Mind Games: How and Why You Need to Relax


Don’t let mind games derail your goals. It’s vital to relax, slash stressors and create calm within your world.

“When you work out super hard, you need recovery time for your muscles. The same is true for your mind,” says Amy Waltz, LCSW, Employee Wellness Program Therapist at Memorial Hermann.

Waltz shares her tips for renewing your mind so you can succeed at exercising, eating better and working smarter.

“Everyone is different, so find what works for you,” she says.

What: Start and end your day with rituals.
Why: Peaceful pauses in the early hours curb chaos and boost productivity throughout the day, Waltz says. Later on, good bedtime habits can improve sleep.

How: Bookend your day with calm. Wake up early to exercise, meditate, pray or read your favorite blog. At night, power down systematically to help ensure a snooze fest: meditate, read or otherwise unplug. Also, limit caffeine and screen time. To ensure you don’t get sucked in by social media, place your family’s charging station in the kitchen so laptops, iPads and cell phones are out of reach.

“The light of TVs, iPads and phone screens can disrupt sleep patterns,” Waltz says. “Instead, try writing down in your journal what you’re most grateful for that day or soothing yourself with a long, hot shower.”

What: Observe and improve your inner dialog.
Why: Positive self-talk gives you strength, while negative self-talk drains you. “You risk going down the rabbit hole of anxiety,” Waltz says.

How: Surround yourself with positive reminders. For instance, you might write them down and post them on your desk, fridge or bathroom mirror. Edit negativity from your social media, TV queue, circle of acquaintances— and your thoughts, Waltz says. “You might ask yourself, ‘Would I say that to a friend?’ What can I say instead?” Waltz says.

Also, do an inventory of the people in your squad or workplace. “Do they lift you up or bring you down?” asks Waltz. Then ditch the downers.

What: Build barriers between work and home.
Why: Leaving work at work is a must. “We can’t be ‘on’ all the time,” Waltz says. “Unplugging helps you recharge.” It also gives you freedom to focus on personal goals.

How: “Avoid taking on extra work shifts or assignments,” Waltz says.

Also, try not to read or respond to work emails after a chosen hour. Set start-and-stop times for meetings so they don’t spill over into your day. Say “no thank you” to time-stealers. After work and on weekends, escape via “me” moments, such as hobbies, calling friends or relatives or taking staycations. Even listening to music or choosing silence on your commute helps. “Learning to say ‘no’ can be very freeing and empowering,” Waltz says.

What: Identify which stressors help or hinder you–and curb the latter.
Why: Stress can motivate you to meet deadlines. But longtime stress can cause health problems and poor sleep as well as alter eating patterns.

How: Heed physical cues: shortness of breath, neck and back tension or jaw soreness from gritting or grinding your teeth. Breathe deeply and slowly, practice yoga or confer with a mentor, friend or counselor, she suggests. Declutter your work space and home. "Some might relax by exercising, gardening, cooking or serving others," says Waltz.

What: Laugh–even if you fake it–to relieve tension.
Why: Our bodies don't know the difference between a forced laughter and a belly laugh. "Chemicals in our body change when we laugh that help us release stress and feel better," suggests Waltz.

How: Watch a funny movie or TV show, listen to a comedian or read something entertaining. Be silly. "If you know someone who makes you laugh, have coffee with them," suggests Waltz.

What: Be mindful and savor the moment.
Why: "Data shows that paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, and being in the moment with no judgement, enriches our lives," Waltz says.

It also enables us to be satisfied with smaller food portions and reminds us of the mental benefits of exercise.

How: As you dine, savor the aroma, taste and texture of your food. Chew slowly, putting down your fork between bites. Also note any warm memories linked to the food. When you muscles ache at the computer, pause and do a body-scan, breathing deeply and relaxing muscles progressively from your forehead to your feet. If you're gripping the steering wheel or blood rushes to your head while you're driving, breathe slowly and stop to note a gorgeous sunset or enjoy your favorite music.

It takes will to chill. So resolve to relax.

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