Slowing Down: 14 Science-Based Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy Life
Feeling frazzled? Overwhelmed? Or anxious? Discover these science-based tips and strategies to slow down, savor the moment, and enjoy life a bit more.
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Do you feel like your constantly running on the treadmill of life? Not quite sure how to take a break or stop feeling like you always have to be 'doing' something? It's not always easy to slow down, but it turns out that slowing down is exactly what we need. Slowing down is not only good for our well-being, but it can also help us feel less stressed while accomplishing more.
In this article, we'll talk about science-based ways to slow down and enjoy life more. Before we dive in, we thought you might want some other well-being-boosting freebies. If you're seeking greater well-being, get your free personalized report when you take our well-being quiz. And for our well-being entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants? Download our Wellness Business Growth eBook to get expert tips, tools, and resources to make a bigger impact and grow your business fast.
What Does It Mean to Slow Down? (A Definition)
We've probably heard of the idea of 'slowing down'. But what does it mean, exactly? It doesn't have to mean that we literally do things slower—although we might walk slower or give ourselves more time to make a decision or cook a meal. But when people talk about slowing down, they're often referring to the idea that we cram too many unimportant things into each day.
For example, when our minds are speeding, our performance and effectiveness get slower or weaker. It's not 'being slow' that we're seeking necessarily, it's the feeling that we have time to do the things that matter. We can handle our daily tasks, we don't feel stressed, and we feel like we have the time to rest, be present, and enjoy the good things in life. That's why I think slowing down is partially about going slow. But it's more about teaching ourselves how to turn off the body's stress response, create the life we really want, and act intentionally and with purpose. As you'll see in the following sections, these goals something—but not always—require going at a slower pace. Other times these goals can be accomplished just by shifting our thoughts or behaviors.
How to Slow Down
In the modern world, we are encouraged to be busy, to multitask, and to be as productive as humanly possible. Most of us probably feel the pressure to perform—or at least look like we're performing in front of our boss—even if that means masking exhaustion with caffeine and sugar. But this feeling of 'time urgency'—or the sense that we don't have enough time—actually leads us to perform worse (Friend, 1982). Faster does not equal better. And busier does not equal more productive.
We might also struggle to slow down in the right ways—ways that actually help us achieve the feeling of slowing down, which is what we're really after. For example, we often turn to our smartphones to relax but instead of soothing us and slowing down our thoughts, they hijack our attention, speed us up, and generally make us feel even more frazzled.
So how do we slow down—our racing thoughts, our overactive stress response system, and our bodies? Here are some science-based strategies to try:
1. Slow Down With Intentional Pauses
It's thought that taking intentional pauses can lead to better outcomes. More specifically, taking a moment to consider something more deeply may help us to act with greater clarity, momentum, and impact (Cashman, 2012).
Support for this idea comes from research with students. It turns out that when teachers pause after asking a question and after receiving a response, it improves students' use of language and logic (Rowe, 1986). This suggests that if we too give ourselves a bit more time to think through the questions we encounter in life, we can likely come up with better answers. Pausing, instead of rushing along, can help our brains work better.
Ted Talk: Slow Down to Go Faster: The Power of Pause
2. Slow Down by Finding a Quiet Space
Spaces with lots of noise, intensity, and movement can activate stress systems and overwhelm the body (Ulrich & Parsons, 1992). That's why to slow down, we may need a break from the city with its bustling crowds and honking cars. Being in a more mellow, quiet, and low-intensity environment can counteract our high-alert bodily responses and help us feel a greater sense of slowness.
3. Slow Down With Mindfulness Meditation
When our brain is constantly running over a list of ToDos, worrying about what the future holds, or ruminating on the past, it doesn't really matter how slow our body is moving because our minds are racing! That's why clearing our thoughts with mindfulness meditation can be helpful.
A recent meta-analysis showed that mindfulness-based therapy can result in improvements in both anxiety and depression (Khoury et al., 2013). Keep in mind that mindfulness isn't helpful for everyone though (Krick & Felfe, 2019), so if you're not finding it helpful—for example, if it's leading to worsening of thoughts or emotions—don't force it. Other techniques can be just as helpful if not more helpful for slowing down.
Music to Slow Down To
4. Slow Down by Visualizing Yourself Somewhere Peaceful
If you're like me and have a hard time slowing down racing thoughts, it can sometimes be helpful to use guided visualization exercises. Instead of forcing your mind to stop cold, you help guide your mind to think about slower, more calming thoughts.
For example, you might imagine being in a calming place, like the mountains, the beach, or with family. You can then encourage yourself to take some deep breaths and really try to feel what it would be like in that calming place. Doing exercises like this can provoke a greater sense of calm (Quoidbach, Wood, & Hansenne, 2009).
