How do I relax more deliberately?
January 29, 2013 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Even when I have free time, I find myself rarely doing the thing called "relaxing". I'm looking for how I can better relax, and what I can do to give myself a better environment to do so.

Outside of work, I still always have endless things I "should" be doing for my various commitments. In principle, I don't expect myself to be spending all my time on them and I do have enough time to relax, but in practice when at home I often find myself staring at a computer screen without getting much productive or recreational value out of it.

I have a relatively new job to which I'm still adjusting time-wise, and will soon be moving to a new place. Which is to say that much is in flux, and there's a lot that I could potentially adjust in my environment and approach.

In my current place, I literally have no space to comfortably do nothing or to read a book; no TV either. I hope to remedy that when moving, but how big of an effect will this have? And what should I be aiming for when designing space with relaxing in mind?

Generally, what are your tips for getting your mental state or your surroundings to be more conducive to true downtime?
posted by parudox to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Turn off all screens (including your phone). Even if you are sitting in front of a turned-off computer and reading because you literally have no other place to do it, it'll be a lot more relaxing than cruising the internet.

As for arranging your new place -- for me, just being at home in general offers too many distractions and tasks to really relax. I would focus more on getting out of the house, taking a walk or reading in a coffee shop. This would also address your current no-space problem. But you still have to turn off your phone :)
posted by pete_22 at 11:13 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Developing the habit of mindfulness meditation doesn't guarantee relaxation but it does make you more aware of your thoughts and actions and helps you use your time more deliberately. It's good for dealing with mental clutter. Getting rid of physical clutter and keeping your place clean and well organized helps too—less visual distractions. Invest money on activities you find relaxing. If it's cooking, get a great knife and a skillet. If it's reading, make sure you have a nook with good light and seating. Adjustable lighting is great in general as you can dim down the lights before bed.
posted by Orchestra at 11:13 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Clear 20 minutes from your day.

If you have space to lie down - even on your bed - follow these instructions.
- light a stick of incense or a scented candle
- turn down the lights and shut the door
- cover yourself with a warm blanket, lie down with your arms loosely at your side.
- get comfortable - scratch that itch, adjust your position
- put a free meditation podcast on your stereo or ipod
- listen to the instructions
- try not to fall asleep!
- get up and calmly go about your business.

These podcasts from the Mental Health Foundation could not be easier to follow - there's no mumbo-jumbo or cringey spacey music. The ten-minute Meditation one is pretty good because it's narrated by Mark Williams, an Oxford psych professor and expert on mindfulness - he happens to have a voice like butter.

Once you get into the habit of doing these, it creates a nice break from the stresses of your everyday life and makes it easier to have energy for hobbies. Seriously, you come out of a session feeling like you have had the best powernap of your life.
posted by pink_gorilla at 11:26 PM on January 29, 2013 [27 favorites]

I work in media, so a lot of things that are relaxing "brain turn off" activities for most people are homework for me -- or my brain will turn them into homework, or convince me that instead of watching X fun irrelevant thing because I like it, I should be watching Y Important Thing because it will help my career.

So I've found a way to relax that is nothing like what I do for a living or anything that might help me get ahead in my career or feel like "work". I listen to dorky podcasts. Usually about history, because I'm a history nerd, but there are a million options out there. The BBC has a podcast about math! While listening, so that I don't feel tempted to multi-task and thus not relax, I play dumb games on my phone. Games that are dumb enough that the game is really just something to do with my hands while I listen.

So that I'm not distracted by computer time, I turn my screen down to the darkest setting. I typically do this in bed, again, so that I'm not really tempted to multi-task. It's also very comfy and feels indulgent and relaxing.
posted by Sara C. at 11:50 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've got an inflatable exercise ball (something like 12$ at walmart) that I lean back on and stretch my back while singing whatever song comes to mind. I roll around for about 10-15min. until the blood gets to my head, I get silly and giggly and wind up flipping over backwards.
posted by mannequito at 12:13 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wherever you go, there you are. It's whatever is holding you to the computer.

Go for a walk? Do things that aren't in your house?
posted by rhizome at 12:21 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, you could look into natural herbal remedies, incense, or altering your diet.
Also, you might consider discovering and trying out new artistic outlets. We all have a left and right side of our brains for a reason. Use both! Maybe re-read a children's book that was once read to you, or a glass of wine, or a nap.

