Sometimes maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be overwhelming. We are pressured to eat better, move more, sleep routinely, curb bad habits, take the stairs, get outside, meditate, stretch, moisturize — all before our lunch break! Keeping up with our mental and physical wellness can be stressful, so instead let’s take a step back and talk about rest. Unlike like self-care which may include being active, or sleeping, which indicates turning off our overactive minds, rest means just that, relaxing, recharging and taking a break from our daily duties. So, as we settle into the consistent summer heat wave and adjust to these extremely long days, it’s time to kick back, chill out, and talk about the roles that both stress and rest play in our busy lives.
Stress is Good for You
No, you didn’t read that wrong. Yes, stress is good for you, and it’s important to understand this before we get into the benefits of rest days. Stress is inevitable, and to avoid it only stresses us more. I’m currently reading Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” and he summarizes it beautifully: “The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering.”
A recent article published by CNN analyzed the results of a 1998 research study on American stress levels. Importantly, the study “not only asked people how much stress they were under and how well they were coping, it also asked them if they thought that stress had impacted their health.” Eight years after the study was conducted, follow-up research compared the answers to national data and found that yes, stress did increase the risk of death. However, that was only for the folks in the study who viewed stress negatively. The participants who did not view stress as harmful to their health actually had the lower risk of death than anyone else in the study.
So what does this mean? Like any challenge, it’s all in our mindset. If we can view stress as not something that will kill us, rather, as something that may help us better ourselves, it significantly benefits our health. As the CNN article summarizes:
“When stress is viewed through more rose-colored glasses, the brain reacts differently, changing the ratio of stress hormones the brain releases — and that, experts say, can make all the difference in whether stress turns toxic. During a more positive reaction to stress, the body makes a smaller amount of the stress hormone cortisol, which can be harmful at chronic levels. At the same time, the brain ups production of another steroid, dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, which is often called the ‘anti-aging’ hormone. Having a naturally higher ratio of DHEA to cortisol appears to be protective against the negative effects of stress on the body.”
So stress is unavoidable. But, if we approach it as an experience that builds us rather than breaks us, it makes all the difference.
Get a Little R&R
Thanks to vaccinations and reopening announcements, summer 2021 is ramping up to be an exciting one. But with heat waves, maskless outings and work hours returning in full force, things can get pretty overwhelming, increasing our risk for burnout (both literally and figuratively … wear sunscreen.) Even though we are all anxious to enjoy life again, taking time to rest and relax is extremely important; and relaxing isn’t just something good for the mind, it benefits the body as well. According to an article for Wellbeing People by Justine Clarabut:
“When we relax, the flow of blood increases around our body giving us more energy. It helps us to have a calmer and clearer mind which aids positive thinking, concentration, memory and decision making. Relaxation slows our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and relieves tension. It also aids digestion as we absorb essential nutrients more efficiently when relaxed, which helps to fight off disease and infection.”
Even fitness enthusiasts or those who are more physically inclined should find time to relax. When it comes to a regular workout routine, working in rest days is extremely important. This article says that rest days are necessary because they “allow the body’s muscles to recover from any damage they’ve sustained during workouts, and to allow them to grow.” Physical activity requires a lot of energy and fluids, so taking a day off allows our body to refresh and replenish so we can get back into our physical routine safely.
Finding Your Zen
So now that we’ve clarified that stress is okay, and that taking a day to rest is beneficial for our physical and mental recuperation, I’ve found some activities to try on your well-deserved off day — 120 activities to be exact, so you may need to plan a few off-days this summer.
This article from Out of Stress offers 79 fun activities that are perfect for relaxing and de-stressing. Of the many included, some featured ones are listening to relaxing music, painting your imagination, walking in nature, spending time with a pet, writing down your worries, reading a comic book, trying new cuisine, fishing, self-hypnosis, practicing gratitude, cuddling, and listening to the birds. For those who are more spiritually inclined or who are looking for a more introspective experience, Out of Stress also offers ideas for 41 ideas for spiritual activities that uplift your mind, body and spirit. Included activities are practicing vinyasa yoga, dancing to release energy, self-reflection journaling, taking salt baths, practicing breathwork, creating a vision board, intermittent fasting and art therapy.
For those of you looking to relieve some stress in a unique way, check out this article on how saying swear words helps manage stress and physical pain. According to the article, cursing — considered “a universal language” — is a sign of intelligence, creativity and honesty. It improves pain tolerance and protects us from physical harm, so don’t be afraid to curse every once in a while (just consider your surroundings first.)
And if you, or someone you know, is feeling a overwhelmed on this week, check out these 42 encouraging phrases for someone who is stressed out, and be sure to bookmark it so you’re prepared for future stressors.
Zen Garden. On the topic of unusual ways to relax, check out this article containing five ideas for creating your own Zen garden. According to the article, a Zen garden is “a Japanese rock garden … meant to be a stylized representation of the natural world.”
Good Habits. Looking to work on some healthy habits this summer? First, check out CNN’s interesting interview with Katy Milkman, co-founder and co-director of Wharton’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative, who studies habit development.
Fitness Test. Getting bored with the same old at-home or gym workouts? Challenge yourself and gauge where your body is at with these 7 ways to test your overall physical fitness. Just don’t forget to hydrate!