How many of us wind down after a busy day at work? It can feel like the pace never slows. We fly back through the door and do things that do not help to calm the mind or body before crashing into bed for disturbed sleep. Before we know it the cycle starts all over again.
Many of us resort to short term solution such as wine, TV box sets and comfort eating to relieve the symptoms of stress in the evening. In short these can contribute to increased fatigue, lower mood, make us feel more wired and disturb sleep patterns.
Finding ways to unwind after a busy day can improve sleep and reduce long term stress. Moving from a state of hyper vigilance to a calmer mind and relaxed body is essential for long term health and wellness. If work is stressful create a calm between the storms to reboot, recharge and properly relax. In short, a wind down strategy can make you happier and healthier, preventing the symptoms of long term anxiety, insomnia and fatigue.
You are entering the decompression zone.
- Unplug. We are constantly connected. A recent phone app study suggests that we check our phones 110 times a day and up to every 6 seconds in the evening. If you want to unwind, try unplugging at least one hour before bed. Unplugging stops the symptoms of over connection such as sleep disturbance, overwhelm and increased stress levels.
- Stop working. Sounds obvious but aim to leave work at the office. If you take the train do not be tempted to continue checking e-mails and if you work from home establish good boundaries and switch off at the allotted time. This helps to start the process of emptying the working memory, creating a space to transit from work to home life.
- Limit blue screen use. Studies have shown that exposure to blue screen light in the evening inhibits the body’s production of melatonin. It is this hormone that induces sleep and helps you wind down, it maintains your biological clock. Unfortunately, iPhone, iPad, flat screen tv’s and computers all omit large amounts of blue light. Try to avoid blue screen an hour before bed time or use the light dimming function on the mobile device if you really must surf the internet.
- Do a manual activity. Doing a routine or repetitive activity is proven to lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate and slow breathing. In effect getting in the house and vacuuming the floor or sorting your sock drawer can actually help you wind down. Remember to keep your mind on the task and your movements and get into the flow of manual activity, allowing your mind to settle.
- Exercise. You may feel tired when you get home but exercise will help you to wind down. ‘Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators’. (Harvard Health)
- Take a bath or shower. Warm water is a natural relaxant and can provide a relief from the day’s stressors. It can relax tired muscles and busy minds. Add some soothing essential oil or bath salts to the tub for an evening’s bliss.
- Change out of your work attire. Physically mark the boundary between work and home by changing out of your work clothes. You will feel more comfortable in your slouchy clothes and psychologically release from work mode. Make it a ritual and tell yourself its ‘me time’ now.
Balance your day with an activity you enjoy. Just because it’s a work day it doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a few things you enjoy. In fact, it’s imperative, even if it’s only 20 minutes reading or gathering everyone together to watch old holiday videos.
Some ideas: Reading, cooking, looking though old photo albums, watching old film footage, play an instrument, draw, make something, knitting.
- Make a list. Don’t be tempted to Catch up on work to get a head start. If you need to get some things out of your head it can be cathartic to write a to do list for the morning. Don’t be tempted to start the list. Write it and put it to one side. Consider that good preparation and then let go until the morning.
Limit Wine intake. Enjoying the occasional glass of wine can be stress relieving. Let’s face it a glass of red can be a lot less damaging than the effects of stress itself some days. The problem begins when we rely on alcohol every day to switch off or sleep. Aside from the damage this can do to your body it actually disrupts sleep and mood. According to studies one glass of wine with dinner can have a calming effect whilst not directly interrupting sleep. Drinking larger amounts of wine closer to bed time will actually have an adverse effect on relaxation. The sedating effects of wine may be tempting but try to limit yourself in the amount and timing of alcohol consumption.
"Over time, heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters in the brain that are needed for good mental health. So while alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run it can contribute to feeling of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.” The mental health foundation.