At the start of this year, amid a raft of life changes and an increasingly demanding workload, I made a conscious decision to find a new way to unwind each day. One that didn’t rely on socialising and the inevitable alcohol consumption that went along with it.
Between a full time academic gig, a graduate research degree, a NFP start-up and managing my small business, I was running headfirst into burnout territory. Obviously, the only smart thing to do was to add an additional activity in my daily schedule.
Enter the ‘ideal unwind’, i.e. find your one thing that makes you relax and do that for 30 minutes every day. For me, I found running again. Something that just a few years ago I was so very passionate about (remember that time we ran 75kms? Yeah, me either).
It began like this; a late night conversation with a friend who had courageously sworn of alcohol for a year asked me, ‘what would be your ideal way to unwind each day?’ My response was, ‘a 5km run’.
Despite not having run 5kms in a (very) long time, the ideal unwind was born.
I started to schedule my ideal unwind into my diary. I found time where I didn’t have it before. Some days it would be after the suit meeting but before the Skype meeting (when my ratty hair didn’t matter so much). Other days it was after I finished work but before the day care pick up. But every day I would unplug, lace up, and go for a run.
It became my non-negotiable.
I began to notice significant changes in my energy levels and overall well-being. Slowly the runs became faster, the hills were easier, and my mileage increased. I didn’t start out with any running goals. I just knew that a bad run was one where I wasn’t able to switch off, and a bad day was one where I was not able to do my ideal unwind.
For me, the ideal unwind started and continues to be about creating mental space where I can quieten the mind. The beauty about choosing running as the vehicle for doing so, is that there is an emerging link between mental health and physical training.
This weekend, I stumbled across an article in NY Mag’s Science of Us about meditation, running and depression. As Melissa Dahl highlights, research suggests that MAP training (a combination of physical and mental training) ‘may provide substantial help to those with major depressive disorder.’
Now, I don’t have a major depressive disorder. But prevention is better than cure and I know we all have rough days. Especially those women among us who have significant workloads and manage multiple and often demanding projects.
Since my journey of the ideal unwind began, I have slowly introduced the concept to students who struggle with the demands of their university study in an advanced degree. I have also shared my secret with a few friends and family. Feedback so far has been positive; usually met with a determination to implement it into their day as a coping strategy.
Ultimately, the ideal unwind isn’t rocket science. Simply ask yourself the question; what is my ideal way to unwind every day? Whatever your answer is, do that.