It may sound counterintuitive to “schedule” time to relax—schedules are rigid and demanding, the opposite of relaxation. Yet, that is exactly what my most successful (healthiest) patients do. They build time into their days to find what I call peace and calm—some form of downtime that will benefit the brain. Yes, you will sleep at night and rest your mind and body then, but if you are trying to manage your daily stress level more effectively to protect your brain, setting aside a specific time to do so—scheduling it, the way you would any appointment—is the best way. You can eat wisely, exercise, and improve your sleep quality, but if you don’t set aside time to regularly relax, everyday stress will find its way into your life more easily.
Here are some favorite ways to incorporate peace and calm into your life, which perhaps will inspire you to come up with your own ideas. Some of these you can do on a daily basis—just aim for ten to twenty minutes of brain-calming, soul-soothing activity—and some are more occasional.
• Be in nature. If the weather is pleasant, take your morning coffee or tea, or just yourself, outside and sit for a moment.
• Take a walk—this isn’t aerobic, it’s just a relaxing stroll. (This might be best done solo. If you decide to bring your energetic dog or meet a talkative friend, keep in mind that your goal is to reduce your stress, not send it upward!)
• Enjoy soothing sounds and fragrances. Listen to pleasing music without interruption, or to any gentle sounds of your choice, like a bubbling fountain. If you like scented soaps and lotions, indulge yourself daily. For some, the act of cooking a meal and filling a kitchen with pleasurable aromas is the height of relaxation.
• Take time for deep prayer. Prayer time can provide peace and calm. If you are inclined, don’t miss out on this opportunity. (If you prefer meditation, see the tips on pages 191–194.)
• Make a monthly appointment for a soothing massage (or better yet, a weekly one). A good massage releases the
neurotransmitter oxytocin, which naturally triggers a sense of calm and well-being.
• Try yoga. If “hot” yoga or power yoga classes are too strenuous (and if you’re stressed out that you’re doing it all wrong), go for something less athletic, with an emphasis on stretching; you may even be able to find a candlelight yoga class in your community. Gentle stretching classes, as well as movement classes such as tai chi, can also be very calming.
• Enjoy romance and sex with your partner at least two or three times per week; human contact releases oxytocin and lowers cortisol levels. If you don’t have a partner, sharing hugs with friends offers some of the same healthful benefits.
• If you’ve gone through your whole day without a moment to spare, you can build in peace and calm at the end of your evening. Try a hot soak in a tub by candlelight (and with the door locked, kids in bed, and phone unplugged). If that doesn’t appeal, then revisit your bedtime routine and build in at least 10–20 minutes of relaxation before you go to sleep. Keep a journal, meditate, or pray, or just breathe out the stress and breathe in the peace and calm.
Excerpted from The Better Brain Solution. Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Steven Masley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.