Ways to Slow Down and Decompress after a Fast Paced or Stressful Day: Physical Practices
By Sarah Boyle, MC, RCC | From Parallel Wellness
I believe the goal of mentally and physically decompressing is finding a method that works for you feel more “ease/peace.” For some of us, we may have ongoing concerns that we don’t feel we can make peace with. We may be grieving a loss, awaiting an admission to a workplace, or school program, in the midst of an unresolved conflict that has required space, etc. And accepting this is an important piece to ending the temporary struggle.
In situations like these it isn’t natural for us to feel completely peaceful. But by mindfully acknowledging what it is that we are feeling unsettled about, we can then do our best to support the associated discomfort. I list some techniques in “physical ways to decompress” however other emotional supports may be necessary depending on what you acknowledge you need. Naming the discomfort and knowing it is something you can speak to a counselor with in the near future, phone a friend or family member about, maybe not resolve right now, but resolve tomorrow or the next day, using distraction techniques, – or maybe just accepting you’re not going to feel optimal for a little while – can still turn off our nervous system and assist us to feel as relaxed as possible, given the circumstances. In my personal experience, just vocally saying out loud “UGHH this blows!” in a time of discomfort – has allowed me to decompress a bit and sit back a little more.
The art to working with our nervous system is finding ways that we can turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, the one we experience in a restful state. Engaging our senses (site, smell, hearing, touch, taste) has always been an affective way to bring our focus into the present moment and kick on the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Breathing – ultimately - whether you listen to music, have a good chat, or go for a run, it will be accompanied by a series of exhales. This is the physical decompression. The most direct way to do this is to count our breaths and slow our exhales. The 4:7:8 method is well known for it’s relaxation effectiveness. You want to breath in for 4, hold it for 7, and then exhale for a count of 8, and repeat it until you feel your body come into a more easeful state. In doing so we begin to slow our heart rate and regulate our stress response. Breathing is our body’s speedometer. If we slow it down, the rest of our body will too. This Youtube video by gozenonline provides a tutorial on 4:7:8 Breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxbdx-SeOOo
- Warm Shower or Bath – The temperature and touch effect of showers and baths also have a direct influence on the nervous system and put us in a more relaxed state, starting with our muscles.
- Music – if you are a musical person – different sounds can have a direct effect on our nervous system and ability to self regulate. Just like high beats can lift you up, soothing sounds can wind you down. Slow physical movements to the rhythm of relaxing music can help all the more!
- Self-Talk out loud in a slowed tone and pace: this one is self-explanatory. Envision a soothing caregiver or friend that has always had a nice way of calmminggg youuu downnnn… and mimic that tone and rate of speech for yourself. “OKKKK Sarah lettsss take it easyyyy nowww…. Its been a longgg dayyy and you deserrveee a little peaceee and resttt nowwww. Lets grab some blankets and cozy up on the couch here to stretch out and relaxxx. Ok now Biggg exhale…. Lovely” Soothing self-talk has endless benefits for mental health. I highly suggest engaging in this practice.
- Heated Pad or Blanket - This is a personal favorite. Unless you are someone that does not like heat, I find placing/hugging a heat pad against my abdomen to be highly effective in assisting my body to relax.
- Scented Candles or Oils – Our olfactory system has incredible psychological benefits. If we have a memory, and made an association with a certain smell to a time when we felt soothed and relaxed - it is likely this scent can assist us to get into this state in the present. Vanilla, pumpkin, lavender, etc. are all smells that have typically been associated with a peaceful state at some point in one’s life and by burning them in one’s current environment can directly affect their mind/body in the present.
- A Favourite Non Caffeined Tea – holding/drinking a tea engages our touch, taste, and smell. The heat is also often effective in soothing the body, even if we simply hold the warm cup.
- Physical positions that calm the nervous system
- Lying on our back with our legs up against the wall or lying in any position where your legs are elevated directly turns on our parasympathetic nervous system making us feel relaxed. There really is merit in “putting your feet up at the end of the day”
- Child’s pose – This position is very effective in decompressing the nervous system! It is a must try!
- Massage/Touch - If you have a support person that you feel safe with, touch can be incredibly effective to switch on our parasympathetic nervous system and begin to ease into a state of relaxation.
I invite you to try some of these techniques, or to revisit ones you already commonly do with the intention of winding down. Again, decompressing is a mind and body interplay! Combining a few of these techniques may allow them to be all the more effective for you!
Sarah Boyle is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (#14285). She has a Masters degree in Psychological Counselling from City University of Seattle with further training in Eating Disorders. She is currently a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Adler University and works privately as an RCC at Parallel Wellness.
Sarah has extensive training and knowledge in emotional, relational and physical health. She sees these as fundamental to one’s wellbeing and security, and often the catalyst for many to thrive. Sarah greatly values collaborating with her clients, empowering them to discover and develop their own awareness, goals, solutions, balance, knowledge, liberation and peace.