Being goal-driven and results-oriented are great traits to have, but there’s a catch: the bigger your goals, the better you need to be at managing your stress and taking care of yourself. Being able to switch gears from work mode to leisure time is a critical skill, and mastering it is essential to both your productivity and peace of mind. Having tried-and-true relaxation techniques that you stick to consistently is the easiest way to achieve this.
Ridiculously successful people like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Dave Rubin juggle way more things than even I do; I guarantee that they are masters, not only of their respective trades but of effective downtime. What are their secrets?
You may be surprised to hear that learning to relax effectively is much more about your ideas than drinking tea or taking a bath. Your beliefs about the roles of work and rest in your life ultimately dictate how you will react to each concept. Once you’ve clarified your own understanding of what work and rest actually mean, specific relaxation techniques will be much more effective.
Check Your Premises: What is Work?
Work is not merely what you do to get money in order to finance other stuff you’d rather be doing. In order to be truly successful and happy, you must love your work, and there’s no way around this fact. Since a flourishing life is composed of many distinct but integrated aspects, your work must be enjoyable to you, and it must balance and complement your downtime.
Successful, integrated people work long hours because they love their productive endeavors, but they also don’t neglect their hobbies, or have occasional afternoons spent doing nothing but napping on the couch. Shifting your focus from work to rest doesn’t mean you don’t take your work seriously - quite the contrary; taking regular “me time” demonstrates that you want to be refreshed and ready to bring your absolute best to your work, each and every day. You'll see that by implementing these relaxation techniques, you'll actually become more productive, not less.
5 Relaxation Techniques to Wind Down Effectively
Relaxation Technique 1: Take a moment to be present
Your work and your personal life should complement and enrich one another; both should be more or less equally enjoyable and refreshing to you, in different respects. You work in order to gain self-esteem and independence, trade value for value, and to live well.
Living well means succeeding, creating win-win relationships, and being psychologically healthy in all areas of your life. What do these things look like in the specific context of your life, and how might that standard affect the way you work?
When in doubt, zoom out; remember that work is one (very important) part of your life, not the totality. A great worker regularly takes time off, which in turn recharges them for the next superbly productive work day. Always keep this integrated, comprehensive standard in mind when thinking about work and relaxation.
Living well includes taking moments out of your day regularly to appreciate all that you’ve achieved. Taking these moments can help you stay grounded, check your priorities, and remember that, even in the worst times, the good (almost certainly) outweighs the bad. Setting alarms on your phone throughout the day or using triggers, such as the Breathe Band, are a great way to remind you to take these moments to step back.
Relaxation Technique 2: Set firm (but flexible) rules
An eight-hour workday isn’t quite yet an artifact of the past, but it’s getting there for many people. If you have to work ten or twelve hour days to stay on top of your tasks, you probably have too many of them. Most people react to an increased workload by buckling down and putting in extra hours to get it all done, but rarely stop to reevaluate their priorities. A good chunk of your work may be tasks that can be delegated to others or tasks that aren’t even necessary at all. Periodically check that you’re devoting most of your effort to the true essentials of your work and planning accordingly.
Commit to being truly done for the day after a certain time, and stick to it. You can work late if you must - for major clients or projects only - but don’t make exceptions more than 10% of the time, and take your own rules seriously.
Make sure you:
- Communicate with your boss, clients, and coworkers. Ensure that they know when you’re on the clock and when you aren’t
- Consistently incentivize yourself with (small and reasonable) rewards for not working overtime
- Accept fewer new tasks if you regularly find yourself unable to finish by clock-out time
- Are open to asking for help or delegating things you don’t necessarily need to do yourself.
Relaxation Technique 3: Eat well
I’m sure you already know that it’s important to have a healthy diet; I want to challenge your understanding of what a healthy diet actually is. The vast majority of people don’t eat as well as they could. It shows, in their mood and sometimes in the quality of their work. Maintaining a high energy level throughout the day that winds down near bedtime is crucial to both productivity and relaxation.
Properly understood, eating for productivity and for relaxation are the same thing. If you’ve never heard of Mark’s Daily Apple, it’s full of fantastically useful advice about diet and exercise. If you’re more of a listener than a reader, this episode of the STEM podcast has a lot to say about why conventional dietary wisdom is anything but wise.
