• Dr Phoebe Lau

How to rest to recover and boost performance

At what point is there too much Netflix and chill? There is nothing wrong with having glorious moments of lying down on the couch and binging on your favourite television show as a way of unwinding. At some point (maybe after the third episode?), it becomes less restful and more mindless consumption. This is especially true, if you’re one of us who can’t even get through an episode without checking your phone, scrolling through Instagram, or answering emails. Suddenly your brain has to manage (at least) two competing tasks. Doesn’t sound very restful does it? At this point, are you still even enjoying “Netflix and chill”? Truly experiencing enjoyment in your body and mind?

Boy playing underneath water sprinklers
Photo by MI PHAM

During some much earned down-time, your brain consolidates memories and events that have happened, recharges attentional resources, and reflects on yourself and the world around you.This means that resting can be seen as an opportunity for your brain to freely imagine, create, and problem-solve without competing expectations or demands. So for those who think resting is lazy, your brain is doing much more than you think! To help your brain do it’s thing, here are a few restful activities to bring enjoyment and with no particular purpose in mind. 

Be silly

When was the last time you were silly? It seems like as we grow up, taking the time to play and be silly gets packed away. But most of us still have a silly side who loves to play as we did as children. Hands up if you love silly memes and still find pranks funny! Being silly and laughing as a result, releases endorphins - feel good chemicals that help us tolerate pain and stress. When we are better able to tolerate pain and stress, we have the capacity and resources to create and imagine. 

Move your body

Now, before you think I’m going to harp on about exercise (although it’s extremely important for good mental health), I suggest to move your body in any way you like. The key here is generating a sense of enjoyment. Stress and painful emotions are stored in our body. Thoughts related to stress and emotional pain are immediately registered by your body as tension. Think about the physical tension you may carry in times of stress. Tension headaches, muscle soreness, or stomach aches are only a few common physical symptoms. To relieve this tension after work or a stressful moment, you may exercise (at least moderate intensity), do yoga stretches, or (my favourite) dance it out at home to great music. Moving your body releases serotonin and endorphins, vital for a calm mind and feeling good. When we shift how our bodies feel, our minds tend to follow. We allow our minds the space to quietly work away in the background on creative solutions. 

Silhouette of man walking through fields with sunset
Photo by Fachy Marín

Get into nature

Unless you’ve been buried under your workload, you would have heard about the benefits of bringing nature into your daily life. You may have even heard about the physical health and mental health benefits of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. Simply put, urban cities are not our natural habitat. Although we may like the convenience and fun of living in the city, there is also significant stress in the myriad of man-made sights, scents, and sounds. Just thinking about peak hour brings up tension. Being in nature in a leisurely and mindful manner has been shown to improve our immune system, from reducing stress levels to improving one’s blood pressure [1, 2]. When we feel more relaxed and mindful in nature, it allows our minds to gain perspective and freely generate ideas.

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