Rest: Our Forgotten Superpower

We’re desperately grasping outside ourselves for stress relief, when the remedy has been within us all along.

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The title of a recent On Being podcast rings true for many of us: The Urgency of Slowing Down. In a society saturated with stress and burnout, it’s vital that we take time to pause.

The growing anxiety economy has caught on. As Elizabeth Yuko writes in The Calmnivore’s Dilemma, “we’re perpetually seeking and consuming anything that promises us less stress and more calm.” We’re bombarded with products and services that guarantee a quick fix.

Yet, we don’t need to be fixed…we need to rest.

The power of relaxation

The more stressed we become, the more anxiously we look for an instant panacea. Paradoxically, this is when we most need to turn inward. 

Our innate relaxation response is a powerful tool—perhaps the most powerful—to turn off stress. It’s actually in our very nature to be calm.

Overwhelmed with stressors, we’ve forgotten this essential part of us. We’ve forgotten how to relax.

Unwinding a lifelong habit

Stress in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s our body’s natural alarm system. The alarm is a normal response to a perceived threat. Once a threat has passed, and we’re safe, our relaxation response takes over—it’s our inborn counterbalance.

All too often, however, our system sounds a false alarm…when there’s no actual danger. Real and false alarms are going off at every turn. As a result, we’re in a perpetual state of reaction. 

We’ve created a habit of constant reaction and chronic stress. To change this habit, we need to intentionally carve out space to rest. To re-invite the relaxation response into our lives.

Taming stress takes practice

We can look to both science-backed approaches and ancient truths for support. For example, we can tune into our senses, take mini yoga breaks, spend time in nature, repeat a mantra, or practice meditation.

Although these tools can give us a swift dose of calm, they aren’t quick fixes to chronic stress. It takes many years to grow into a habitually-stressed adult. And, it takes daily practice to let go of longtime habits. 

However, consistent practice doesn’t have to be hard. It can be simple. Easy, even.

Small steps, big changes

What if—instead of letting stress build up indefinitely—we notice, pause, and practice a healthier response.

We notice, for instance, the mind racing, jaw tightening, shoulders tensing, and breath quickening. We pause, and choose a simple, time-tested technique to settle into the relaxation response. We practice, perhaps, closing the eyes, relaxing the jaw, rolling the shoulders, slowing and deepening the breath. 

Instead of allowing stress to take up permanent residence, we can find opportunities for rest. In mere minutes, little seeds of calm take root and grow. 

Over time, we create a new, healthier habit. Relaxation again becomes a natural, instinctive response. We remember our stress-relief superpower.

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