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Bringing relaxation to leadership

It’s that time of year…the time when family, work, and other life priorities can collide.

Why does it seem to get busier as we reach the end of a year? Holidays, parties, exams, family functions…and finishing work projects so that we can supposedly relax for a few days as the old year turns into the new. 

This past week, I took some time out. Watched some sport, had friends to stay, ate a lot of indulgent food, and took some time to stop, breathe and be still. A great balance of fun activities and reflection.

I honestly found it a little hard to tune out and focus in the moment – I was thinking about my business, my Members Community and what I hoped to achieve in 2020. I had to consciously remind myself of my own mantra – ‘Balanced life, Balanced leader’. I truly believe that having activities, relaxation and interests outside of work are so important to bring a creative, empathetic and focused mind to work. So it was time to practice what I preach! And for me the area of need this past week was the relaxation side.

Sometimes we do need to consciously think about relaxing. It doesn’t always come easily! Quietening the mind, being present with our family and friends, and releasing tension can require, well..focus. Whether you love (and I do) what you do for work, or whether you loathe it, many of us live and think about our work long after we have left the office.

What makes relaxation important?

Amongst other things, relaxation can slow your heat rate (when we are stressed or excited, our heart rate increases), reduce your blood pressure, improve digestion, reduce stress hormones, improve concentration and mood, improve sleep quality and boost confidence to handle problems.

So there are several health benefits of relaxation – for both our physical and mental health. And this flows on to our leadership.

If we have taken time for ourselves, and truly relaxed, then we can be more focused in thinking, more open to others and more productive. Because of this, we may become more confident and patient in dealing with team issues, more decisive, and better at coaching. Our reduced stress hormones means less frustration, less negative and more logical thinking.

How do I get started?

Here are some tips for relaxation over this year end period.

Tip one: Relaxation is more powerful if we practice it consciously and regularly. So if you can, set a time in the day (or various times) to consciously relax. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, yet relaxation is a skill that needs to develop – most of us do need to work at it, especially if life’s stresses have taken a toll over time. And working at it requires dedicated time – we need to create a habit, and be committed. So often people start, then stop the practice of relaxation – because they might try it and find it doesn’t always work, so they give up; or they allow other priorities to sneak into that time, or they may even feel guilty for taking time out like this.

Remember, even 5 minutes in the day can help. Get up 5 minutes earlier, or go to bed 5 minutes later, take 5 minutes out of your lunch. We can all spare 5 minutes for ourselves – the benefits are worth it.

Tip 2: Relaxation has some helpful partners. Practicing relaxation techniques will have greater benefits if combined with other techniques or elements – such as positive thinking, finding time to laugh, exercise, adequate sleep and social interaction with family and friends.

So although our regular practice and focus on relaxation is important, it’s helped along by other things that are good for our mental and physical health.

Don’t you deserve to commit to this?

A note on sleep – yes it can be hard to get enough sleep time – yet relaxation will help us sleep more soundly, and more sleep will help us relax. The benefits of sleep for our brains and bodies are being studied more and more. So we can make excuses about how hard it is to find time to sleep, or we can save the time we spend worrying and talking about how hard it is, and apply that time to relaxing before bed, or going to bed a half hour earlier.

Tip 3: Find something that works for you. For some people it will be mindfulness, for others meditation, visualisation or deep breathing exercises. Other people will prefer something more physical like yoga or tai chi. Some will find aromatherapy works, or a weekly massage. Art or music can help.

All we are trying to do is to find a method that enables our muscles to relax, our breathing and heart rate to slow.

So you may need to try a few things – that’s half the fun of it! There are plenty of resources on the internet, at local libraries or health centres that can help  you out.

Talking to a healthcare professional might be a good starting point. And this is recommended by the experts if you find some relaxation techniques to raise emotional discomfort. It happens for some people, so if this is the case, please do seek some professional support to find the relaxation techniques that work for you.

Today is a short post, because technically I am still on my holiday and need to get back to the fun activities, as well as practicing my relaxation – being in the moment, breathing slowly and being mindful of what’s around me.

Remember, balanced life, balanced leader. Take some time for yourself to relax over this year end period and into the new decade. Commit to finding a way to relax that works for you, and give it a go. You’ll be a better leader for it!

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