Do you find it hard to slow down and unwind? Are you worried about the shocking cost of living rises we are seeing? Finding ways to relax that fit into our busy lives AND our budget can be tricky. However, if you make time to deeply relax each day, chances are you’ll sleep better, be more productive and be happier. Here are seven great ways to relax that won’t cost you a penny.
1. Wild Swim
Exercise is well known to relieve stress and swimming is a wonderful choice, being kind to your joints among other things. However, rather than swim in a pool why not try wild swimming?
I’m a big advocate of the mental and physical health benefits of swimming in a natural environment be it the sea, a river or a lake. Not only do you get the benefit of being in nature which is a great stress-buster in itself, but you also have the added advantage of the many benefits of cold water swimming.
Here in the UK the water temperature of our seas, rivers and lakes rarely rises above 20 degrees celsius (other than at the height of the summer maybe). That may not sound that cold but our skin temperature is around 37 degrees so even water that is 20 degrees is a shock to get into.
This shock releases endorphins, immediately improving your mood. Studies have found that people feel good after cold water swimming and that regularly swimming leads to a gradual reduction in the symptoms of depression. And, as your body learns to react less to the physical stress of entering the cold water, your mind starts to react less to emotional stress too, helping you remain calm and relaxed. I’ve certainly found that to be the case.
There are a great many wild and sea swimming groups around the country. I regularly swim with the Bluetits of Bognor which gives me the added bonus being part of a wonderful community of like-minded people. Read more about it on my travel blog, The benefits and risks of cold water swimming (and why I love the Bluetit Chill Swimmers).
2. Draw or colour
Studies show that being creative even simply colouring mandalas or drawing a doodle for just twenty minutes reduces anxiety.
Drawing and colouring are very mindful exercises bringing us to the present moment, relieving frazzled nerves and helping us to relax.
Walking is a great form of exercise and that in itself is well known to relieve stress. Even a walk around the block can help you relax and clear your mind. Better still take a walk in nature, be it by the sea, in a park or up a mountain. I’m lucky to live just a ten-minute walk from the beach. It’s particularly wonderful early in the morning when few people are around.
Just a short walk can really help you reset your mind, enabling you to see things more clearly and calmly.
4. Forest Bathing
Best of all though is a walk amongst trees. Whether in your local park, a small woodland or a fast, remote forest being amongst the trees is good for you. Go on your own or agree with those that you go with that you will keep talking to an absolute minimum.
Walk quietly through the trees observing all that is around you. Listen to the sounds of the forests, touch the leaves (although it’s a good idea to be familiar with those you shouldn’t touch depending on where you are in the world), notice the smell of the forest and gaze at all the different shades of browns and greens. Sit or lie down, in silence, and soak it all in.
Studies have found that being amongst trees offers a great range of health benefits including
- reducing stress
- improving sleep
- boosting the immune system
- lowering blood pressure
And more besides.
The term Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) was first used in Japan in the 1980s when it was recognised that an antidote to our hectic, high-tech, high-stress lifestyles was sorely needed. Find out more about Forest Bathing in my review on Hello Sussex.
Laugher, be it a loud guffaw induced by your favourite sitcom, a quiet little giggle watching a reel on Instagram or even a ‘fake’ self-induced laugh is good for you.
When you laugh, be at spontaneously or consciously, you increase your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles. What’s more, your brain releases endorphins, a natural chemical known to help relieve pain, reduce stress and improve your sense of well-being.
Singing has many benefits from improving lung function to bolstering the immune system. And studies have shown that it relieves stress too, whether you are singing with a group or on your own.
Make yourself a playlist of all your favourite sing-along-songs and make time every day to sing. Sing when you wash up, sing in the shower, or just sing!
You may think that meditating isn’t for you or you’ve tried it but have found you can’t do it. Think again. There are many different ways to meditate but one of the key things to realise, especially when you are new to meditating is not to beat yourself up when thoughts pop into your head. That’s inevitable. The trick is to observe these thoughts, without judgement and then let them drift away without getting drawn into them.
I recently read that meditation can be more restful than sleep. Apparently, during deep meditation, the level of rest that the body and mind receive can be two to five times deeper than what they receive in the deepest part of sleep.
Many people start meditating by simply lying down or sitting crossed-legged while focusing on their breathing. Every time you find your thoughts wandering return your focus to your inward and outward breath. However, you may find a guided meditation an easier starting point. And like most things, you’ll get better with practice.
The Hamblin Vision has some great guided meditations on their YouTube Channel.
Alternatively, look out for meditation circles you can join for free. Locally to me, the Green Door Centre, In Bosham, offers free guided meditation every Tuesday and Friday lunchtimes.