Is your mind on the go 24/7? Give your brain the break it deserves with these simple mental rest techniques.
What comes to mind when you think about the word ‘rest’? For many of us, it’s time spent lounging in a big, cosy bed or curled up under a blanket on the sofa. The difference between rest and activity is almost always conceived as physical, defining rest as a moment when our body is allowed to be still and supported.
But physical rest, while important, is far from the only kind of rest our bodies need. Our minds need rest too – and while watching TV may feel like a nice way to unwind, there are many active things we can do to help our minds sit back and recharge.
So, to help you switch off and get the mental rest you deserve, we asked a range of mental health and wellness experts to share their top tips. From vagal breathing to using your senses, here’s what they had to say.
1. 3-step breathing
This really simple technique from meditation teacher and slow living advocate Chloë Webster uses a combination of breathwork and mindfulness to release tension from the body and mind to feel fully relaxed.
“A lot of my meditation teaching is based on being in the present moment, probably the easiest way to allow the mind to rest,” she says. “A really easy 30-second reset I like to do involves taking three gentle deep breaths. On each breath, you release tension from a different part of the upper body – first the forehead, then the jaw and then gently dropping the shoulders down.
“It takes your nervous system out of the fight-flight-freeze state and kicks starts the parasympathetic system (the rest and digest part of our nervous system), sending a signal to the brain that all is well and you can relax.”
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2. Get your hands dirty
Mental rest doesn’t just involve traditionally relaxing activities such as meditation and breathwork, it can also include active activities, like gardening.
“Gardening is fabulous at helping your mind to rest,” explains mindful gardening coach Kendall Platt, who helps women use gardening to improve their wellbeing. “This is because the often repetitive actions (such as sowing seeds and weeding) are a form of active rest: your mind stays just active enough to complete the task but not so active that it feels stressed.”
3. Tap into your senses
When your mind is especially busy, it’s easy to get caught up in your head and forget what’s going on IRL. Tapping into your senses is a great way to reverse this, because it helps you get out of your head and pay more attention to the world around you.
“Stimulate your senses through smells that you find appealing, colours that you find calming or textures that you find encompassing,” recommends the psychologist Anna Sergent. “Listening to music is also a good way to switch off, especially calming music that does not bring back memories and can help you keep your mind at peace.”
4. Practice vagal breathing
Your vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve in the body) plays a role in a long list of vital processes, but it’s particularly powerful when it comes to helping us switch off. This technique by meditation teacher and psychologist Katie Mantwa George helps to stimulate the nerve for increased relaxation.
“Vagal breathing immediately puts your mind (and body) at rest,” she explains. “The vagus nerve is directly connected to your brain, heart and lungs and when practising simple vagal breathing you stimulate the vagus nerve, which induces relaxation in your thoughts and mind.”
To give it a go, simply follow these four steps:
- Sit quietly with eyes closed
- Gently breathe in for the count of four
- Breathe out to the count of four and pause for one count
- Repeat for five minutes
5. Schedule in ‘worry time’
If you want to invite more mental rest into your life on a regular basis, setting aside ‘worry time’ could be a good place to start.
Ivana Poku, a maternal mental health advocate, award-winning coach and author of Motherhood – The Unspoken, explains: “The idea of ‘worry time’ is setting aside 10-15 minutes every day where you do nothing but worry. Then, whenever you find yourself worried or overthinking outside of that time, you tell yourself: ‘I will worry about it during worry time’.
“Doing this allows your mind to rest during the day as you do not repress your thoughts and worries; instead, you give them space. Furthermore, worrying for only 15 minutes per day, rather than worrying and overthinking in short bursts throughout the day, significantly compresses the overall time we spend worrying, which then positively impacts our wellbeing.”
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6. Practise EFT
EFT, or emotional freedom technique, is a technique that involves acupressure ‘tapping’ and affirmations to interrupt negative thought patterns in the brain. It’s been shown to help people deal with things such as anxiety and trauma, and it’s a great way to tap into what’s going on in your mind, according to mindset transformation coach Karen Deulofeu.
“EFT is amazing for so many things,” she says. “It’s based on acupressure points around the face and upper body, tapping on the end points of energy meridians situated just beneath the surface of the skin (but it’s not woo-woo!). EFT helps the brain to process things differently and therefore relieve stressors. It works instantly but the results are lasting.”
For more information on using EFT to help your mind rest, you can check out our guide.
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