Studies have shown that it takes twice as long for people to heal if they're chronically stressed compared to those who are more relaxed. For that reason, and more, the willingness to rest is one of the cornerstones of good health. And, chances are, you're not getting enough. Here's how to -- from every hour to every year.
A break doesn't have to be long, says Jonathan C. Smith, Ph.D., director of the Roosevelt University Stress Institute in Chicago. "Two or three minutes of sustained mental quiet after an hour of work can do wonders," he says. Swivel your chair away from the computer and just close your eyes. (If you're worried about coworkers thinking you're slacking, hold some papers in your hands so you look like you're reading important memos.)
"You need to take yourself off-line and become engaged in something other than your normal activity," says Esther Sternberg, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health and author of The Balance Within. Pop a CD into your music player, put on headphones, close your eyes, and sip a cup of hot tea sweetened with some honey. Block out 20 minutes for a mini-spa treatment, says Jill Murphy Long, author of Permission to Nap. Give yourself a hand massage with lavender- or sage-scented lotion.
A firm believer in taking one day a week to herself, Lynne M. Baab, author of Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest, and her family began observing the Sabbath about 20 years ago when they lived in Tel Aviv, Israel. The Sabbath literally means to rest, and in Israel all work ceases from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. "The Sabbath says to women, 'Fine, spend six days a week putting other people's needs ahead of yourself and working, but spend one day stopping,'" Baab says. Go with your family to the park, or have a lengthy picnic. "Spend one day a week enjoying who they are," Baab says.
Get a massage. There's nothing more relaxing than an hour on the table in the hands of a professional massage therapist. Studies have shown repeatedly that a rubdown washes away worries while increasing serotonin and dopamine, hormones that make you feel happy and relaxed, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. If money is tight, look in the Yellow Pages for a massage school that offers student massages, which can cost as little as $25 per hour.
At least once a year, take a relaxing vacation where you're not rushing to visit family or trying to pack two weeks of sightseeing into seven days of vacation time. Spend a week (or at least a few days) going somewhere where you have nothing planned. Sleep in, read by the pool, walk along the beach, gaze at the stars, and linger over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.