A diet high in carbs, sugar, or caffeine wreaks havoc on your energy level, making it spike and dip chaotically throughout the day. A carb-rich dinner may make it difficult to relax before bed, and even harder to get going the following morning, once all that short-acting glucose has been used up. That's why eating properly is such a critical relaxation technique - it keeps everything else in your life in balance.
It takes several weeks of consistent changes to the way you probably eat now, but retraining your body to use fat as its primary energy source (as opposed to carbs) has myriad benefits, including a more stable energy level. You’ll feel more awake while working and find it easier to relax and fall asleep at the end of the day, several hours after your last meal.
Relaxation Technique 4: Unplug & recharge
Technology is great for productivity, but sometimes not so great for R&R. Most screens and light bulbs emit light of a similar intensity to daylight; this kind of light tells your brain that it’s time to be active and moving around.
A couple relaxation techniques when it comes to technology:
- Put away your electronics at least an hour before bedtime (although two or three would be better). Use an app like f.lux to dim your screen and make its light less harsh as you’re ending your workday.
- Turn off most of the lights in your house after dinner, or replace them with much softer amber bulbs. Candles are also acceptable, especially if they smell nice.
- Try not to do anything too physiologically or psychologically stimulating in the few hours before bed. Instead, read (a paper book) or talk to a friend on the phone.
The idea is to inform your body and brain that you intend to be asleep soon. Relaxation is more of a mental process than a physical one, but that doesn’t mean there is no physical component. Work on shifting your mindset to one of relaxation first, but be sure to follow up by being gentle to your body, too. (This is where tea and bubble baths might help.)
Relaxation Technique 5: Get the next day ready
Many hard-working people start to get stressed out in the evening as they think about all the stuff they have to do in the morning which hurts your ability to sleep well. Nip this habit in the bud and plan ahead in order to make your morning as easy as possible. You can do this easily and efficiently by employing two simple strategies.
End Each Day by Planning for the Next One
Set aside 30 minutes at the end of each work day to plan for tomorrow. If you can do it now instead of first thing in the morning, then do it!
Pack your lunch, feed the cat, and put your freshly repacked bag of stuff in the car. The less you have to remember tomorrow morning, the more readily you can relax tonight.
Master Your Morning Routine
Have a plan for the first hours of each day and take your time; you’ll find it much easier to relax at night knowing that the next morning is already squared away. Begin each day deliberately, slowly, and with purpose, even (especially) in the little details.
- Ditch the cereal and muffins for breakfast, and give yourself a full hour to cook some steak and eggs, a veggie omelette, or even just heat up last night’s (protein and fat-rich) leftovers. Throw some butter in your coffee - it’s not as insane as it sounds.
- While cooking (and eating) your delicious and healthy breakfast, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, read a chapter of a book, or just spend some time with your pets on the patio. Ease into the day with something you love, instead of a series of tasks you need to check off.
- Get ready at a measured, relaxed pace. Running around trying to eat and shower in 15 minutes is already stressing you out first thing in the morning. Stop it!
Tools & Takeaways
There are any number of gadgets and strategies you might use to keep your new relaxation techniques on track; here are a few that I recommend.
- Physical triggers, like the Breathe Band, are a great way of regularly checking in with yourself to be present, stay grounded & take a step back.
- Set a “done for the day” alarm on your phone, and obey it!
- A flexible calendar or to-do list - that is, one that doesn’t micromanage you or restrict you to time slots that aren’t easy to change.
- The SELF Journal is, of course, designed to keep you flexible but on task.
- If you prefer a digital solution, Cozi’s to-do lists can be easily rearranged as your priorities shift.
- Consider setting aside one or two days of the week, every week, where you don’t work at all. Having regular long breaks to look forward to is a great way to avoid burnout. Every time I wonder if something can really wait until Monday, it turns out that it totally can.
- Schedule a weekly fun event with friends or family - a board game night, dinner at your favorite restaurant, or a round of golf. Making a commitment to yourself to relax is a great starting point; making such a commitment to other people reduces the temptation to flake on your own downtime.
Think long-range and big picture. Success and prosperity are not defined by however you feel right this moment; each day of your life does not exist in a vacuum. The fact that something feels good doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you (so stop browsing Facebook in bed!). Using even just one of the relaxation techniques in this article will help you sustain your peak performance for longer.
Always remember why you work to begin with: to master your goals and live the best life possible. Adding these relaxation techniques to your evening routine will have a surprisingly big impact on how you feel, function, and live.
So how about it? What little (or big things) do you find yourself doing that make it hard to relax?