Five Ways To Relax and Why You Should Try One This Week

Today we can do so many things more quickly and easily than was possible in my parents’ time. We can send and receive texts and email in an instant, cook entire meals in a microwave, and watch movies and television shows on our own devices at the touch of a button. Yet it often seems life has become more frantic and busy. With so many choices and options come more demands on our time, as well as the feeling that we ought to fill every available minute. Not to mention, many people at all ends of the income spectrum feel they are working harder and longer than ever. When we do have time to relax, it seems almost impossible to unwind. But the benefits of relaxation, a few of which are listed below, are tremendous. I suspect that’s why lately I see so many coloring books available for grown ups. Using art—no particular talent required—is one of five ways I’ve found to relax.

An artist creates a painting during a concert at Tavern of Fine Arts in St. Louis

The Benefits Of Finding Ways To Relax

Easier Problem Solving: Have you ever spent days or weeks struggling with a work or personal issue, only to have a solution come to you as you drift to sleep at night or take a long shower? The creative part of our mind needs to be relaxed to pull together the analytical work we’ve done to help us solve problems. That’s why after spending hours or days researching a legal issue or gathering information for my next novel, I take a break. Time away from the problem almost always ultimately saves time, as I find a solution more quickly than if I kept slogging away.

Better Health And Happiness: Increased alpha waves, which are the brain waves associated with relaxation and meditation, have been linked to better overall health and well-being. For most people, increasing alpha brain waves lowers blood pressure, boosts the body’s immune system, and increases serotonin, the brain chemical that can help counteract depression.

More Success: Artists and other people in creative fields tend to experience alpha brain waves more often than other people. Interestingly, so do top performing athletes. In the moment before the perfect golf shot, tennis stroke, or home run, the best performing athletes relax, let go of all they’ve learned consciously, and immerse themselves in the moment. This is what’s known as being “in the zone.” It feels wonderful, and it’s linked to high performance.

Traveled to St. Louis & saw a Chicago band, Switchback

By now you’re probably thinking that all sounds fine, but who has time? Fortunately, you don’t need to sit on a pillow and count your breaths for twenty minutes a day to relax.

Five Enjoyable Ways To Relax

Music: Listening to music is a great way to relax. You can listen to audio or attend a live performance. A live performance often provides more relaxation because it prevents you from feeling you ought to be simultaneously doing something else while listening to the music. I get great ideas for my novels while attending concerts. When I visited St. Louis recently, I saw Chicago band Switchback in concert. The songs had nothing to do with the mystery series I’m planning to write, but as I listened and tapped my foot, ideas about my new main character flooded my mind. Practicing an instrument, regardless of skill level, is another great way to give the analytic part of your mind a break. As you learn chords, practice scales, or immerse yourself in rhythm, you can let go of all your other stresses and concerns.

Coloring And Other Art: You don’t need to be an artist to use visual art as a way to relax. Coloring books for adults offer all types of images, including gardens, animals, and geometric patterns, to color, whether inside or outside the lines. You can find a sampling of them here. Coloring gives you a chance to focus on something immediate and enjoyable. When you’re finished, you have a feeling of accomplishment, but there’s no need to show anyone else if you don’t want to, so there’s no added stress from outside regarding whether the art is “good.” If you prefer looking at art, museums can be a great way to relax. The images and art objects there offer your mind something new and different to consider and temporarily wipe away other worries and concerns.

One of the winter views from the Amtrak from St. Louis to Chicago.

Riding The Train: I recently took Amtrak from Chicago to St. Louis and back. I did some work on the train, revising the third book in my Awakening series. But I also spent time simply looking out the window. Looking at nature, whether it’s during a walk, through a window, or in a picture relaxes people. The train is a great way to do that while you travel. Unlike when you’re in the sky on a plane, you’re close enough throughout the trip to see the countryside. And unlike driving, you don’t need to pay attention to directions or operating a vehicle. If normally drive or fly on vacation or for work and it’s feasible to take a train, give it a try and see how you like it. Or take a short train trip just for the experience. You’ll relax and, who knows, you might find something fun on the other end.

Walking: The rhythm of walking lulls the mind into the same sort of contemplative, relaxed state that occurs during sitting meditation. The key is to simply walk, not listen to music or audio or rehash your latest worries in your head. Let your mind wander. Let yourself feel bored if necessary, and soon your muscles will relax and your mind will rest. Walking also has the advantage of being a means of transportation. In Chicago, it’s often quicker and easier to walk a mile than to drive it, and it’s always cheaper, as it doesn’t require insurance, paying for parking, or filling the gas tank. If you’re not used to walking, start with the equivalent of a few blocks. Or add a very short walk—say from one side of your office building to the other or from the farthest parking spot to the entrance—several times a day. If you don’t live somewhere conducive to walking, consider driving to a park or indoor track once a week.

The Book House in St. Louis

Reading: Studies show people in hospital waiting rooms are less stressed or upset when they read novels than when they do anything else. Fiction allows us to jump into another world and leave our own behind. If you’re not used to reading or you feel like reading is a waste of time, try setting a timer for 15 minutes before you open the book. This reassures you that not too much time will be used. It also helps you persist if initially you don’t find the writing engaging. A great time to read fiction is right before you go to sleep. It helps your mind transition away from the day’s events. When I’m able to read at least half an hour before going to bed, I sleep better and wake up more refreshed. Goodreads is a great site for book recommendations. And if you like books in the mystery, occult, suspense, or thriller genres, you can subscribe to my M.O.S.T. e-newsletter here for monthly reviews and recommendations.

I hope the above options help you become more relaxed and happy! Feel free to comment on your favorite way to relax below.
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you’d like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.