Relax! That was my goal for the last week. If you read last week’s post you’ll remember that I have been having stomach problems, for which part of the suggested treatment was to relax. Easier said than done, since I think the last time I was truly relaxed was on holiday in Madeira in 2012. After all, who can’t feel positively serene drinking happy hour cocktails by a gorgeous pool, in the sunshine, with restaurant staff catering to your every need? Oh sure, it’s easy to feel relaxed then, but when you’re battling health problems, work, study, errant kittens and family problems, that chilled-out feeling is a little harder to find.
So, this past week I have embarked on a quest for serenity, testing out various potential relaxation methods, and I’ll tell you up front that it wasn’t always a straight-forward process…
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life so this seemed like a sensible place to start. I grabbed the book I’m reading at the moment (‘Storyteller – The Life of Roald Dahl’ by Donald Sturrock) and curled up in my very big, very cushy, very pink armchair. Snuggling up to the cushions, feeling cosy and comfy I felt pretty good about this idea. The only struggle was balancing two kittens and a heavy book while I sprawled. After 20 minutes or so I had a little trouble keeping my eyes open. You have to be relaxed to sleep, right?! I can’t say I felt as relaxed as I had in Madeira, and I could have done with a blanket but overall, not too bad!
Relaxation rating: 8/10
This is something I’ve hit upon before and it’s how I coped when I got ill with the M.E and had to manage part time work. I would get home, cry for a bit, then do one of these great meditations by The Honest Guys. A lot of people, myself included, find meditation a bit ‘new age-y’ and battle against the dreadful internal chatter that makes relaxation so difficult. The great thing about these guided meditations is that there is very little you need to do except listen and follow the instructions. Breathe in……and out……and in……and out. Easy! Except sometimes that internal chatter still creeps in and for some reason, about 15 minutes in, I seem to get an almighty surge of panic. I have no idea what causes it but it’s almost every time, making it a great choice for most people but unfortunately, not so great for me.
Relaxation rating: 6/10
3. Regular Exercise
I want to find whoever suggested this and hurt them. Badly. The basic theory behind this is that you have a lot of tension in your body and cortisol rattling around in your noggin. Exercise, especially the cardio variety, helps your body release that tension and makes your brain release pleasure-inducing endorphins, giving you that super-happy feeling. On paper it makes perfect sense, so I signed up to a trampoline aerobics class – all the exercise with added bounce. And this is where I learned a vital lesson: trampoline aerobics with a bad headache is a TERRIBLE idea. Thinking the pain might be smothered by the endorphins and being too stubborn to lose the £8 I had paid, I went along, doped up on painkillers and I gave it my all. For about 25 minutes. After that I felt like I might simultaneously pass out and throw up. I stopped, sat down for most of the remainder of the class, went home and ate a gluten free caramel custard doughnut. That doughnut was the most relaxed I felt all night.
Relaxation rating: 3/10
Clearly, cardio was NOT the way forward so I did some research. The slow, mindful movements involved in yoga and pilates, along the with careful breathing are meant to induce a state of calm. I have tried both a number of times in the past and thoroughly enjoyed the experience so I dusted off a couple of my DVDs and gave it a whirl. I must admit that when you haven’t done these moves in a while it is definitely not relaxing. Trying to focus your breathing while also moving your spine correctly from downward dog into cobra is tough and takes too much concentration to feel at peace, but afterwards you don’t just feel a little more relaxed, you also feel empowered. And who wouldn’t find their day a little easier when you feel like the female equivalent of Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard’?
Relaxation rating: 7/10
5. Keeping a Diary
This might just be one of my favourites, although the subject of the day plays a big role in whether you feel calm or incredibly tense by the time you’ve finished writing your entry. I’ve kept diaries since I was 13 years old (yes, really, and I have kept them all), but over the last year or so I’ve been a prolific procrastinator, choosing an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or an extra half an hour on The Sims 3 over writing in my diary. The one exception here is while we were in Rome in August. I wrote at least 40 pages during that one nine-day stay and it was an enjoyable experience. Rather than staring blankly at television I don’t want to be watching in the first place (there were no English channels in the apartment), I kept a detailed account of what we had done, where we had been, what we had seen and what we ate. Now, when I look back on that holiday, there will be details I couldn’t possibly remember, preserved for posterity. It’s a wonderful thing. In light of this, efforts have been made in the last week to write in my diary most days and it has helped. Not only can I write about the fabulous things (great day at work, love my new job) but I can write about the stresses and strains in my life, without depending on others to listen. A great tool for everyday life and relaxation.
Relaxation rating: 8/10
Of course, the ultimate goal in all this was to become more relaxed, so the question is…do I feel more relaxed? The answer right now is no, not really. I know, I know. It’s not exactly the Disney-style happy ending everyone has come to expect but I’ve come to realise that it’s simply not that easy to turn off the stress and tension when you’ve been used to them for so long. There isn’t a cure-all that can (legally) be relied upon and it takes some practise to let things go. With that in mind, I’ll be moving forward with the ideas that worked and who knows? Maybe in a year’s time I’ll be chilled out enough to rival the Dalai Lama himself. In the meantime, if you’re feeling stressed and overburdened, why not give some of these ideas a try yourself? Your nirvana could be one guided meditation away…
Tried any of these techniques and want to share how it went? Or have any suggestions on relaxation techniques? Please feel free to share with the group in the comments below.