This is a guest post by Chris Hawley.
Instead of doing something more to improve health and happiness, you may have better luck by doing less. Our brains and health are like hard drives on a computer. They need an occasional clearing and rebooting to function best. I call it a Take 5 for your brain.
This Take 5, or stopping and relaxing your brain, releases a powerful chemical compound called nitric oxide in your brain and tissues. Your cells love it. One of my medical school professors at UCLA, Dr. Louis Ignarro, discovered the function of this cool stuff and won the Nobel Prize for it. It causes your blood vessels to relax, lowers your blood pressure, reverses the inflammation that drives coronary artery disease, boosts your immune system to improve things like allergies and asthma and does other amazing things to your brain. Nitric oxide is also the active compound in medications like Viagra. Bonus!
With regular Take 5’s, your brain actually starts to rewire itself and grow in size in the areas responsible for attention, awareness, creativity, calm & peacefulness, and memory. Areas responsible for negative emotions like anger and frustration shrink. How cool is that?
Studies have found that people that practice this regularly can lower their physical pain up to 40%. For comparison, morphine only offers a 25% pain reduction effect in chronic pain. Taking 5 also helps your sleep to be more efficient so that you can function well on less hours of sleep. It even helps with those impulsive behaviors or addictions that can be difficult to kick. With regular Take 5’s, the next time there is a cupcake on the counter, you may actually have the willpower to so no…with ease.
So how do you do it? The great answer is there is no one right way to Take 5 and everyone is going to be a little different. You will likely find a variety of ways. This may involve going somewhere quiet where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Some people like to sit, others like to walk or move slowly. The key principle is to try and clear your brain of all the negative, distracting and stressful thoughts. Some people like to focus on nothing, others enjoy focusing on a positive word like love or compassion, and others enjoy focusing on a peaceful mind-picture like the ocean. Concentrating on your breathing can help your mind and body to rapidly relax. Breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth is an easy way to get there. While I encourage you to start with 5 minutes, longer periods of relaxation and focus have increased benefit. Meditation masters can stay in this positive zone for hours at a time!
Once you get good at this, you can achieve this relaxed mind state right before you step into a stressful situation. This helps you not to overreact. Time slows down in the midst of the stress and you can be more objective. This is what martial arts masters have learned. This allows them to respond to many stimuli at once, while acting rapidly in a creative and focused state. Who doesn’t want to be ninja like in their next business meeting or stressful family gathering? Not losing your cool is entirely trainable and helps your happiness immensely.
For an additional challenge, consider a 5 hour Digital Detox. Our brains are constantly exposed to stimulation from cell phones, computers, music, great blogs, and many more. This never-ending stimulation and multitasking is not helping our brain or happiness levels.
To augment your Digital Detox, try spending some of that time moving outside in nature. A recent study demonstrated that people think better and solve problems more creatively after taking a short walk outside in nature compared to walking through a busy city environment. I like to call this practice, Move & Groove. Doing this will bring you a new level of calm, fun, and appreciation for the little things in life. This has great benefits to your health. As you try this, I hope you develop more of a taste for these types of practices in your daily life.
Watch this video for more ideas!
How do you Take 5, Digital Detox and Move & Groove?