Eight ways to relax that aren’t meditation

Meditation is hard. Not everyone can master the ability to switch off certain thoughts and focus solely on the ‘here and now’. It’s a skill that requires regular practice; but for those of us who are too impatient or too easily distracted, dedicating time to other relaxation methods is a better idea.

We all need regular downtime. A study carried out by job website CV Library last year found 80% of Irish workers aren’t getting enough sleep, and their work is suffering as a result. Of these, more than 80% cited stress as the reason for their poor sleep. It’s vital we give our minds enough time to switch off between work and bedtime; here are eight ways to do that:

1. Cuddle a dog. Research shows that petting a four-legged friend triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain, commonly known as the ‘cuddle chemical’. It also reduces the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain. A study by Odendaal and Meintjes assessed changes in cortisol in dog owners when petting their own dog, an unfamiliar dog, and quietly reading a book. The interaction with either dog led to a significant drop in stress levels in comparison to reading alone. Food for thought.

2. Turn off your phone. Taking a temporary break from the digital world is surprisingly liberating. It forces you to look away from pesky work emails and jealousy-inducing Instagram feeds; making you spend time in the real world with real people. It can also improve your sleep quality. If switching your phone off completely is too extreme, disable your email notifications during non-working hours instead.

Related: What is sophrology? How to relax in the 21st century

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3. Have sex. As with petting a dog, sex can release oxytocin in the brain and leave you feeling relaxed. An orgasm will also release endorphins, helping you to feel happy and calm.

4. Take up crafts. If you’re the type of person who likes to keep your hands busy, try swapping your phone for a pair of knitting needles. You’ll become so focused on creating the right patterns that any thoughts of work or kids will go straight out the window. Research at Princeton University found that the repetitive movements enhance the release of serotonin, the ‘happy chemical’, putting you in a good mood (plus you get a new hat in the process). Alternatively, embroidery and colouring are good for relaxation too.

5. Pamper yourself. In her new book Kindness: Change Your Life and Make The World A Kinder Place, Gill Hasson says there's nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of 'me-time'. "No matter how small it is, have something you can do that you enjoy." Whether it’s a massage, a nail appointment, or something as simple as having a nap; treat yourself. You deserve it.

6. Get cooking. Make or bake something delicious and share it with family and friends. The process of chopping, weighing, and measuring ingredients requires your full attention; it'll keep you rooted in the ‘here and now’. With both your hands and mind preoccupied, feel your worries and stress slip away.

7. Declutter. It can be difficult to unwind your mind when you’re stuck in a stuffy, cluttered space. Whether it’s old make-up and water bottles in your bedroom; or piles of paper on your desk at work; grab a bag and clear out everything you don’t need. Then, unsubscribe from useless email newsletters and declutter your inbox. A clean environment (both physical and electronic) makes for a clean and healthy mind.

8. Make a list. If you ever feel stressed by the sheer volume of things you have to do, make a list of your jobs and tick them off one-by-one. The satisfaction you’ll feel when you cross things off will encourage you to keep going. This is particularly good for stationery junkies (any excuse to use your new pen set).

Photo: Pete Bellis, Unsplash

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