Dr. Rika Tanaka, Ph.D.

With most of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season behind us, this might be the perfect time to unwind before jumping into the excitement of the New Year. For some, taking time to rest and relax may come easily. However, for others, it may be harder than it sounds. Knowing how and when to take a break is a skill that not all of us have—but can be crucial in maintaining a sense of balance and well-being in the long run. For those who struggle to slow down and those who are looking for new ways to approach rest and relaxation, here are a few things to keep in mind as you recover into the New Year.

The mind-body connection is real and strong. Taking time to relax and recover is just as important for your mental health as it is for your physical health. It is no coincidence that many self-care activities include physical restoration, including eating healthy, exercising, taking hot baths, getting massages, etc. Through the stress of the holiday season, you may have fallen out of healthy eating and exercise habits, found yourself sleeping a little less, or felt keyed up or tense as you jumped from one activity to the next. In the coming weeks, it is important to take stock of how stress may have impacted the way you take care of your physical health. By doing so, you can more mindfully choose activities that will help you recover from the stress of the season and better prepare yourself for the New Year.

A plan to do “nothing” is still a plan. Sometimes the hardest part of recovering from the hustle and bustle is finding the strength to say, “no.” After over a month of jumping from one activity to the next, it can be hard to slow down your schedule. However, a plan to have no plan is sometimes just what you need to give yourself the time and space to recover. Sometimes by saying “no” today, you can give yourself more energy and a sense of well-being for tomorrow.

Beware of the “All-or-nothing” thinking. Taking time to take care of yourself can sometimes lead to “all-or-nothing”—which is when you lose sight of the “middle ground” and begin to believe that everything is all one thing or another. Saying “no” to an activity today does not mean you will say “no” to all activities in the future. Similarly, being a bit more engaged today, does not mean you cannot take a break in the future. “All-or-nothing” thinking can limit problem solving and your ability to take care of yourself and those around you. It would be important to take note of these types of thoughts and find ways to find the nuanced middle ground which is more likely to help you reach your goals.

Unwinding is a process that takes time and practice. The ways in which people unwind vary greatly and depend on many individual factors. Some people may have one or two “go-to” strategies, while others may need a more diverse array of strategies, depending on the nature of their stressors and their own personal preferences. Whatever the strategy, it is important to remember that relaxation and recovery takes time and practice, so patience is key in getting the most out of whatever activity you choose. The effects may not always be immediate, but over time, can lead to a greater sense of balance and well-being.

I encourage those who are struggling to find ways to unwind to take the time to experiment with different strategies and ask family and friends for ideas and inspiration. And, if interested, reach out to a mental health professional to see how they can support you as you work to find healthy ways to incorporate rest and recovery into your everyday life.

Tanaka is a licensed psychologist and founder of Coronado Psych.

(1) comment


Very little experience with clinical disorders. If you’re looking for a TED talk replete with buzzwords and pop psychology, give it a try. If you’re looking for someone actively engaged in research and who has experience treating a diverse clientele with specific needs, please look elsewhere. This woman is a bit too self-involved to be an effective practitioner, unfortunately.

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