home-schooling with work. Oh joy.

If you’re already tearing your hair out two weeks into January, you might have thought the title of this blog quite appropriate! But my intention is a little different from what you might think.

Going out of your mind

The combination of being indoors alot, working from home and, perhaps, supervising home-schooling doesn’t make it easy to switch off.  Also , your breathing becomes more shallow when you’re in front of a screen for long periods which means you can often feel in a constant state of stress, your head full of worries and pressures.

I’ve been going to a guided relaxation evening most weeks for a few years now which has continued virtually during Covid. I always arrive with a buzzing head full of work. In the early days, I’d feel more relaxed by the end of it, but I’d still be awake. These days, it’s pretty common for me to doze off within half an hour! Afterwards, I always feel calmer and more grounded  – because it takes me out of my busy mind and into my body.

When you relax your body, you relax your mind.

When you relax, even for a few minutes, you activate what’s called the “parasympathetic” nervous system. This is the other branch of our nervous system from the “sympathetic” nervous system or fight/flight response. It’s often known as the rest and digest response because your heart rate slows down, your body refuels and repairs itself and stress hormones lower.

Whereas the fight/flight response is a bit like the “all systems go” reaction to a fire alarm being activated, the rest/digest response is like the end of a fire drill where everyone’s allowed back in the building and it’s back to business as usual.

The problem is that we often postpone relaxation for weekends and holidays – like Christmas – rather than consciously practising relaxation as an everyday habit which makes it more difficult to relax when we want to. And when we do relax, we may use stimulants like alcohol or TV which may feel relaxing in the moment but aren’t.

Learn to relax

Cardiologist Herbert Benson came up with a technique called the “physiological relaxation response” back in the 70s. It’s basically about activating your “rest and digest” response using a variety of mind and body techniques including focussing on the breath and progressive muscle relaxation – which take you out of your mind.

Benson recommends spending at least 12 – 15 minutes once or twice a day to activate the relaxation response, but even doing it for a few minutes when you haven’t been doing it at all is going to help. Little and often is better than a longer session less frequently because you’re getting your body used to deactivating its stress response.

Go to bed

Make the most of the fact that you’re working from home and take yourself off to your bed or sofa once or twice a day for 10 minutes – or 5 minutes if that’s all you’ve got.  If you’re worried about falling asleep, set an alarm. Close your eyes and allow your breathing to slow and deepen. Notice any tension in your body and release it with each out-breath. You’ll feel better for it – and you’ll also be educating your body to get better at relaxing.

There are many apps on the market that provide guided relaxation sessions if you find it difficult to do it on your own. 

This quote from Alan Watts sums it all up, “To go out of your mind at least once a day is tremendously important. By going out of your mind, you come to your senses.”

What do you think? Drop me a line at alison@alisonreid.co.uk.

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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