Just Relax. Easy Right?
Wellness & Biology Collide
When was the last time you were told to relax? How did it make you feel? Annoyed, frustrated, irritated? Or is that just me?! Maybe you found it kind, a helpful prompt or compassionate? Rest and relaxation, we know how important they are….. But why is it so difficult to weave into our lives?
How often in day to day life are we told to have a rest. Research shows that 99 percent of new mums are advised to rest when their baby sleeps by well-wishing family members, and a whopping 100 percent have fought a primitive, primal urge to do the most giant eye roll ever upon hearing this immortal sentence. (To clarify… I have made this up).
In another not very scientific poll, I asked a Facebook group of Mums, do you actively take time to relax, and do you find it easy? The results were unanimous… no.
When it came to rest, I was clueless.
So here we are. We know we need to relax. But we aren’t. Over the course of this blog, I’m going to talk about my own personal quest for relaxation, part of my inspiration for starting The Calm Chronicles with Steph was the realisation that the only thing I knew about rest was how to say it… I certainly didn’t know how to achieve it.
Yet, if you’d have asked me five years ago, do you rest? I’d have said, “yeah, of course, there are those 5 minutes at the end of yoga in Savasana; I rest watching TV, I do spa days … of course, I rest.” But it’s only since learning what rest truly feels like for my body I’ve realised I never ever achieved proper rest. Not even close.
A hobble down memory lane.
Nearly four years ago, in a yoga class, I felt a twinge in my pelvis, I was about four months pregnant at the time. Later that day, it got progressively worse, and over the course of the next few months, I became almost housebound. Too much of the relaxin hormone, coupled with my hypermobile pelvis and poor muscle tone, made for a match in hell (and let’s not forget the 9lbs baby!). I honestly felt like my pelvis was falling apart.
It was so sudden and so scary to lose all sense of mobility in a matter of months.
Let’s skip through a couple of years of pelvic pain (imagine REM Everybody Hurts is playing and there’s a montage of me looking sad), two years postpartum, and I was still far from okay, let alone back to “normal.” And that’s when the back pain kicked in. Debilitating, constant, tear-inducing back pain. I sought doctor after doctor, desperate to get a fix and get my life back. I had every procedure going, and it barely touched the surface. I was told my back looked healthy-ish, and ultimately they didn’t understand the source of my pain. You can imagine my frustration when every single day was a battle.
That’s when I started to consider a more holistic route. Many, many hours of self exploration and hypnosis later I started to understand why nothing I was doing was making the slightest difference. My nervous system was in a constant state of panic, engaged in a dramatic feat of self-preservation; it almost felt like I was attacking myself.
The truth about pain
To unpick this further we need to understand some basic truths about pain.
All pain originates in the brain. Doesn’t matter if you break your arm, bash your elbow, have a migraine or suffer from chronic pain. Nociceptors in for example your arm, tell your brain there’s something wrong… a potential threat and your brain responds by sending pain to tell you to abort what you’re doing. It’s self preservation. This ABSOLUTELY does not mean that pain is “in your head” or somehow “made up.”
This was a truth I really, really struggled with.
The fear that unless I had a condition like Arthritis, people would think I’d somehow fabricated my pain and it was just an illusion. Pain is an opinion. Not a fact. When something happens to the body, the brain assesses the risk you’re in, explores past experiences and all information to hand to make a decision on how much pain to deliver.
Now, what happens with chronic pain?
This is where the nervous system comes into play. I hope you’re still with me, and not thinking, “I thought this was a wellness blog, not GCSE biology.” When someone suffers prolonged pain, the body and mind, well they get a bit confused. Human beings are wonderful creations, but even we get it a bit wrong sometimes. In these cases, the nervous system is acting like a helicopter parent, it becomes crazily oversensitive and overprotective, it reacts to daily physical stresses by sending disproportionate responses, by stresses I mean simple every day activities, for me bending down, walking, sitting, basically all movement. This can be seen on high tech brain scans.
At this point the body and mind are locked in a pain loop which is very hard to break. So, let’s come back to that nervous system then. More specifically,… the parasympathetic nervous system. Remember that one? Often called the ‘rest and digest’ system, it’s a key part of our ability to relax and judge whether we’re in a crisis situation. The classic fight or flight response.
Now back to me.
Why is relaxation so important anyway?
What happened as my pain became chronic was my nervous system got locked in a constant fight response. Sort of a cross between Xena Warrior Princess and an overprotective nan. Even when I was lying down “relaxing,” my body was on alert and my mind was sending pain signals. It was bloody exhausting. If we don’t learn how to truly rest the parasympathetic nervous system, we’re depriving the body of the opportunity to fully let go. You don’t need me to tell you how many benefits there are to calming your nervous system, but I’m going to anyway because this is my blog!
- lowering your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate
- reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
- improving concentration and mood
- reducing fatigue
- reducing anger and frustration
- boosting confidence to handle problems
Yes what a host of benefits, sounds amazing. But here’s the thing the medical websites never tell you. It’s really bloody hard. It’s not a case of just putting on some Enya, saying Om three times and taking a couple big breaths. Well at least it’s not for me.
Understanding what a relaxed state actually feels like was my first challenge. I tried massage, meditation, yoga, reiki, gong baths, gua sha massage, essential oils, hypnosis, exercise….. Quite a bit as you can see.
But there is a silver lining, I promise this is a happy ending type of blog.
I have felt a MASSIVE improvement when I’ve shifted my focus away from copious codeine and towards a focus on calm. For me, it’s been a case of learning to properly let go… and I’m sorry to say, that’s probably not watching Love Island and flicking through your phone with a glass of wine. You may feel like you’re relaxed, and maybe you are…. But I’d challenge you to find something that enables you to truly let go and then compare the sensations.
I think I’ve prattled on enough for this blog… I want to end by saying, through my adult life, I thought my drive and my energy were so critical to my sense of self, I had a lot of Yang. It was only when my body and mind hit crisis point that I realised I was all yang and no yin. I couldn’t access those peaceful moments and just “let go.” So if this sounds a bit like you, don’t wait until your health forces you to take timeout, proactively seek it now!
The entire mission of The Calm Chronicles is our honest account of trying to find relaxation in a busy world. We’d love you to stick with us and see if you can make any positive changes in your life.
© Copyright Jasmine Wellbeing Tynemouth