Less belongings has personally helped me, whittling them down seems to be hard at first. Music can be a savior at times. Pick something that relaxes you personally.

Try only having 6 or so people that you make true promises to. Any more than 7, for me anyways, I start to feel overwhelmed. I try to divvy up my time, 33% to friends and family, 33% to public, and 33% to myself. Sink or swim, as they say, I say float!

Art galleries... ticket events... could consider as well. Getting together with others can help loads as well. We, as people, I think, are made to create, communicate, and collaborate! Try these things! Try to find your balance...

Keep on keeping on. We cannot remake ourselves suffering, in a sense, for we are both the marble and the sculptor. As long as you keep your chin up, the world will give you all the answers and more :)

Keep in mind your intuition... but to listen to your intuition, you must be silent. To listen, we must be silent. I think they might be acronyms for a reason?

Also, doing something small like a tiny cup of tea or a shot of wine or a swig of a certain juice before EVERY nap or EVERY sleep will psychologically put you in the MODE to instantly enter that relaxing state... after about a week. Then the connection becomes profound after a month or so. Just ideas for consideration... good luck and good wishes :)
posted by JamesBlakeAV at 12:27 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just want to modify my answer to "turn off all interactive screens." Watching TV or a movie can obviously be relaxing. But I find that anything interactive (including video games) is a lot less so. Of course YMMV.
posted by pete_22 at 1:40 AM on January 30, 2013

Find a hobby, one that engages you in a way that you enjoy. Woodworking, running, skiing, whatever it may be. Do that. Relaxation does not necessarily mean stretching out and being "relaxed" by some external stimuli; if you find an activity that you can do that makes you happy, it counts, and it resolves the space issue.
posted by ellF at 3:30 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

When you're in your potentially relaxing time, do you find yourself thinking about the things you *should* be doing? I find it really helpful to write down the thing that I know I need to do (ideally in a good central place, Getting Things Done style) - it's like I've "offloaded" the task from my current consciousness and can be more fully in the moment.

As far as not having a place to relax and read a book: I read in bed a lot. And I have a nice living room with a sofa and all that. I will sometimes get home, change into pajama bottoms, and lie around and have a nice read. Or wake up on a weekend morning, make myself a cup of coffee, and immediately return to bed with a book. I also read in public places - coffee shops, libraries, lobbies of buildings, etc.

Some of my most relaxing time is when I'm hiking/snowshoeing/skiing.
posted by mskyle at 5:53 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how keen you are on the whole meditation/mindfulness approach, but if so then I'm a big fan of Headspace, a nice easy start and then progress from there.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:29 AM on January 30, 2013

Maybe you can schedule relaxation time into your day so that you have to do it. There was a research article by a positive psychology person that measured how de-stressed people felt after various relaxation activities and it said that exercise, yoga, and meditation give you the most bang for your buck in terms of chilling yourself out efficiently, with T.V., web-surfing and other escapism type things ranking lower.

How do you have no space to do nothing or read a book? In my mind, it only really requires a chair, bed or other sittable surface. Not hard to come by... :-)
posted by mermily at 7:49 AM on January 30, 2013

Count your breaths. Nice and easy. Just count inhalations and exhalations. Count up to 300, you should be relaxed by then.

What's great about this method is you can do it anywhere, in the bathroom, riding the train, trying to go to sleep, sitting in you chair, etc. and you don't need any equipment.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 8:16 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is possibly gender-specific (or not, we're a swinging lot on the green) but I've recently started painting my nails on a regular basis because having something wet on the end of your fingers pretty much forces you to do nothing for a little while. I am someone who's always doing at least two things at once, and it necessitates me just sitting back and listening to the radio for ten minutes or so in between deciding if I want to be glittery or not or whether I can paint each finger a slightly different shade of green so my hand looks like a set of colouring pencils. (I'm generally a big fan of colour.)

You could even do this with a clear matte polish if you don't like showy colours.
posted by mippy at 2:11 PM on January 30, 2013

I don't relax. I find that trying to relax makes me tense. So, I just keep doing the things that I should be doing or want to be doing. I've just determined that I'm not the relaxy kind of person, and I'm okay with that. If this sounds to you like you, I'd suggest just accepting it, which is, in a perverse sort of way, relaxing. (Not trying to go all zen koan on you. It's just what it is.)
posted by Capri at 9:19 PM on January 30, 2013

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