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In my work as a professional speaker, I spend many hours on my feet presenting and a lot of hours travelling interstate and crossing multiple time zones.  To perform and think at my best, being able to switch off is as important as remembering to pack my toothbrush and spare undies.

I find it curious that many people view rest as a four-letter word, something to be despised, needed only by the weak or sick.

Rest is restorative. We flourish when we switch off and when our brain is provided with sufficient down time that replenishes our mental batteries.

It’s about treating ourselves as human, not machine.

We blame many things for our inability to switch off:

  • Feeling too much stress and worry
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Feeling guilty about not coping
  • Feeling overwhelmed by too much work
  • Feeling we never fully complete our work
  • Working for too many hours, especially late at night
  • Spending too long engaged with our technology
  • Feeling too “wired”
  • Drinking too much coffee
  • Juggling too many things to have any time to invest in ourselves

Which is why switching off has to be a conscious choice and integrated into our daily routines and there are a number of things that can help.

1. Give your brain a break

“Gimme a break!” is the catch cry of the overburdened and overstretched while resisting that “just one more thing” that’s putting us at risk of mental overload. Pressing pause for 10-15 minutes several times a day gives our poor overworked brains time to defrag and reboot meaning the next chunk of work will be done more easily and with greater focus.

2. Get enough zzzz’s

Disturbed sleep for whatever reason (kids, a snoring partner and or a furry friend) leads to daytime sleepiness, reduced concentration, and a slower speed of processing and increased forgetfulness.

We cannot train ourselves to do with less sleep. While some are endowed with the short sleep gene, most mere mortals need between 7-9 hours of good quality uninterrupted sleep.

Keeping to a regular pattern for when you go to bed and get up establishes better sleep hygiene habits making it easier for your brain to know when it’s time to power down.

Can’t sleep at night? The power of the nap is it’s a great 20-minute cognitive refresher best taken in the early afternoon to replenish attention and energy and make up (in part at least) for insufficient sleep at night.

3. Move more during the day

Yes, we need to “find thirty” minutes of aerobic exercise for general health and wellbeing, but increasing your level of incidental physical activity at regular intervals across your day helps to keep your mind fresh, stress levels lower and makes it easier to unwind.

4. Chill and be still

Whether you choose a meditation practice, a soothing piece of beautiful music or to just sit quietly with your thoughts. Just like exercise, it helps your mind to disengage and helps the mind to relax.

5. Get creative

You might not be a Da Vinci or a candidate for Australia’s Got Talent, but spending time on a creative activity such as painting, photography or writing a fiction novel drives imagination and is often deeply relaxing, helping you to maintain a more optimistic outlook on life.

6. Laugh more

We do take ourselves terribly seriously. Humour is a fabulous pressure relief valve helping to decompress overwhelmed minds, raising levels of our feel-good hormones, reduces stress and cortisol and strengthens our social bonds and relationships. Sharing a joke, smiling more and choosing to see the funny side of life’s events has been shown to make us feel more relaxed and productive.

7. Spend time with those who mean the most

Relationships matter. The dividends from investing in your relationships show up as a sense of belonging, trust and purpose. Feeling happy is a great way of enhancing your ability to tune out from the troubles of the world.

8. Mind your language

“Shoulda”, “coulda”, “woulda” and the worst culprit “I’ll just.” If you catch yourself lamenting over what hasn’t been completed (yet) and feel compelled to make up for lost time or opportunity by just taking a few extra minutes (ha-ha is it ever?) to send that last email, look up an article or pay a few bills, stop!

9. Let go of what you can’t control

You might like to be in control, but the reality is there are certain things we have no influence over, so stressing over them is a complete waste of energy. It may not be easy but it does get easier with practice to take that deep breath and let go.

10. Determine which emotions are useful to you

If you’ve bought the complete range of emotional baggage you may have noticed how difficult this makes for you to check out of those ruminative thoughts that get stuck on replay.

Feelings are temporary, so choosing to flip your focus to happier thoughts, and allowing yourself to be distracted by enjoying time out with family and friends is a great way to relax and switch off.

To get the best out of your thinking, to stay focused, alert and more effective, begin by ensuring you switch off and get enough rest.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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