One of the most important things I can do as a physician for my patients is to give them permission to rest. Not just permission, but an actual prescription to find moments of rest and fun in their days. This is because our bodies need to be in a relaxed state to heal and prevent disease.
When we are just chillin' - our bodies are still hard at work, taking care of important tasks that too often get shoved aside when we are busy, on the go, and stressed out. Our brain goes into a creative and problem-solving mode, our digestive system gets to work properly breaking down and absorbing nutrients, and our immune system functions optionally.
To understand why physiology of why these tasks don't happen as well when we are in a state of stress, check out this video. For those of you who read the word physiology and want to run a mile, I'll cut to the chase. When we are stressed, for whatever reason, our body focuses on functions that would help us to escape a physical danger, and temporarily shuts down functions that are not useful for that one very pressing task. Put simply - you don't need to digest, balance hormones, or fight pathogens when you are running from a tiger.
This system has served us really well as a species up until recent times, when we are more likely to be under constant stress from factors that are not imminently life-threatening. A news headline, e-mail or any number of minor triggers can send our heart racing, communicating to our body that we are in danger. Over time, this can lead to conditions like chronically eleven blood pressure and blood sugar imbalances. It can also lead to reduced digestive function, hormone imbalances and an immune system that has gone awry.
The good news is that spending time relaxing can go a long ways towards countering the time you spend in stress. My recommendation to patients is that they spend 10% of their waking hours (about 90 minutes a day) doing something fun or relaxing. Any number of activities can fall into this category, - you don't have to be lying in a hammock this whole time. Walking, gentle biking, yoga, painting, dancing, singing, reading a good book, sewing, writing a letter to a friend, having a cup of tea - all of these activities count as rest.
If there are days when you just don't have a minute to spare, much less a whole ninety of them, that's ok too. Two to three minutes of deep breathing a couple times a day can also help tone the nervous system bring you out of a state of stress.
These are stressful times. It's harder than ever to create a consistent routine, to carve time out for rest, and to not feel guilty when we do. My take home message to you is to reframe the way you think and talk about rest. It's not idle or wasted time, but rather an opportunity for your body to preform vital functions that keep you healthy.
Give yourself permission to enjoy some guilt-free relaxation every day, even just for a few minutes. Doctor's orders ;)