Take time out

How many times have you been told to ‘chill out,’  ‘chillax’ or ‘stop stressing’? These are everyday phrases but taking time to relax is really important to maintain positive mental health.

Failing to take time to recharge your batteries and relax can contribute to some mental health problems such as anxiety or depression or make existing mental disorders worse. Relaxation therefore is key to maintaining positive mental wellbeing.

Whether you are at school, college or working, things can get on top of us all at certain times and relaxation is vital to help our minds and bodies switch off from those pressures.

Positive versus negative relaxation

There are ways to relax that are not so helpful in the long-term. Often it can be all too easy to turn to cigarettes, alcohol or even drugs as a ‘quick fix’ to wind down. But not only can these have detrimental effects on physical health, all three act as stimulants rather than relaxants so do little to help people relax properly. Drugs such as cannabis that are said to help people relax can act as a depressant and users can become paranoid and lose ambition and drive. Not only that, drug use and drinking alcohol can cause or exacerbate mental health problems.

There are many positive ways to relax that can have a better impact on your mental health. There are a few techniques that can prevent stress rising throughout the day.

  • Pausing - Take time throughout the day to take a break or a pause. Stop what you are doing, look out of the window, let your shoulders drop, stretch and allow your mind to calm down. Taking several pauses throughout the day can prevent stress from building up. If you encounter a stressful situation such as an upsetting phone call, a busy train ride home, writing an essay, give yourself time afterwards to calm down.
  • Deep breaths - Often people are told to ‘take deep breaths’ after a stressful situation and sometimes concentrating on your breathing helps the body to relax and can have a calming effect. To aid with this relaxation technique, close your eyes, take deep breaths in and out. Think of your favourite place, maybe somewhere that you like to go on holiday. Focus on that and think about that place and what you might be doing there. You might remember sunbathing on a beach. You can smell sun tan lotion, you can hear the sea. Picturing this ‘nice place’ can help you to relax and take yourself away from the current stressful situation and help calm you down to prevent stress levels gradually rising throughout the day.

Top tips – ways to relax

  • Taking up a hobby – people who have stressful jobs often find that taking up a hobby can help them switch their brains off from work pressures once they are away from work. For example, if you are knitting, you are concentrating on what your fingers are doing rather than thinking about that essay that needs handing in next week that is stressing you out. Often when you go back to the thing that you were finding stressful, you can cope better having taken a break from it and switching off.
  • Aerobic Exercise – exercise where the heart rate is increased releases endorphins which make you feel good. Exercises could include going to the gym or sport such as football or netball but could also include cycling, skate boarding, surfing, riding a horse, swimming – think about the type of things you are interested in and build your exercise around that. (See our section on exercise below.)
  • Walking – walking also releases endorphins but can also help you to switch off from pressures as you take in the scenery around you and get into a steady rhythm  – and can be a far more pleasant way to travel than on a stuffy tube or busy loud bus which in itself can be stressful. Getting fresh air also helps you to relax and sleep better.
  • Yoga – yoga, tai chi and pilates are designed around relaxation and breathing techniques which can all aid relaxation.
  • A warm bath – it sounds simple but a nice warm bath helps the muscles relax and encourages a general feeling of relaxation. Aromatherapy candles or bubble bath could also help your mind to relax and some people find listening to chilled music while you are having a soak helps.
  • Watching a film or reading a book – escapism is a great way to switch off from reality for a while and help the mind to relax.
  • Meet a mate – leaving the stressful situation you are in and talking things over with a mate or even chatting about something completely different from what caused the stress can take your mind off things and aid relaxation.

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