Relax, already.

R

A student said to me the other day, “I’m so stressed. I just need to relax.”

I hear this pretty commonly. Another thing I hear is, “I need to get away so I can relax.” This message is reinforced by marketing wizards, who like to show us images of expensive trips we should take or products we should buy, if we want to relax.

This feeds the idea that relaxation is rare or particularly tricky to achieve.

In fact, it is quite simple, once you know the right strategy. As a matter of fact, you can relax anytime, anywhere.

When we need to relax, it is usually because we feel all stirred up. Like a large pot that has been stirred and stirred, the contents swirling and swirling, creating an overwhelming brew of expectations, obligations, and unfinished business.

Stir, stir, stir. We are constantly stirring.

Relax

First, we stir in all the things we need to get done. And then there is all the thinking about the things we need to get done. (For example, “I’ll never get this done on time” or “Why do I have so much work to do?” or “Everyone else is better at this than me. Why does it take me so much time?”)

Then we stir in managing expectations, our own and everyone else’s. This can look like putting a social gathering on your schedule you know you don’t have time for; or saying “yes” instead of “no” to one more extracurricular activity; or spending beyond your budget on clothes, food, whatever, just to try to impress someone else.

Then we stir in time spent doing things that maybe we think of as relaxing, but actually aren’t. Stirring up FOMO by scrolling through social media is a good example of this. Study after study shows us that we feel worse about ourselves, more lonely, and more depressed after looking at social media. It’s definitely not relaxing. But we do it anyway.

Holy cow, that is a lot of stirring creating lots of swirling. No wonder you need to relax!

How do you stop the swirling?

Simple. Stop stirring.

There is a relatively straightforward strategy to help you feel relaxed. And it may not be exactly what you think, because it is not about doing something to rid yourself of tension. As a matter of fact, it is the exact opposite. It’s about doing nothing.

My favorite way to trigger this feeling of calm is to step outside, and just for a few minutes, become a human being, instead of a human doing.

It’s about simply stopping. Stop whatever it is you are doing. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Do nothing. Listen as carefully as you can to the sounds around you. Feel your feet on the floor. Notice what your hands are touching. Then begin to feel your breath as it moves in and out.

You stop stirring when you let your attention rest fully and completely in the present moment. You stop worrying about what happens next, or what happened last, or what anyone else thinks about you.

Instead, you just rest in the comfort of what you can feel or hear or see at this moment.

You can do this for a minute or an hour. Arriving in the present moment is like stepping into the eye of a hurricane and observing the blue sky above. No matter what is swirling around, there is complete calm in the present.

I know, I know. You’ve heard this over and over, but either you forget or just don’t buy it.

Can I convince you to just try it and see? I commonly hear folks who practice this even a little bit say, “I’m surprised how peaceful this feels.”

Use this free guided meditation to give it a go

When you are skilled at just plopping into the present moment, you can do it while waiting on a friend or during the few minutes between meetings. You can spend an entire Saturday afternoon lying on a blanket outside, doing nothing but looking at the sky. You can spend the last 5 minutes before you go to sleep or the first 5 minutes before you get up, just relaxing in the moment.

My surest way to evoke this feeling of calm is to step outside, find a quiet place to sit, and take a moment to remember I am a human being, not a human doing.

Do you have a strategy for relaxing in the present moment? Share it below .

If you do want to “get away”, consider joining us for our Spring Break Retreat! Learn more at ibme.com/koru

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The Mindful Twenty Something by Holly Rogers
“Wise, but not obscure. Practical, but lighthearted and inspiring.”

— MIRABAI BUSH, co-founder and Senior Fellow of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Learn more about the book