5. Slow Down by Spending Less Time on Your Phone
6. Slow Down by Doing Something Outside
Getting outdoors may just be one of the best ways to slow down. More specifically, research has shown that wilderness trips help us to slow down. In one study, participants wrote about how wilderness trips led to ‘no time-consciousness’. After undergoing a wilderness trip, participants reported wanting to slow down, consume less, and simplify. They said they felt this way at least in part because they now had a better sense of what really matters (Talbot & Kaplan, 1986).
Indeed, slowing down seems to help us better understand what really matters; and discovering what really matters leads us to want to slow down more. By jumpstarting this process with the support of nature, we can ease our foot off the accelerator of our lives and begin to enjoy the moment a bit more.
7. Slow Down by Having Physical Contact With the Earth
Recent research has shown that physical contact of the human body with the earth has numerous health benefits. For example, one study showed that when people walked on the ground with a conductive patch on their feet, they showed improvements in cardiovascular health (Chevalier, Sinatra, Oschman, & Delany, 2013).
Another interesting area of research shows that a type of bacteria in soil activates brain cells that produce serotonin, a feel-good neurochemical. That means that simply touching soil more frequently may help fight off depression (Lowry et al., 2007). Again, we see how slowing down—in this case by taking the time to remove our shoes or plant a garden—can help us improve our health and well-being.
8. Slow Down by Listening to Binaural Beats
There is evidence to suggest that listening to relaxing music can reduce cortisol, one of the main stress hormones (Khalfa et al., 2003). More specifically, listening to binaural beats—that's when two tones with slightly different frequencies are played to each ear—can help improve performance (Garcia-Argibay, Santed, & Reales, 2019).
9. Slow Down by Practicing Savoring
When we practice savoring we reflect back on the positive qualities or experiences we've had in the near or long-ago past. As a result, we enjoy things more. When we're trying to slow down, Savoring can be a useful strategy. Just take a moment when you're enjoying yourself or right after you've enjoyed yourself to really feel the good feelings that go along with that experience. Enjoy the moment or bring back positive emotions from the past.
10. Slow Down by Taking the Time to Do Enjoyable Things
If we're crazy busy, always running from one thing to the next, we're probably not taking enough to do the things we really love doing. Our bosses may want us working 24-7 so it's up to us to say 'no' and decide where we set the limits. We're the only ones who will advocate for our own work-life balance.
Setting limits is important, especially because there has been a recent push from our culture and workplaces to be mindful and be grateful for everything. Sure, being grateful is all well and good, but what if our lives just plain need more stuff to be grateful for? Regardless of how many self-help techniques we use, we still need rest and we still need positive experiences.
That's why we need to do more things we enjoy. They don't need to be big things—maybe we decide to cook dinner instead of always eating out, or maybe we go for a walk at the end of the day. It's up to us to make time for the things we love most.
11. Slow Down Your Thoughts
Sometimes when we get the feeling that life is too hectic, it's mostly hectic because of what's going on in our heads. Maybe we're worrying about worst-case-scenarios or running over what we'll say to our coworker tomorrow. Sometimes we just need to short-circuit our thoughts. Some effective strategies to aid this process can be daily journaling—we get those thoughts out of our heads and onto paper. We might also go for a run or take a cold shower (Mourot et al., 2008)—two techniques that can help our brains switch gears and get unstuck.
12. Slow Down by Doing Yoga
Yoga involves slow, controlled breathing and slow, careful movements. So ya, it's slow. It forces us to get more comfortable with stillness and not always rushing to the next thing. And we (hopefully) learn that doing so makes us feel calmer and more centered. And an added bonus is that regular practice of yoga has been shown in research to actually reduce cortisol, one of the main stress hormones (Thirthalli et al., 2013).
13. Slow Down by Breathing Slowly
Breathing slowly activates the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest system. This system is the counterbalance to the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight system. So by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, we help our body slow down so that it can engage in restful processes like sleep and digestion.
So, to slow our bodies and minds down, it can help to take some slow, deep breaths. There are lots of ways to do this. Below is a video to guide you through some slow breathing.
Video: Slow Breathing Exercises
14. Slow Down by Detoxing Your Stress
If we've been stressed or overwhelmed for a long time, we can have a lot of built up stress hormones—things like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine—just circulating around our bodies, making it feel 'wired but tired'. Especially if we have genes like the sluggish version of the COMT gene, our bodies don't process stress hormones very quickly and we can end up feeling frazzled, even from small stressors. That's why detoxing our stress, or taking a detox-like approach to stress relief can be extremely helpful for some.
If you're finding that no matter how much you slow your mind down your body is still feeling buzzy, anxious, or ' not slow', take a peek at our stress detox program to learn some good strategies.