Have you ever heard the words “just relax”? Whenever you are stressing over a pending deadline or an upcoming exam, a well-meaning friend may offer these two words of comfort. But, if you’ve found yourself in these stressful situations, you know that “just relaxing” is by no means easy. Even when you are about to board a plane to a pristine destination, something is nagging at the back of your mind. So what is the problem? Simple: our minds. In this blog, we go over the best ways to stop overthinking and find serenity.
Picture the following scenario. It’s 11 PM and you are lying in bed. You have to wake up early the next morning and yet, your mind is hyperactive. You keep going on and on again about what happened in the office. Just like a film, your mind re-plays an argument you had with a colleague. You second-guess everything you say and imagine the worst-case scenario. This is overthinking, also known as dwelling and worrying.
As human beings, we are constantly overthinking. We worry about serious issues such as tensions at the workplace or the most mundane things, like what to have for dinner. In sum, overthinking is one of the most common habits of our species. From an evolutionary perspective, overthinking is actually a useful feature. Our brain is constantly forecasting the future to anticipate what comes next. In hunter-gatherer time, this came in handy as it protected our ancestors from the danger of upcoming predators among others.
Nowadays, we don’t have to worry about wild creatures chasing us. In many cases, overthinking does us no good. Pondering about how many calories we have eaten that day or the feedback on our latest assignment is counterproductive. What’s more, it’s exhausting, demotivating, and stress-inducing.
The effects of stress
In simple terms, stress is a byproduct of overthinking. Think about it — every day, we make hundreds (if not thousands) of small choices. Some of these choices like answering a phone call or paying a bill may worry us a tiny bit. Anyone can relate. But when the worries are significant and tied to major life challenges, they end up snowballing. And so, excessive worry or overthinking may trigger the stress response.
What is the so-called stress response? In more detail, the stress response has two components. One of them is the perception of the stressor or issue. The other is the fight-or-flight response, a physiological reaction that brings a rush of adrenaline to your body. What’s more, the fight-or-flight response also releases stress hormones such as cortisol. That cocktail of hormones leads to the following physical reactions:
- Quick heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- And many other symptoms
Unmeasured stress is uncomfortable and can have many negative effects in the long term. Experts link long-term stress with hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Further research proves that prolonged stress can impair brain function, the immune system, and cause gastrointestinal complications. Of course, this doesn’t mean that being under stress will make you automatically ill. It only means that you should try to keep overthinking in check to be your happiest and healthiest self.
The benefits of pure relaxation
Relaxation is the antidote to stress — any dictionary will tell you so. Of course, in the workaholic and hyper-productive 21st century, relaxation gets a bad rap. So much that, whenever we take time for ourselves, we feel guilty. However, relaxation is a key element of well-being. Indeed, relaxation comes with plenty of positive health benefits in the long term.
As human beings, we are capable of entering a state of deep rest that changes our physical and emotional responses to stress. In other words, we can activate the relaxation response. Researchers from Harvard Medical School identified the relaxation’s response power back in the sixties. Yet, they discovered that this wasn’t anything new. In fact, people had been activating the relaxation response for centuries through seemingly mundane activities like chanting, praying, and repetitive motion.
Eliciting the relaxation response comes with plenty of perks. Some of them are more obvious than others. For instance, whenever can’t solve a problem, you opt for taking a break and returning to it with a clear head. This works, and so, your relaxed state of mind allows you to make better decisions. Other benefits of relaxation include:
- A more optimistic mindset
- The ability to successfully resist and deal with future stressors
- Greater physical health with lesser risk of insomnia, heart disease, and other stress-related conditions
5 ways to stop overthinking and just relax
Having established that the words “just relax” alone aren’t enough, it’s time to look at efficient alternatives. Luckily, there are many ways to elicit the relaxation response.
1. Connect with nature
There’s a reason why we feel so at ease while lying on the beach — it’s the natural world around us. More specifically, it’s the natural soundscapes that improve health, lower stress and negative feelings, and increase affect. So much that experts are recommending visiting places like national parks to give our well-being a boost. If you don’t live near a national park, there are still plenty of ways to connect with nature. For example, step outside and enjoy the beauty of your garden, listen to natural recordings, or watch the sunset from your window. If none of these options sound appealing to you, explore your city or town and discover the best ways to connect with mother nature.
When you have lots of thoughts breaking havoc on your mind, consider writing them down. Expressing your thoughts and feelings related to stressful situations can make a true difference. This allows you to clear your mind and gain a greater understanding of yourself. In addition, it might even help you find a solution to your problems! And there’s more. Research shows that journaling can decrease the negative effects of stress and enhance overall well-being. Not a prolific writer? Not a problem. You don’t have to be a Shakespeare. Simply write whatever you wish.
3. Talk it out
Journaling is not for everyone, of course. If you can’t focus, are a perfectionist, or there’s a medical condition preventing you from writing, consider talking it out. A friend or relative of trust can listen to your thoughts with empathy. If you’d rather talk to a stranger, you can visit a therapist or counselor at your school or workplace. This can be daunting, but it’s incredibly helpful because a third party will offer you a different perspective on your troubles and worries.
4. Visualize your “happy place”
Visualization or guided imagery offers another useful avenue for relaxation. The idea is to create a vivid, mental image featuring your favorite place or an imaginary environment. Your chosen place has to be extremely relaxing and comforting. Picture a pristine beach or your childhood home. Preferably, it will be an isolated place where you can fully focus on the colors, sounds, smells, and even textures. This exercise helps you associate the sensations of relaxation with the visual image. In the future, recreating the image alone will quickly elicit physical relaxation. The key here is regular practice. The more you do it, the better you become at it and the more you benefit.
5. Explore the corners of your mind
It might sound corny, but it’s actually helpful. Sometimes, we just need to take a proper look at all of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that come and go in our minds. By learning to navigate these fluctuating states, we build resilience and efficient coping mechanisms. In other words, we train the mind. For centuries, human beings have used breathing and other mind-body techniques to anchor themselves. It’s an effective way to build awareness and re-direct our thoughts whenever they are harming our day-to-day.
A quick meditation for pure relaxation
Step 1: Settle into a comfortable position, preferably with your back straight. You can sit on the floor, chair, or cushion.
Step 2: Bring awareness to your body’s sensations. Rely on your sense of touch to feel where your body connects to the floor or the chair you are sitting on. Spend a few minutes exploring these sensations.
Step 3: Tune in with the sensations on your lower abdomen. This is much easier when you gently place your hand there. Just pay attention to your breathing — how it fills in your belly and contracts it.
Step 4: Focus on the details and the natural flow of your breath. Don’t force it. Simply let it be.
Step 5: Let your mind wander wherever it wants (daydreams, thoughts, planning, etc).
Step 6: Escort that awareness back to the physical sensations in the lower abdomen. Focus on your breath going inwards and outwards.
Step 7: Keep going for 15 to 20 minutes or even longer. And, remember, be kind to yourself! Being mindful is a wonderful (and challenging) achievement. So feel proud of yourself for trying.
Time to “just relax” – listen to spatial audio
It’s time to build awareness, to just relax. We understand that stress can be so overwhelming that you might struggle with the already mentioned techniques. That’s why, at Synctuition, we offer the ultimate tool to ease stress and elicit deep relaxation. Our program combines a series of relaxation techniques into one immersive experience. Synctuition’s sound journeys feature spatial audio, nature sounds, and soothing music to help you reach a meditative state. No time to relax? It only takes 25 minutes a day!