Relax! It’s a thing.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

–Sydney J. Harris,  Author “Winners and Losers”

Wispy Clouds

Wispy Clouds

“Just relaxing.”

This is the answer I sometimes get when I ask one of my male friends what he’s doing or what he’s been up to. On the other hand most of my women friends are likely to say something like “Oh, I’m being lazy,” “I’m being so bad!” or “I’ve been so worthless today.” Then, in the same breath they list the many things they ‘should’ have been doing or ‘need’ to do. The guilt is obvious.

Why do we feel guilt for relaxing?

Research shows that when the body is at rest it takes the opportunity to repair and rejuvenate itself. Restorative functions include muscle growth, tissue repair and protein synthesis. In some cases growth hormones are only released during sleep. Rest is often prescribed when you’re sick or have an injury, yet we pride ourselves on getting back to work immediately and not taking any downtime.

Recently a friend who was recovering from surgery was frustrated because she was too tired to do anything productive. I explained that it’s as if the injury is the front lines of battle and doing anything other than resting is pulling the troops off the front lines to do something less important. Healing the injury is important and urgent. If done efficiently it’ll get you up and active again more quickly than pushing yourself into a possible setback.

According to WebMD most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Not getting enough sleep results in memory lapses, depression, immune deficiency, metabolism, ability to learn, motivation and impaired judgment. Sleep and rest are even more important if you’re under stress or have an illness or injury.

If you aren’t sleeping but just relaxing, that’s good, too. According to Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives resting our bodies leads to more energy, better sleep, enhanced immunity, increased concentration, better problem-solving, greater efficiency, smoother emotions and reduced blood pressure as well as less tension. Who wouldn’t want that!

How about relaxing your mind?

You can easily read, watch TV or talk on the phone while resting your body. But your mind needs rest too. Research using neuroimaging technologies show that important activity is going on in the brain while a person is reclined and doing nothing at all. It’s called the brain’s default mode.

“The Brain’s Default Network: Anatomy, Function and Relevance to Disease,” authored by a team from Harvard University and published in the Annals of New York Academy of Sciences reports that PET scans and CAT scans show that some areas of the brain light up even more in passive activity such as freethinking or daydreaming than in active thinking such as reading or solving a math problem.

When you’re daydreaming your mind is busy. Activities include memory retrieval, picturing the future, comprehending the perspectives of others, forming memories and categorizing information.

Many of us are literally too busy to think! We keep our hands and minds occupied from morning ‘till night and pride ourselves on multi-tasking and being busy. Ever notice that you get your best ideas when you’re in the shower, driving or exercising? These are the few times during the day when we don’t keep our minds focused on active thinking such as reading, talking, writing or problem solving. Imagine the ideas we’d have if we planned time for mental relaxation!

How about you? Do you feel guilty when you relax? Do you take time for daydreaming? Comment below and share your thoughts.

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