12 Ways To Relax That Aren’t Meditating Or Mindfulness

There are loads of ways to lower stress levels without so much as a whiff of the big M.

couple relaxing at home

Mindfulness and meditation isn’t for everyone, says Grace McGettigan. It takes practice to be able to switch your mind off and quite frankly I’m rubbish at it. If anything, it stresses me out even more than usual. But there are loads of ways to lower stress levels without so much as a whiff of the big M. These are some of my favourites…

1. Reading

Reading is one of the best ways to forget everything going on in your life and get lost in an alternate universe. Whether you’re into fiction and enjoy long novels, or prefer lighthearted travel guides or fashion magazines, it allows you to switch off from all your worries and focus on something entirely different. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 per cent, provided you’ve chosen material to suit your tastes. Sounds good to us…

2. TV

For me, reality TV is perfect for a bit of escapism. Stressful day at work? Switch on The Real Housewives of New York City. Argument with your bestie? RuPaul’s Drag Race is right there to brighten your mood. Scientists say that TV is good for stress relief not only because it takes our mind off any problems we’re going through, but also because it’s a passive activity. By sitting still and taking in something we enjoy, our mind and body immediately calm down. As if we needed a reason to watch the box.

3. Clean, tidy, declutter

Unleash your inner Monica Gellar. Spring may be six months away but a deep clean and decluttering of your home is a great way to destress. Start small by tossing out old make-up, then spend an afternoon sorting through your wardrobe. If you haven’t worn something in the past two months, you probably don’t need it. Afterwards you’ll feel productive, and you’ll save yourself those ten minutes you usually spend looking for your fave jeans every morning. It’s a win/win, really.

4. Switch off your phone

Especially near bedtime. The type of blue light emitted from our phone screens has been proven to keep us awake, no matter how tired we are. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry from UCLA, it tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime. As such, the hormone that regulates our sleep, melatonin, isn’t produced and we have a restless night followed by a day of exhaustion. The advice? Set your phone alarm well in advance (or even better, buy a traditional alarm clock) and avoid looking at your phone for at least an hour before going to sleep. It’ll reflect in your mood tomorrow.

5. Get moving

You don’t have to do a full gym session to benefit from exercise, a basic evening walk will do. That being said, certain types of activity can help us express our feelings. If you’ve been holding in anger, a kickboxing or weightlifting class can help relieve it. Or if you suffer from anxiety, running or yoga might be best. Exercise increases our levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, so no matter what movement you feel comfortable doing, you’re guaranteed to feel better afterwards.

6. Cuddle a pet

A cuddle with your special four-legged friend is a fab antidote to a stressful day. Not only does their cuteness distract you from your woes, but the physical petting and playing is like a tonic. We humans are a social species and companionship makes us feel good. A dog’s unconditional love and loyalty is so powerful that they’re often used in health and rehab centres to help patients feel better more quickly. Talk about the best medicine ever.

7. Make plans

As touched on above, we have an innate need to socialise and making plans with a friend, colleague or family member will automatically boost our moods. It’s important for us to have someone to talk to, to open up to about what we’re going through. Try to meet them in person – for lunch, a gym class or even a weekend away. Online engagement is fine for a while, but real-life interaction is the most rewarding.

8. Sex

When you orgasm, a chemical called oxytocin rushes through your body. It’s nicknamed ‘the cuddle chemical’ or ‘love hormone’, because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. So next time you’re tightly wound and could do with chilling out, you know what to do…

9. Pamper sesh

Sometimes we just need a bit of ‘Me Time’ to unwind and whether you’re on a budget or fancy a splurge in the spa, we’re all entitled to R’n’R. A long shower, followed by a face mask and some nail-painting always makes me feel better. For others it’s a fresh hair colour, a cuppa, and a large Dairy Milk. Find what makes you feel good and do it. You deserve it.

10. Knitting

It’s not just for old, wrinkly women FYI. If you’re the type of person who’s always checking your emails, try swapping your phone for a pair of knitting needles. Not only will it keep your hands busy, but you’ll become so focused on making the right patterns that any thoughts of work will go straight out of your head. Research at Princeton University has found that the repetitive movements enhance the release of serotonin, putting us in the present moment and distracting us from stress. Plus you’ll have a cozy scarf or jumper at the end.

11. Colouring

If you’re anything like me and get a thrill from stationery shopping, treat yourself to a new packet of markers and a colouring book. The range of adult colouring books available to us now is pretty impressive, with some based on TV shows like Game Of Thrones, and others focused on gardening. Make sure to only buy one that you love the patterns in, otherwise you’ll be less inclined to use it. The sound of the marker scratching off the page relaxes me tenfold, and the bright colours perk my mood too. My top tip is to do some colouring right before bed (rather than scrolling through your phone) to increase your chance of a good night’s sleep.

12. Cook/Bake

Baking is a great form of self expression. You can throw ingredients together and combine techniques to create something entirely unique – and that’s before you add the icing. The acts of measuring and weighing, followed by kneading or rolling, require your full attention and keep you rooted in the ‘here and now’. Like knitting, you’re creating something useful, so the guilty feeling of wasting time doesn’t exist. Need an extra feel-good factor? Give whatever you’ve baked to someone you love.

This article first appeared in the November issue of STELLAR. Our December issue is on shelves now.

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