have time to relax? Then make time.
For some, the
act itself seems overwhelming or cumbersome, requiring too much time
and effort. But what if carving out time to relax was
really more manageable than you
We sought advice
from six local experts with both clinical and holistic backgrounds
when curating a list of mindfully efficient ways to relax. Hereís
our A to Z guide to finding your
As humans, the
tendency to hold ourselves to the highest standards is often
detrimental to our mental health. Whatís more? Our expectations of
others are just as unrealistically high. The simple act of being aware
of these tendencies ó and learning to control them ó can be
life-altering. "Awareness is the key," says Dr. Donald Roth,
a psychologist with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. "From a very
practical standpoint, people need to develop the ability to give
themselves permission to let go. Decrease your expectations of
yourself and others."
Di Philippi, a
holistic anxiety therapist with Wellness Counseling Milwaukee in
Brookfield, says mindful belly breathing, a combination of
diaphragmatic breathing and respiratory control, is the first tool she
teaches her patients, who often suffer from stress or anxiety.
"Instead of taking a deep breath, you focus on keeping the length
of your inhale and the length of your exhale the same. Youíre
focusing only on your breathing during that time," she explains.
"We know that it has a physiological effect on the body and
activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Thatís the part of the
nervous system thatís lacking in most people because of stress and
needs to be built up more."
preventative approach rooted in neuroscience, cognitive behavioral
therapy involves examining ó and likely changing ó the way you
think. "Look at your thinking and think differently," says
Philippi. "The way youíve been thinking has created your
stress. If you want a different result, you need to think differently.
The idea is to get to the root cause of thinking so we donít have
the same cause of stress in the first place."
Driving can be
an incredibly stressful activity, but it can also be an utterly
relaxing one. The Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive is perhaps the most
well-renowned nearby ó a 115-mile route weaving through the southern
and northern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. "If youíre
a passenger in the car, youíre really taking in all the
surroundings. Try to be fully aware of what youíre looking at,"
recommends Mark Jensen, a licensed clinical social worker with Aurora
It may seem
glaringly obvious, but exercising is one of the most effective ways to
relieve stress and anxiety. "It releases a lot of
endorphins," explains Jensen. "A lot of the pent-up energy
that comes from anxiety really does get released when you can just
out." "Even just a 20-minute
walk can be helpful," echoes Roth.
Andy Larson, a
former corporate accountant, opened Float Milwaukee in Walkerís
Point last August. The concept is surprisingly straightforward: You
float, quite literally, in a flotation tank filled with 10 inches of
water and 900 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts for 60 minutes. The
water is heated to an average skin temperature, reducing the sensation
between body and water.
could get something out of it," says Larson. "Physically,
you have your relaxation, stress relief and meditation facilitated.
Thereís pain relief because you donít have pressure in your
joints." He says those suffering from chronic migraines and
rheumatoid arthritis can also benefit from floating. Mentally,
floating can aid in managing stress and anxiety. "When youíre
in that state with everything taken away, your brain is able to
process things internally that youíre working on," Larson
published in Stress and Health journal found that chewing gum was
associated with lower levels of perceived stress. Gum chewers were
also less likely to be depressed and to have seen their doctor for
high blood pressure or high cholesterol. "The gum will help with
restlessness. It gets your mouth moving," explains Jensen.
"We are in
one of the prettiest places in the world, right here, with the Kettle
Moraine State Forest and beautiful natural resources," enthuses
Dianne Frances, a psychotherapist with her own practice in Milwaukee.
"Even just walking a little bit out in nature could be very
restorative. Youíre doing a lot of positive things at once ó
sunlight is significant, cardiovascular exercise, and thereís also a
shift in our biochemistry when weíre out among trees and breathing
fresh air, taking in the beauty and allowing time to be quiet and
reflective." Roth agrees. "Research has shown that the
impact of being in nature on the brain is very soothing and
calming," he adds.
