How to rest... effectively | Fin24
 
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How to rest... effectively

Dec 14 2018 15:47
Amanda Visser

As South Africans we live in a hypervigilant state. 

There is very little let-up. 

When the year winds down and we have the opportunity to rest, many find it difficult to make the most of it.

Julia Halstead-Cleak, clinical psychologist and founder of the Oxford Healthcare Retreat in Sandton, says she has seen a marked increase in high-functioning people seeking treatment because they feel overwhelmed and exhausted. 

She explains that our autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems. And people tend to spend too much time in their sympathetic nervous system.

In the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” system manifests when irritability becomes anger or rage and anxiety becomes panic attacks.

Ups and downs

The sympathetic nervous system is designed for action, says Halstead-Cleak: “Our bodies produce adrenalin, and it also produces cortisol, which is a stress hormone.”

The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with “rest and digest”, but when people crash down from being too long in the sympathetic nervous system, they experience disconnectedness, depression, hopelessness and the inability to think or to make decisions. 

Halstead-Cleak says some people bounce between the two nervous systems for various reasons, including for example political turbulence, economic uncertainty and fear for their safety. 

They seldom stay in the “window of tolerance” where they feel productive, think clearly and where they are able to manage their behaviour. 

This is the state where people are spontaneous, creative, energetic, playful and engaged.Halstead-Cleak says when people are bouncing between the two nervous systems, they start showing somatic symptoms such as chronic neck and back pain; headaches; other pains and tummy troubles. 

“Our gut is our first brain. When we are extremely anxious, we feel nauseous – our body registers pain when we are that anxious and produces natural opiates which cause the nausea.” 

The quest for rest 

Martie du Plooy, life coach and consultant at Innermost, says high-functioning people find their identity in the rat race. 

“When they are taken out of [the rat race], they find it difficult to relate to themselves and people close to them – again causing stress and perhaps even conflict.”

She says many people feel they do not deserve to have “downtime”. 

The time that we are supposed to spend with our own thoughts is spent on our phones.

“We are increasingly deprived of opportunities to simply spend time with our thoughts and nothing else; allowing [our mind] to flow and wander where it wants to go.”

Halstead-Cleak says the quickest way to deal with stress is through the body – because the mind will follow the body. 

“Once the body calms down, the mind follows and is able to think, to engage and to be playful again.”

Their treatment focuses on five areas: psychological (impact of stress on relationships, the body and functionality at work); physiological (mindfulness and yoga sessions, boxing and swimming); biological (the chemical system is treated with medication and the electrical system is treated with craniosacral therapy, reflexology and deep tissue massages); sensory treatment (music, sauna and floatation) and nutrition (to replenish the system).

The conscious choice

Du Plooy says people have to make conscious decisions to allow themselves to rest. 

“When you are going on holiday, take one or two days where family and friends know they may not expect anything from you.”

People can be draining. Allow yourself to spend time on your own, disengage from activities and conversation, even if it is only for two or three hours. 

“Take a break from your mind and get into your body. Notice your breathing and simply be in the moment.” 

She suggests taking time – even if it is only 30 seconds – every day to notice your breathing. 

She says technology has become a psychological crutch. People need to consciously disengage from technology. 

Watching a movie may feel relaxing, but it is not the “rest” needed. “We need to take well-deserved breaks from people, busy surroundings and technology.” 

She suggests removing your work email from your smartphone altogether. 

It removes the temptation to secretly check your mail every so often.

Du Plooy says people are entitled to set boundaries to not be available when they are away from work and spending time with themselves, friends and family.  

Some tips to truly rest:

  • Be present: “Engage with your family by not being on your phone. 
  • When you are lying on the beach, listen to the sea, feel the sand, smell the air, taste the sea salt and see the blue sky,” says Halstead-Cleak. 
  • A state of coherence: When our body and mind is in sync, we experience a state of coherence – we are in sync with the pace of nature compared to the rush and the noise of the city. 
  • Attitude:  Be unhurried and cultivate an attitude of appreciation. Take time every day to recall a joyful experience.
  • Breathe:  When we breathe in we activate our sympathetic nervous system and when we breathe out we activate our parasympathetic nervous system. When you are feeling anxious, inhaling should be short and exhaling should take longer. 
  • Compartmentalisation: “Worry is a shadow. We cannot shake it,” says Halstead-Cleak. But, she adds, we should take a problem, worry about it for a specified time and then put it in a drawer in our mind. Therefore: acknowledge the worry, spend some time with it, and then put it away. Once people find themselves in their “window of tolerance”, they are able to make decisions and are able to be creative.“Holidays are not about doing nothing. It is about doing things with enjoyment that will activate the playful part that will energise you,” says Halstead-Cleak.   

*Amanda Visser was a guest of the Oxford Healthcare Retreat.

This article originally appeared in the 20 December edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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