Business leaders often rely on the sheer adrenaline of busyness to push forward, but are we truly at our best if we don’t take the time to be still? Research from the National Institutes of Health links relaxation techniques to a host of benefits, ranging from greater focus and concentration to improved problem-solving skills and memory. But chilling out can often seem impossible for founders and managers given the pace of their lives and the demands they face. How can conscious leaders get off the hamster wheel and sort this out?
As the CEO of a marketing agency that serves clients in many fast-paced industries, I feel your pain. Although I’m still very much a work in progress when it comes to the art of relaxation, being intentional about a few basic life changes helped me unlock greater contentment, creativity, and calmness in my professional life. Try a few of them out, and see what a little stillness can do for you.
The regular practice of meditation — with its focus on breathing and stillness — offers a sense of calm, peace, and balance that impacts your emotional well-being and overall health, says the Mayo Clinic. It’s a healthy practice to pursue, even if you’re like me and only last five minutes before your mind wanders back to your to-do list.
While some make meditation part of their morning rituals, there’s really no “right” time to meditate. Explore apps like Headspace, the Mindfulness App, Insight Timer, and Calm — in addition to guided meditation videos that can be found from a basic YouTube search — to help you customize meditation to fit your world. Regular meditation can also be combined with prayer if that’s a part of your spiritual journey
2. Get outside
Being in nature spurs a wealth of psychological benefits. For starters, it clears your head and can improve your outlook on life. A 2013 study from the University of Essex also found that adults sent into nature had lower levels of cortisol, the hormonal marker for stress. Even simply viewing pictures of nature can offer rejuvenating benefits, though the biggest mental energy boost comes from the real thing.
Better sleep and less nervous energy are just two benefits you’ll experience once you get active. Exercise helps control weight, improves mental health, boosts your mood, and increases your chances of living longer, while also building the strength of your bones and muscles, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Translation: Physical activity makes you healthier and helps you release stress, and all of these positives add up to the best version of yourself, both inside and outside the office.
4. Take stress breaks
When was the last time you left your desk to visit a colleague or get some hot tea? Even a 10-minute pause can help you relax, lower blood pressure, and help you to be more productive later. As author and counseling professor Meg Selig noted in Psychology Today, briefly leaving your individual work environment and visiting another area will help your brain rest and switch gears — enabling greater levels of concentration when you return.
5. Make a relaxation playlist
Music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions by slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing levels of stress hormones. So much of our digital world is about engaging multiple senses in multimedia formats, but the combination can create visual and information overload. There is power in simplifying to only your auditory sense and allowing music to take you to a peaceful or spiritual place. Think classical, jazz, or even worship songs — anything that helps you achieve a more relaxed state.
The bottom line
What if slowing down could help you speed up? It seems counterintuitive, but productivity increases when stress is reduced, so mastering the art of relaxation could be the very thing that frees you to think of bigger ideas and creative solutions, and become a higher-performing version of yourself.