will reverse the flow of blood, so theyíre getting more blood to
your heart versus taking it away from the heart. The posture will be
very energizing," says Kate Dean, a certified yoga instructor
with Milwaukee Power Yoga, BrewCity Yoga and Get Hot Yoga. "After
work, or even halfway through, take legs up the wall for a bit. The
posture lets all of that bad stuff drain away, and it also helps you
build core strength and upper body strength." Dean adds that
confidence can also soar. "The first couple of times can be very
humbling, but once you get that first headstand, you kind of feel like
you can do anything."
your ordinary "Dear Diary," says Frances. She recommends
purchasing a notepad reserved solely for journaling ó and for
nothing more. "What I suggest to people is to put something in it
every day. It doesnít matter what it is. Think of it as a way of
off-loading something youíre carrying, like a steam valve. Give
yourself a chance to get some relief by pouring something out. Getting
into a routine of doing that every day is extremely therapeutic,
especially when you donít have the requirement of what it should
look like," she
against rereading old entries, though. "Do not go back and
read," she stresses. "As weíre processing and going
through a lot of things, how you feel about something today hopefully
wonít be how you will feel about it in two weeks or a month. Youíll
get worked up again and very agitated (if you reread entries)."
kindness ó for yourself, that is. "There has to be some sort of
balance with treating yourself like a good friend," says Frances.
"Appreciate yourself and treat yourself like someone you actually
like. We buy flowers for others, but why not treat ourselves to a
bouquet? We just donít get taught that. We donít grow up learning
Many people have
an unrealistic view of what can be accomplished in a certain amount of
time. "Finding a way to make a to-do list that works for you is
important," says Frances. "Breaking it down is also
important when it comes to time. You have a lot to do ó how are you
going to get it done? Write down everything you need to do, and then
come at it from what absolutely has to get done by tomorrow. Sometimes
we use that term Ďhave toí when itís not realistic. Give a
reasonable estimate of how long each one of those things will take.
How much do you need to break those down to get them done?"
meditation? Donít worry ó youíre not alone.
problem is that there are literally hundreds of kinds of
Philippi. "When people say, ĎIím going to meditate,í thatís
going to mean so many different things."
The key, she
says, is finding a way to focus your mind so that both your mind and
body are in the same place at the same time, doing one thing and
working together. "The body can only be in one place at one time,
but the mind can be all over creation," Philippi empathizes,
noting that experiencing intrusive thoughts during meditation is
completely normal. "Focus on your breathing without trying to
change it, knowing that the mind is going to stray ó thatís just
what it will do. The training of meditation is about noticing when the
mind goes somewhere else, catching it, and then bringing it back to
focusing on the body."
not a right way or a wrong way," Frances adds. "Itís about
getting more peace. The most important thing is to have some regular
practice. If what you have is five minutes a day and thatís the best
you can do right now, then you start with five minutes per day. The
success of each meditation is not measured by that meditation, but by
the fact that you did it. Itís that regularity that brings people
20-minute nap can have a profoundly beneficial effect on both your
physical and mental health. "A lot of people struggle with sleep
issues, and theyíre given instructions not to nap during the
day," says Roth. "But if people can establish a routine
where they are able to take a 20-minute nap before 3 p.m. so they can
still fall asleep later at night, they should. Weíre so sleep
deprived, and sleep is so restorative."
act of cleaning out the closet can give you the release that you can
take on something huge," says Frances. Any incremental change, no
matter how small, helps. "Donít make it a mountain you canít
climb. If you donít have the energy to organize your kitchen
cupboards, start with one corner of one shelf in one cupboard. That
process of beginning will help you to start imagining what you will do
next." Still feeling overwhelmed? Frances recommends hiring a
professional. "Professional organizers are not going to be
shocked at whatever you have. Organizing is their business ó this is
what they do," she says.
unconditional love ó both for your pet and from your pet ó is a
powerful connection, and one that can allow us to tap into deeper
emotions weíre often inclined to keep in. "Iíve found people,
both adults and children, are able to talk about things that are quite
difficult in a way that feels safe when a pet is nearby," says
Frances, who uses animal-assisted psychotherapy in her own practice.
"There is a biochemical reaction that happens to us when we are
around animals, petting and playing with them. A biochemical shift
happens in the brain that isnít much different from what an
antidepressant does. Our mood and health are generally improved."
your mind ó or, at the very least, refocusing it away from negative
thoughts Ė can be done. "Take time to ground yourself. Put your
feet on the floor, feel your feet on the floor, and get back to where
you are and not where your mind is going," Jensen instructs.
