Do you have difficulty relaxing? Over the years I’ve had a great deal of challenge chilling. Though on my 53rd birthday I had a chill pill breakthrough and given my birthday falls on December 29, it is the time of year that you can rest — here’s a little ‘how.’ It’s so, so simple — you’ll laugh.
For my birthday I gave myself the ultimate chill — a 3 hour massage, facial and manicure. Sure it sounds a bit girlie, but guys, the ladies have a secret that they’ve been keeping from us. Yes, another one!
If you’ve ever given yourself the gift of pampering, you’ll know what it feels like to master the chill. Once you’ve felt it, your body will know it and might just want to recreate it. Our ladies know how to chill and perhaps that’s why women (statistically) live longer than men. (Women 84.3 and Men 79.9)1
While I was laying there I found it hard to think about anything. I found it much easier to focus on the feeling and think about nothing. Just because we think we’re relaxing while reading a book or having a conversation, we’re not. Thinking doesn’t equal chilling. While it may look like chilling, we expend a large proportion of our energy through thinking and that’s why it takes us so long to relax. Even while we’re on holidays.
Our brains need to be at rest for us to really chill
The average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms. That’s only 2 percent of total body weight, but it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR). The total amount of energy our bodies expend in one lazy day of no activity. RMR varies from person to person depending on age, gender, size and health.
If we assume an average resting metabolic rate of 1,300 calories, then the brain consumes 260 of those calories just to keep things in order. That’s 10.8 calories every hour or 0.18 calories each minute.
A small but revealing study suggests that even mildly stressful intellectual challenges change our emotional states and behaviours. Even if they do not profoundly alter brain metabolism.
If we’re thinking, we’re not chilling
Fourteen female Canadian college students either sat around, summarized a passage of text or completed a series of computerised attention and memory tests for 45 minutes. Before feasting on a buffet lunch. Students who exercised their brains helped themselves to around 200 more calories than students who relaxed. Their blood glucose levels also fluctuated more than those of students who just sat there. But not in any consistent way. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol, however, were significantly higher in students whose brains were busy. So were their heart rates, blood pressure and self-reported anxiety. In all likelihood, these students did not eat more because their haggard brains desperately needed more fuel. Rather, they were stress eating.2
Years ago, I used to use alcohol to relax though these days I avoid it as it alters my moods too much and I never feel rested the day after. In a couple of nights (New Years Eve), there will be hoards of people using alcohol to celebrate and some will use it to rest. On New Years Day they will start their new year feeling worse for wear and will take days to recover (fully).
Meditate your way to chill
In contrast, if you meditate on a regular basis, several positive things happen. First, the strong, tightly held connection between the ‘Me Center’ (Medial prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that constantly references back to you, your perspective and experiences) and the bodily sensation/fear centres begins to break down.
As this connection withers, you will no longer assume that a bodily sensation or momentary feeling of fear means something is wrong with you or that you are the problem! This explains, in part, why anxiety decreases the more you meditate — it’s because the neural paths that link those upsetting sensations to the Me Center are decreasing. Said another way, your ability to ignore sensations of anxiety is enhanced as you begin to break that connection between the unhelpful parts of the Me Center and the bodily sensation/fear centres. As a result, you are more readily able to see those sensations for what they are and not respond as strongly to them (thanks to your strengthened Assessment Center).3
So if you really want to learn how to relax it’s easier than you think and you can do it in just 4 steps.
Step 1: Stop what you’re doing right now.
Step 2: Close your eyes and
Step 3: Don’t buy into your thoughts, don’t put any meaning on them, just observe them.
Step 4: Repeat at least once a day for around 10 to 20 minutes.