After months of living under the cloud of this pandemic with the substantial restrictions that came with it, and now the unpredictable nature of where we can and can’t take a vacation, I have finally given myself, my daughters and their friends a much needed and long overdue holiday on the Isle of Wight. I have pressed pause, I can breathe again, and my laptop is closed for business. Except … of course it isn’t. The irony that I am sitting here, surrounded by tranquillity, looking out over a glittering blue sea and writing about the importance of relaxation is not lost on me. I am on holiday and I am still working.
Why is it that, for most of us, we seem to have an inherent inability to just STOP? Our bodies tell us that we need to slow down, common sense tells us that the only way to unwind is to wind down, we might be operating on our last shredded nerve, yet we carry on as if our wellbeing is invincible. It isn’t. But we always seem to find a valid reason to carry out one more thing on the ‘To Do’ lists that litter our desks and homes. Even during lockdown, instead of using the time to reflect, we promptly set about clearing lofts we hadn’t set foot in for years, learned several languages and undertook an astonishing frenzy of baking that could have fed hundreds, never mind our own family.
Last Saturday was National Relaxation Day. Each year we are encouraged to slow down, to take a break from our fast-paced lifestyles and focus on taking care of ourselves. How many of us even noticed this day as it came along? Studies for 2020 show that an overwhelming 79% experience work-related stress, with long working hours a substantial cause of anxiety and depression. For women, balancing careers alongside families and running a home means there is little downtime. It takes its toll. Yet counter studies also show that even taking just five minutes out of our day to make space for relaxation can significantly impact our wellbeing.
We know this, and our intentions are good, but so many of us create an exhausting calendar of activity that fills our time rather than manages it, and what should be the simple art of relaxation becomes incredibly hard to master. Running Studio10, looking after my three girls and maintaining a home means that I am acutely aware of time division. I understand the importance of taking time for myself – just to maintain my sanity! But even the slightest move into stepping back with blank thoughts and doing absolutely nothing but pick fluff off my jumper if that’s what I choose to do, brings with it a ridiculous sense of misplaced guilt. And we all feel it!
I know I’m exaggerating to an extent, but you get the point. There is always more to do, we just don’t know when to stop. However we choose to spend it, we have to make space for ourselves – a space that doesn’t involve any of the responsibilities we spend our days navigating. The positive impact of pure relaxation – it improves our concentration and mood, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, fatigue and muscle tension, enhances sleep quality, boosts confidence, revives, refreshes and rejuvenates – the list is endless. We just need to learn how it do it – and to recognise when we need to!
Of course, a holiday is core time to recharge, but it’s not enough. Relaxation on a day to day basis is essential – and it’s personal. A scented bath with aromatic candles, listening to podcasts, an evening with friends, or on a deeper level with mindful mediation, visualisation, breathing techniques, yoga – another endless list! For me, exercise in any form calms me and keeps me going. Walking our dog in countryside I am lucky to have on my doorstep, a dance class or an hours’ workout is my ideal downtime. And candlelit meditation, allowing the serenity of mindful thought to wash over me. And then there’s a glass or three of wine catching up with friends … and so begins another list! But it’s an important one.
It’s too easy to overcommit ourselves with a sense of urgency to always be ahead, but finding that we have the odd five minutes, twenty minutes, or even an hour to spare in each day cannot be used to do the things on a list we discover we haven’t had time to do! It has to be for us. Our time. So for now, I am on holiday. I can feel the anxiety and tension of the last few months gradually fading. I am able to pause and to relax. I might have my phone nearby and my laptop inched half open, because I wouldn’t have a business if I didn’t. But if anyone wants me, I can be found beach side, sinking into the sunshine, downing a cocktail – and possibly making a list …