One of the hardest things I have ever had to figure out as a creative person is how to keep myself from pushing myself past the the breaking point. For many years, I would always go hard on a project just a bit too long, eventually hitting a wall where my body would break down. I would get sick or in a few cases get admitted to the hospital for sudden serious health issues. As you can imagine, this began to make me feel a bit hesitant to take on goals that seemed a bit too audacious.
But then, in the fall of 2012, I was hired to ghostwrite a book a relaxation. In the process of researching the subject matter, I began to find some basic concepts that I have since used to make all of the difference in my life. Since I know that many other creative people seem to struggle with the same issue, here are the top ____ things that I use to help me relax after a long day of creative work. In order:
1) Create a ritual
Probably THE most powerful tactic that I utilize to promote relaxation is in having a consistent ritual. I know, I know..those are for children aren't they? Actually, it turns out the answer is "No". They are for all of us and it works with our biology. Make an effort to go through the same set of behaviors each evening before going to bed at roughly the same time each night, combined with a routine wake up time and morning routine, and you'll start noticing massive changes in how you feel day to day.
For instance, one week days, I regularly begin readying for bed around 9:00 pm, hitting lights out by around 9:30 in order to wake at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am. Occasionally, I shift the times a bit, but I always keep the same ratios. This helps my body to normalize into downshifting the phase at night.
2) Warm water bath or shower
While I tried one extreme to another in my quest for relaxation, one tried and true basic that I eventually returned to was a warm bath or shower before bed. I keep lights low and stay in a quiet, meditative state while showering or bathing for 5-10 minutes.
I attempt to do this when I know that I won't speak or communicate with anyone until the next day and always do it around the same time.
3) Light Stretching (or Foam Rolling)
After the warm soak, I then dress for bed and take about 10 to 15 minutes to stretch, doing light a light yoga routine or using a foam roller or lacrosse ball to release some of the tight muscles (usually in the legs) that have formed over the day. This has several benefits. 1) It feels amazing to release muscular tension and it releases endorphins that help the descent into sleep all the easier and 2) it helps trigger your body's parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you and allows a more meditative state.
It's likely that you've heard about meditation more and more as it's grown in mainstream popularity. There's a reason why it has: it works. It helps to train the mind to be less reactive, lessens stress and anxiety, and helps give the brain a "warm bath" that allows it to function at a higher level more consistently.
Personally, I opt for 10 minutes once or twice a day via the Calm app, although there are other great options out there. I do a session each morning while waking up and one before bed. I find that it cuts down on my "problem solving" mindset when I try to sleep.
5) Deep Breathing
Breath work is one of the newest things that I have begun to use as part of my nightly (and morning ritual). Of course you can do this exercise on your own, but I personally use an app called "Apnea Trainer", which essentially has me breathing in the following pattern.
Breathe in: 5 seconds
Hold breath: 20 seconds
Breathe out: 10 seconds
* Times are variable and are set on a person by person basis. But, keep the ratios between the numbers the same, as in (x1, x4, x2).
I do the above routine for about 5-8 minutes while laying in bed. It has the effect of slowing me down even further and makes remembering to turn off my bedside lamp hard some times.
6) Sleep Induction Mat
Of all the methods I have listed here, this one tends to earn me the most sideways glances from my friends. Essentially, a sleep induction mat is a small mat with small plastic spikes on top. I place the mat on my bed and lay down, shirt off (although you will likely want to start with your shirt on until you acclimate). The mat has the effect of calming me down (think a great back scratch) and releases many of the trigger points in my back, if I stay on for more than about five minutes.
For me, I choose to go through the above mentioned breathing exercises until I find it hard to keep my eyes open. Then, I slide the mat out from underneath me, turn off my lamp, and am out like a light.
No matter how you cut it, we all need to rest and we all need to sleep. This is what I do, but I am interested to hear what works for you. Also, if you try any of what I've talked about here, let me know how it has effected this very important area of all our lives.
Rest easy, everyone.