"We also talk about using an ice cube in your hand to get your
mind focused on the actual ice cube and not the stress thatís going
on around you. The more mindful you are of what youíre doing and
where you are, the more you can regulate stress and prevent other
stressors from happening."
Reiki therapy is
a Japanese technique used to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
"Reiki is that energy level," explains Philippi, who has
been a Reiki therapist for more than 15 years. "The therapy works
with the energy systems in the body to help clear out any blockages in
the energy system. Stress, for example, would be considered a blockage
in the system." The treatment involves lying on a massage table,
fully clothed, as a therapist lightly touches specific areas just
above your body or on your body to clear out negative energy.
"The idea is to have the energy free flowing among all of your
chakras, which are the energy centers of your body," Philippi
adds. "You get that sense of relaxation and letting go of that
stress. It feels very relaxing and rejuvenating."
One of the
simplest ways to reduce stressful thinking is to engage in an act that
stimulates the senses. Roth recommends washing the dishes. "Itís
an immediate sensory experience ó the temperature of the water, the
smell of the dish detergent, the wetness of the water and the texture
of the dishes," he says. "Bringing yourself back to the
immediate sensory experience is a key skill. It brings the mind back
from whatever narrative it has about the future or regrets about the
think about when our grandparents were younger, when people would take
their time with things," Roth continues. "The mundane (like
the act of washing the dishes) is actually where itís at ó itís
where life is happening. The excitement and worry in our heads is
unnecessary and stress-inducing, and not grounded in reality."
on the Tunes
A 2013 study
titled "Trends in Cognitive Sciences" found that listening
to music was more effective than prescription drugs in reducing
anxiety before surgery. "When I ask people whatís helpful for
them in terms of stress and anxiety, music comes up on a regular
basis," says Roth. "As people are taking time to listen to
music, theyíre bringing their awareness to something in addition to
whatever they may be stressed about."
are soothing in and of themselves, with their lighting and
ambiance," says Jensen. "Visiting a museum is a good way of
putting yourself in a new situation that causes you to pay attention
to whatís going on." The visual stimulation allows the mind to
focus elsewhere, preventing the intake of negative thoughts.
Xís and Oís
ability to give and receive
affection helps our biochemistry. It helps us to feel relief,"
Frances explains. "Thereís plenty of research about people who
donít get hugged and how it can negatively affect your mental health
if youíre not able to give and receive affection."
recommends expressing appreciation to the people who give our lives
meaning. "Being able to sort of Ďcountí the things weíre
appreciative of helps us to feel better and more appreciated,"
Sure, we often
yawn when weíre tired or bored, but research shows that yawning is
also neurologically beneficial. One study linked yawning to an
increase in dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter often associated with
reward or pleasure, and Dr. Andrew Newburg, a leading neurotheology
researcher, dubbed yawning "one of the best-kept secrets in
neuroscience," claiming the act brings a heightened sense of
encourages clients to create a safe space for themselves ó a "zen
zone" of sorts. "It can be as simple as one little corner of
a room," she says. "Or in the bathtub. You can even be fully
clothed. Shut the bathroom door and take a blanket so it feels
cozy." Find a space free from visual distractions and clutter.
important about the zen zone is turning it into a ritual,"
Philippi continues. "It sends a cue to your brain and your body
that this is your let go time, your down time, your me time." m
someone who can go into a store and feel comfortable there, then
window shopping can be a great stress release," Jensen
recommends. Go alone, and spend an hour or so absorbing your
is wonderful, but it has made us accessible 24/7," admits
Frances. "That in itself brings an amount of stress ó we feel
like we cannot get away, and we canít get relief. For a lot of
people, that feeling is very troubling." She recommends having a
"no phone zone," whether it be your bathroom or bedroom, or
limiting your email response times to one hour in the morning and one
hour in the afternoon. "Efficiency experts who work with business
people actually suggest that we limit email communications to specific
time frames," Frances continues. "Weíre more effective and
can accomplish more when weíre not distracted."