Before I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) I used the relaxation time at the end of a yoga class to think about what I had to do next. I would fill every waking minute of every day with activities because I hated sitting still, ‘doing nothing’ or the sound of silence. I never gave my body or my brain time to stop.
Most of the time I wasn’t able to enjoy what I was doing because my brain was thinking about something else I should be doing, the next thing on the to-do list or worrying about something that happened earlier that day.
I would feel stressed because I was trying to achieve more in a day that it was mentally or physically possible to achieve. I believed I was a master of multi-tasking and that I could achieve more by doing two or three things at once. Now I know that multi-tasking is a myth all you end up doing is half of two or three jobs badly!
My reluctance to give my brain or my body time off and the fact I was constantly in ‘go’ mode I believe played a role in my development of CFS. You may think you can keep going short-term and you probably can, but not taking the time out to relax is ultimately detrimental to long-term health.
When I became ill and my body forced me to stop I realized that even the act of thinking required energy. Reading, talking, planning – anything which requires you to think uses energy and makes you tired. It was only when I become ill that I realized there was value in doing less, in taking time out to allow my brain and body to recharge – not just by sleeping but in other ways too.
I learnt the art of doing less and learnt that doing less wasn’t necessarily a negative thing! I learnt how to switch off my mind and quiet the circling thoughts which had exhausting me without me realising. I learn about mindfulness and meditation.
Here are three relaxation techniques I now use to manage my stress levels and make me feel in control and energised:
- Meditation: while I’d love to say I meditate for 20 minutes a day in reality I don’t. But on the days when I do I can feel the difference. If I meditate in the morning I feel more positive, calmer and better able to deal with life. So I try to meditate every morning for 10-20 minutes. But some days it just doesn’t happen and another thing I’ve learnt is that it’s not helpful to talk down to myself for not doing something I should have. I just have to accept that today I didn’t meditate by maybe tomorrow I will. For me I find guided meditations best so I either use the app ‘Conscious Health’ or Kris Carr’s Meditations for Busy People. I also like the Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey free 21-day guided meditations. In fact, one series just started on Monday so if you log on in the next few days you can join in too!
- Do one thing at a time…until it is complete (if possible!): As I said I’ve learnt that multi-tasking is a myth. By doing one thing at a time and not getting distracted from that task until I’ve completed it (which includes not incessantly checking Facebook or emails), I’m actually able to complete more because it takes me less time if I concentrate on one thing and invariably I do a better job so am less likely to have to re-do the task!
- Breathing: stress is invariably a part of life so having techniques to help lower my stress levels when things get too much has been invaluable. That’s not to say I don’t get overwhelmed, or lose my temper or feel anxious, I do, but now I feel like I’m in control of those feelings rather than them being in control of me. One thing I’ve found which has helped me achieve this is by stepping away from a stressful situation and taking a few deep breaths. Deep breaths help switch on your parasympathetic nervous system – your body’s natural relaxation mode. It helps your mind and body relax allowing you to think more clearly. There have been many a times where I’ve sat in a cubical in the toilets at work taking deep breaths to calm me down after a stressful meeting or to help me gain a fresh perspective on a particularly challenging piece of work and it’s worked! It’s also a useful too as you can breathe anywhere! I focus on making the length of my exhale equal or longer to my inhale. So I’ll count in for 1,2,3,4 and then out for 1,2,3,4,5. Also be aware of the minute pause between the in and out breath.
These are a few things which have helped me achieve a more balanced mind and body, one which nurtures my energy levels rather than depleting them. I hope you find them helpful too.