It’s a word that we all hear and even use, but very few of us actually know what it means. No, I’m not talking about the technical definition. I’m talking about the fact that few of us actually take the time to let our bodies relax and de-stress.
August 15th is National Relaxation Day. No, really. It is.
So, why aren’t any of us actually relaxing?
According to statistics from the American Institute of Stress, 77% of people in the United States are regularly experiencing symptoms of stress. 33% of people say that they live with extreme stress. The number one cause of stress in the United States is job pressure, which includes tensions with co-workers, troubles with the boss, and work overload. And what about the costs that employers pay for their employee’s stress-related healthcare and missed work? It’s a staggering $300 billion dollars.
Work isn’t the only source of stress. There’s health, relationships, media overload, and my personal favorite, sleep deprivation. 48% of people have said they feel their stress levels have increased over the past five years.
It’s no secret that high stress levels lead to poor health. When stress is present, people have reported experiencing fatigue, headaches, stomach upset (including nausea), muscle tension and soreness, a change in appetite (leading to weight loss or gain), irritability, anger, nervousness, a lack of energy…
The list goes on and on, which is a frightening thing. It seems that everything is causing us stress these days. Reading this probably is, but I bet you’re thinking “We can’t possibly be the only country with such high stress levels, right?”
Stress in America vs. Stress in Europe: The Facts
In 2013, Monster Worldwide, Inc. conducted a global poll on daily stress. Given the statistics above, in addition to the fact that people in the United States are constantly overworking themselves, the results of this poll really aren’t all that surprising.
The question asked was “In the past month, how many times have you been stressed at work?” The results were as follows:
- Daily (18-20 times a month): 60%
- A few times a week (10-17 times a month): 19%
- A few times a month (once a week or up to 9 times a month): 14%
- Never: 7%
Not overly surprising, right? Everyone feels stressed at some point.
The interesting fact here is that out of the 3,500-plus responses to this poll, Europeans were responsible for most of the positive feedback with only 50% of them reporting daily stress and 11% saying their workplace was stress-free. Responses from participants in the United States were much different–65% feeling daily stress at work, and just 6% claimed a stress-free workplace.
How is Europe More Relaxed Than the United States?
Well, it’s because they’ve gotten really great at creating healthy work-life balances in the workplace. Wondering how? Take a look at a few of these examples:
- France passed a labor law that encourages workers to “unplug” after their work hours are over–no checking emails or taking phone calls related to work.
- Employers in Sweden have been experimenting with shorter work days–a 6-hour day instead of an 8-hour one–this has decreased the number of sick days taken by employees and has increased their health and workplace efficiency
- Switzerland is one of, if not the top country in the world when it comes to workplace innovation and on-the-job training, and education programs–the programs are even provided by the government
- Finland and Denmark are top in childcare because the government provides families with universal nursery care–parents even get a year’s worth of paid leave after child birth or adoption
- Spain allows naptime in the workplace–it’s helped boost employee performance and efficiency
While employers in the United States are moving toward healthier work-life balances for their employees, some still have a long way to go to break even with what’s happening in Europe.
So, How Can I Learn to Relax?
You have to make time for relaxation. Fit it in whenever possible, even if it’s only ten minutes while you’re on break. Not sure how to go about it? Here are a few of my favorite ways to relax:
- Meditation: This only takes five minutes, but you can do it longer, if you’d like. Sit up straight, close your eyes, and repeat something positive like “I feel at peace.” Place a hand on your stomach and work toward syncing your mantra with your breathing. Focus on your mantra and let other thoughts go.
- Deep Breathing: This is another short option. Again, sit up straight and close your eyes. Place a hand on your stomach and inhale slowly through your nose. Focus on each breath as it moves from your stomach upward to your head/ Stay focused on it as you exhale through your mouth. As you repeat this, your heart rate will slow, helping to lower your blood pressure.
- Body Scans: Lie down or sit straight up for this method. Focus on your toes and move up your body slowly. Be sure to tune in to how each muscle group feels. Breathe slowly, and as you encounter muscles that are stiff, sore, or tense, imagine your deep breaths being sent to those muscles. Stay focused on how those muscles feel afterward, and then continue moving up your body. With this method, tension and stiffness melt away as you stay focused.
If you’re not one for sitting still–and let’s face it, many of us aren’t–there are plenty of other ways to relax. If you have a longer lunch break, try a yoga class. Go on a bike ride. Reconnect with nature. Get out there and do the things you love without worrying about work, even if you only have ten or fifteen minutes. Yes, our lives are busy, but one of the most important things you can do is learn to take care of yourself, physically and mentally. It’s better for your body, your overall health, and the well-being of the people around you.
Start today. Start now. It is National Relaxation Day, after all.
What are you doing to relax? How has it affected your overall health and wellness? Please share your stories in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you!