Juggling to-do lists, responsibilities, and living or working in a fast-paced environment can make finding time to relax difficult. And stress can oftentimes be one of the main contributors for people who experience a lack of relaxation, according to Allison Mark, PsyD and clinical psychologist in Florida and New York. "If left untreated, an excess of stress can lead to health problems as well as mental health issues, such as increased anxiety or depressive symptoms," she said.
However, conquering your stress and finding ways to relax doesn't have to be hard. It can actually be quite enjoyable and doesn't always have to involve therapy, either.
Why Can't I Seem to Relax?
For some people, difficulty relaxing comes from ingrained beliefs that they don't have time to relax, they don't need or deserve to relax, or that it's more important to be "productive," Hayden Finch, PhD, licenced clinical psychologist in Iowa and Arkansas, told POPSUGAR. "Relaxing can feel threatening to people with certain types of anxiety disorders because it makes them notice physical sensations that can trigger anxiety or panic symptoms," she said. Persistent anxiety can keep some stuck in a tense state, thus stunting their ability to relax.
What Can I Do to Help Myself Relax?
One of the most powerful strategies we have to disengage our stress response and engage our relaxation response is controlling how we breathe. "Our bodies encourage us to breathe more quickly and shallowly when we're stressed because they're trying to prepare us for fight or flight," explained Dr. Finch. Breathing slowly and deeply will alert our brains to the fact we are not in danger and will allow us to initiate relaxation.
Other positive relaxing strategies include enjoying hobbies that make you happy like music or art, hanging with friends or a pet, or completing a guided relaxation practice. Both psychologists recommend practicing meditation to help calm the mind and body. Dr. Mark also noted that the release of endorphins from physical exercise can help.
Why Is Relaxing Important?
Relaxing and recharging is vital to allowing your brain and body to reset its stress response. "If someone is experiencing an excess of stress, it can cause an overproduction of cortisol which can be very harmful to the human body," explained Dr. Mark. Likewise, Dr. Finch said biological processes such as digestion and immunity can be compromised from cortisol and a lack of relaxation.
Like with anything else, relaxation is something that'll get easier and more familiar over time and the more you practice it. Dr. Finch assured POPSUGAR that the more you do it, the more it will help your brain transition you to a calmer state.