We often turn to comforting habits in a bid to help us relax. But are we truly relaxed afterwards? Or numbed out?
Numbed out, for me, feels like losing track of time, letting my brain unwind whilst making it engaged in something stimulating, engaging in impulsive behaviours, almost getting into a trance like state and then ‘waking up’ feeling a bit groggy and disorientated. And numbing out like this usually involves things that aren’t doing my health that many favours, like overeating, watching too much TV and procrastinating.
Relaxation has a different quality. I feel actively engaged in the relaxation, I’m mindful, aware of myself and time, the activity isn’t harmful or negative towards my health. It feels like my mind is allowed some time to get calm and my body has a chance to let go of any tension.
What Numbing Out is, and Why We Do It.
My definitions of numbing out are activities that distract the mind and engage other senses.
Smoking, drinking, eating impulsively or eating sweet or fatty foods. Plus all of those whilst watching TV, browsing the web, and/or reading magazines or newspapers, or playing computer games.
In those types of activities we zone out by using a cigarette or some food to become the facilitating device needed to get to a more relaxed state.
Numbing out like this has similar aspects to true relaxation.
A moment to sit down or lie down. A moment to not talk to anyone. A moment of distraction. A moment to not think for a while and to give our buzzing brains a chance to stop.
But when we get habituated to these activities, we think we are doing them to help us relax. But by taking away our time and having a negative impact on our health, I think we need to define for ourselves what numbing out is, and what relaxing is, and to choose when to engage with either.
Time to Relax.
I think it is fine to numb out. It takes us away from the stresses of the day, and transports us to a place where we don’t have to think or worry and we get to enjoy tastes and other stimulation like the entertainment from a TV show.
But if we rely on numbing out, we forget about how to truly relax. And I think to know how to really get yourself relaxed is pretty important. Afterall, you are going to encounter stress at times when you can’t engage in your perceived relaxation habits (i.e. numbing out). Perhaps a delayed flight, or a dispute at the work place. It would be quite difficult to turn on a TV show, pour a glass of wine and light a fag on the office sofa in the midst of that kind of stress.
A New Way.
In my mind, it makes sense to interject true relaxation techniques before going off to numb out. I think by squeezing in some time to calm down healthily, we separate ourselves from the impulsive craving to numb in our favourite way.
Choosing a to engage in 5 minutes of true relaxation can be the perfect way to wedge some much needed rest in-between getting from the stress to the next task you have to deal with. We don’t need to start with a lot of time, just a few minutes to calm down impulsive desires and let a more balanced you come to the fore front of your mind, and hopefully get into a better place to make decisions from that point onwards. If you want to engage in numbing activities after 5 minutes of relaxation, then go for it! It might release some of the demands you place on TV to get you to feel a certain way, as you’ve already met those needs in the previous five minutes, leaving you open to choose the rest of your time as you wish.
To that end, true relaxation, for me is:
- To give the body a chance to let go of tension. This can be done be lying down on the floor or on another comfortable surface, preferably in a quiet and dimly lit place. Let the body just settle into sinking into the floor. Lying down, and even putting the feet up higher than your head (on the edge of a chair or up a wall) will let your body soften up after a day on your feet or hunched over a desk. To help the body get rid of pockets of tension, you can take it a step onwards and engage in some gentle stretches. Twisting the body, leaning forwards over your legs, or hanging down in a forward bend can just open up the body a bit more and give you some space to breathe.
- Let your mind move from stress to calm. Take a few moments just to let your brain settle on something else other than the whirr of noise built up in it during the day, or during a stressful time. This isn’t meditation per se, but you can indeed get into meditation as a way to bring your mind to balance. But it can be just as helpful to stare out of the window, sit outside and look at the views around you (be they houses and traffic, or fields and trees). Look up at the ceiling, and let your mind wander. Basically – let your mind find its way into emptiness. Don’t fill it. Let it have five minutes to put everything into order. You don’t have to do anything. Just like a glass of shaken up muddy water, if you just leave it alone, all the mud will settle and the rest of the water will be clear.
- Give yourself some air. It’s unbelievable how restricted our breathing can get during an unmindful day. So in these short few minutes of letting everything settle down, do one active thing: breathe deeply. Very simply getting the sense that you are sending breath deep down into your lungs. To help this along, let your belly stick out on an inbreath and you’ll feel that air is being allowed to fill up all pockets of your lungs instead of getting stuck up at the shoulders. (At least that’s what it feels like). Deep breathing like this has a calming affect on the mind and it will give the message to your body that it no longer has to be in panic fight or flight mode. It’s the cue to yourself that things are different now.
So true relaxation for the body is quite simple. If you want to carry on in a more relaxed fashion after this break, but don’t want to numb out completely, then there are relaxing activities you can do that continue along that calmer path.
- Reading a book.
- Doing some body maintenance. Like conditioning your hair, sorting out your nails and the like.
- Giving your feet some attention. Just a few prods and squeezes and rubs to ease any stiffness.
- Cooking a meal.
- Listening to music.
- Doing some simple chores. (Some music on in the background if you want).
When you’ve let everything settle, then it’s up to you where to go from there. Even if it doesn’t settle you completely and you are still buzzing and want to watch TV and get back to comforting mindless habits – then that’s fine. It’s a good practice to introduce a wedge between the impulsive desire and meeting it, that will serve you well wherever you are.