Holiday? What’s that? Clearly, the year has been too long. It’s cruel. Still, rather than turning into a pressure cooker of stress, here are a few ways to unwind, and some ways that you shouldn’t.
You’ve heard this before, but here’s a timely reminder. Exercise forces your mind off the cares of the day. If you do it properly and have a really vigorous workout (without reading your company’s annual report on the treadmill), you’ll feel better because of all the oxygen in your blood. There’ll be endorphins in your system too – call them nature’s Prozac. You need to exercise for at least 40 minutes before they kick in, but they’ll keep working for hours afterwards. The other reason that exercise is good for you is this: most blokes feel guilty when they don’t and justifiably feel good when they do.
Don’t talk shop
Having six beers with the guys from the office may be a tradition, but it’s one that’s worth breaking. Most social events of this sort involve shoptalk, which won’t help anyone relax. And the habit of drinking a lot socially has its own problems. A little of what you fancy is definitely good for you, as long as it’s a little beer, wine, chocolate or biltong, and not cocaine or tobacco. But watch your intake: if your consumption level increases, it’s worth taking a break before your drinking becomes a source of stress itself.
Studies show that food odours (excluding cabbage, perhaps) help reduce stress. So knock up a fragrant curry or some garlicky pasta with pungent parmesan cheese. Just shopping for fresh greens can be therapeutic, as long as you don’t look too closely at the price of organic tomatoes. Back to the kitchen: if you’re really feeling careworn, slam together a meal that’s high in carbohydrates and has no protein. Think pasta or pasta salad (easy on the oily dressing), rice, a mixture of pulses and grains, or simply a baked potato. This works because carbohydrates trigger the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that calms you.
Start a garden
Some blokes find the very idea of gardening stressful, but a bonsai tree or miniature garden can be therapeutic. It’s the same reason that some blokes build model aircraft or keep fish, except that while aphids don’t eat either of those, each has its own hazards if you’re not good at them.
Hit the bottle
Not booze, which as we’ve said is a bad idea, but aromatherapy oils. Run yourself a warm – not scalding – bath, and put in a few drops of lavender, juniper, chamomile, geranium, clary sage or sandalwood. Any combination of these is fine, but put in no more than six drops. Then have a soak.
Stock up on Woody Allen videos
Laughter is good for your blood pressure, so build up a library of stuff that tickles you, whether it’s Calvin and Hobbes collections, Goon Show recordings, Fawlty Towers videos or just your high school yearbook - once you hit a certain age the hairstyles are always good for a chuckle.
Make your own flotation tank with a bath full of tepid water and a packet of epsom salts. Light a perfumed candle and have a float. Recorded whale music is optional.
Finally, here’s a series of stretches that will help rid your muscles of the knots picked up in a day behind a monitor or a steering wheel. Wear loose, cool clothing, keep your eyes closed throughout, and leave the cellphone and the Green Day CD off.
Lie on the floor with your legs together and your arms by your sides. Inhale. Tighten your toes, feet and calves. Pull your kneecaps up; clench your buttocks and thighs. Exhale, pulling in your abdomen, clenching your fists and arm muscles. Maintain this tightness for three seconds then exhale, spreading your arms and legs as you do so, but maintaining the tension. Slowly relax the muscles in the same order that you clenched them. Roll slowly onto your left side and stand, keeping your eyes closed.
Stand up straight with your feet together and one arm raised straight up, the other pressed against your leg. Swing slowly sideways from the waist, then back. Switch arms and repeat step 2.
With both arms hanging loosely at your side, bend forward from the waist. Feel the blood pressure in your head and the pull in your legs. Go as low as you can, keeping your legs straight. Stay that way for at least two minutes, then straighten. You should feel a bit light-headed. Stand still until it passes.
Stand straight. Inhale and bend backwards slowly from the middle body, stretching your head and neck. Keep your chin tucked in a bit if you have neck trouble. Breathe normally with your eyes closed for at least two minutes, or until your start to feel lightheaded or uncomfortable. Straighten slowly.
Lower yourself to the floor and lie flat. Lift your knees to your chest, which will press your lower back to the floor. Then slide your feet out until your legs are straight. Spread your feet about a foot apart, and your arms about 16 inches from your body, palms facing upwards. Count 10 slow, even breaths, feeling your abdomen rise and fall. Breathe rhythmically, without forcing the breaths. Concentrate on how the exhalation relaxes you and the inhalation invigorates you. Open your eyes slowly and stand.
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(Picture: Man cooking from Shutterstock)