“Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering."
― Winnie the Pooh
The holiday season is meant to be a time for relaxation. As we approach the end, I wonder how many of us feel truly refreshed. No matter what time of year, stress can get the better of us. It can feel as if we’re whirling around, from one project or problem to another, our cluttered mind constantly racing.
How can we regain control and get clarity? There are many ways to relax and refocus and I’ve chosen four that work for me.
1. Floating or Sensory Deprivation
Floating involves lying in a lightless, sound proof Float Tank filled with a salt water solution heated to skin temperature. This unique environment removes all stimuli, giving your body the unique sensation that you are floating in mid-air.
Detaching from your senses can be strange, even scary, at first. But as you relax, it becomes a wonderful environment to explore your mind and sink deep into relaxation. All the benefits of floating are still being discovered but studies are being released crediting it with improving a variety of mental health conditions (this Time Magazine article examines this in depth).
If your city doesn’t have a floating tank yet you can just fill up your bathtub with warm water, pour in some Epsom salt and turn off the lights. It might not take you on the same mental journey, but it’s better than doing the dishes.
2. Forest Baths
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku and it`s actually part of their national health program. It’s the practice of just being amongst trees in the forest. Amazingly, studies have credited this activity with a wide range of benefits. For example, according to a recent report, “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.” Essentially, the forest soothes you and reduces stress levels.
You don’t have to move to the woods to get the benefits. Other studies have found that exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels, and experts have recommended “doses of nature” as part of the treatment of attention disorders in children.
So hit up your park and become a tree hugger!
3. Bullet Journals
This suggestion doesn`t require floating or forests - you simply need a pen and paper. A bullet journal, all the rage on the internet these days, is just a simple way to record things on paper. Many of us are intimidated by journaling – we think we need to conjure profound personal insights as if we`re Virginia Woolf. Bullet journaling strips these expectations away and provides a framework for capturing your ideas. It allows you to keep track of what’s happened to you and allows you to plan for the future.
The authors of the bullet journal have created a method to make your journal a to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary. You can make it as intricate or as simple as you like, but the point is to download what’s in your head onto paper, hopefully clearing your mind in the process.
You may be surprised to see that meditation is not on this list. While I`m certain that it’s an essential practice for many people, I have found it challenging to adhere to. My mind seems to stray and I find myself lost in thought. To my surprise, knitting has filled the void.
Knitting, with its repetitive needlework, induces a similar relaxed state to meditation. Yet the knitting process also demands focus, lest you mess up and you have to undo your mistake. This tactile aspect of the activity prevents my mind from wandering.
The health benefits of knitting range from stress and anxiety relief, to addressing eating disorders and chronic pain. Researchers have also discovered that elderly people who engage in crafts are more likely to retain brain functions, such as memory. This fascinating New York Times article discusses this research in detail.
But even if you don’t experience these benefits, if you get good enough you might just strike it rich with your own Etsy store!