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Monday
Feb292016

Is your busy head affecting your health? 

Do you find that a busy head can get in the way of you relaxing or unwinding? A classic area this can effect is your sleep, your head hits the pillow and your body is telling you that you need to crash but your mind is whirring away and wound up in a coil of thoughts that just won’t go away. While you lie there you know you desperately need to get to sleep but your mind is holding it ransom and resisting it.

It’s obvious that there is a massive cost to your health if you can’t unwind and relax; you’ll be tired, you won’t function well the next day, your temper may be short and you can become weaker at making decisions around temptation. This is not a good way to live your life, especially if it’s happening regularly. 

Recently I interviewed the author of The Off Switch, Professor Mark Cropley. Cropley has spent his career researching stress, health and fatigue. One of the biggest causes of stress in our lives he has discovered is a problem he terms ‘rumination’. This condition is where people don’t let go of their work thoughts at the end of the day and they ‘ruminate’ continuously over and over in their heads. In my interview with Cropley he shared a story of a study that he had undertaken which had a massive influence on his thinking. The study looked specifically at the extra stress parents experience in comparison to those people who don’t have children. 

This study measured the stress levels of three different groups of people; parents with kids, people in relationships without kids, and single people. It followed these different groups closely and studied their nightly activities and measured the stress levels they experienced. Of the three groups which one do you think would be most stressed at the end of the night? I thought it would be the parents but I was wrong, in fact, of the three groups the parents were the least stressed. How could this be? I imagined after a hard days work entering a busy house filled with high energy that kids can have would certainly only add to any stress that may still be lurking from a hard day at work, surely?

The study concluded that while having a busy home life with kids does have it’s demands it actually forces parents to let go of any concerns carried over from work as they just don’t have time to think about it. Having kids stopped these parents from ‘ruminating’ about work problems. 

If you know that you have a rumination problem the good news is that having kids isn’t the only way to overcome it. What you need to develop is what Cropley calls an “off switch”. The off switch uses tools that allow you to shift you away from rumination. Some of the tools Cropley advocates using include; creating an unwinding ritual, having hobbies, boundaries around technology use, creating a favourite place to relax, communicating your emotions. Your job is to spend time developing these types of tools and then learning to implement and prioritise these in your daily routine consistently.  

To me, there are two parts to incorporating Cropley’s advice into your life. You firstly need to spend time exploring what tools work best for you and then when you have figured that out, committing to including them in your daily routine. This can be challenging as creating new habits needs consistency and discipline, but the benefits of removing rumination from your life far out weighs the cost stress can have. 

So next time you find yourself lying in bed being held ransom by your ruminating thoughts, perhaps remind yourself that it’s time to develop your off switch. A switch that will help you lead a much healthier life. 

You can listen to my interview with Mark by clicking here. 

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Click here if you want to get Professor Cropley's book: The Off Switch. 

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