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Time Out

Hey folks. Sorry I’ve been a bit quite. I took some unplanned time out to get stuck into some gardening, mountain climbing, book writing, and catching up on many of the things I had neglected in order to tend to end-of-semester uni requirements. My writing journey for The Closet Scientist (a book that bridges the gap between  classic how-to style book, hard hitting academic-research based-fashion focused cultural analysis, and comprehensive workbook for conscious consumption) has taken me to all kinds of weird and wonderful corners of academic journal land. While spending some time with my hands in the dirt potting up plants and my head musing quietly over the idea of ‘time out’ I started to reflect on some of the ways we like to ‘de-stress’, why this process is so important for functional daily life, and what research has to say about it. Musings that resulted in this post which is littered with research and random photos I’ve snapped over the last few days. Photos that seem to indicate I am being stalked by pink lights (UFO’s, Angels, or a camera glitch… who knows) and have helped grow some epic pink flowers on a christmas cactus that I rescued from the local landfill store.

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 Down time is essential to mental health.

When you are on the go all day every day meeting the demands of others you will burn out. No matter how strong you are, there is a point in your life where you will run out of energy and take a backwards slide. For some this might mean falling ill. Catching a cold is just one of the ways that your body starts to show you that you need to slow down. Other signs might not be so easy to recover from. You might remember a while back (if you are here regularly) that I got a bit obsessed with Arianna Huffington’s book ‘Thrive’. This book actually came about from Huffington’s burn out collapse. Some of us have a metaphorical collapse, Huffington had a literal collapse, falling in her office and hitting her head after working too hard for too long.

Fatigue is a real thing. As much as we like to believe we are superhuman (the ‘superwoman’ notion that gets around on social media is a worrying one because all genders need to understand they cannot do everything, rest is required) there are points where we need to admit ‘defeat’ to our egos and take some rest and recovery. It’s not only essential to our physical health, our mental health is reliant on quite time too! There are many ways that people tackle the idea of ‘down time’. Going on holidays is one of these, however planning for a big holiday can be quite exhausting in itself and many people end up sick the moment they arrive at their holiday destination. The following are some non-holiday related ideas about relaxation and winding down.

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Retail Therapy

Feeling glum? Sometimes when the World feels a little out of our control we might reach for the credit card or dip into the savings account to cheer ourselves up. Retail therapy has been shown to reduce sadness (if only for a fleeting moment) which is why so many folks turn to the shopping mall in times of distress. Choosing where and how we spend our money can give a sense of control in a life that is pretty much out of our control (you can tidy your house as much as you like but the dust will always return… nothing external to you will ever be 100% in your control). In the case of fashion, we can use shopping to control how we look on the outside, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit how we feel on the inside.  A study by a team of researchers who wished to test this theory of buying control and happiness through retail therapy  had some pretty interesting results. Their aim was to determine if happiness can really be bought or if it’s just a hypothetical, and to see if shopping can restore ones sense of personal control. The results of the experiments into shopping for stress release and regaining composure found that being able to have a choose your own shopping adventure restored a sense of control and made the participants less sad. Whether or not this is a long term reduction in sadness depends on other factors like credit card debt, environmental guilts (over consumption) and any other factor that might make you regret the shopping binge. Ever tried to shop angry? Perhaps you might have noticed that shopping angry doesn’t always result in feeling more composed. Thats because when you are angry for something that comes from external forces (a boss, friend, or perhaps that guy who cut you off in the car park) trying to buy ‘control’ probably won’t help because you know having that new handbag won’t make your boss any nicer. Moral of the story? You can buy happiness but it might be fleeting and shopping angry is not really good for anyone (yourself and sales staff included).

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Nature nurtures (and usually doesn’t cost as much as retail therapy).

As we have seen above. Retail therapy works for many people. However, it’s not a long term option because we have limited amounts of space. There are only so many ‘my boss is a jerk’ handbags that one can fit into their closet and at some point the shopping therapy may end up being the source of your problems rather than the solution to the. This opinion article neatly surmises some of the benefits of bypassing the mall and getting outdoors to get your happiness fix. Did you know that all work and concrete and no outdoor play can be pretty detrimental to your health. Our increasingly urban environments are full of brain stimulation. Being surrounded by screens, advertisements, traffic and construction noises, and stores designed to overstimulate our  senses without green respite can result in cognitive fatigue. Natural environments counteract this overstimulation by offering places of quiet focus (the trees don’t scream advertising slogans at you) and allow for the restoration of direct attention that supports our self regulation. Which when you think about it makes perfect sense. We can spend a whole day sitting motionless in front of a blinking computer screen and feel like we contributed to society, but sitting under a tree for the whole day would seem absurd to many ‘on the go’ folks. This is because nature gives us a sense of ‘being away’ from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and a day under a tree may actually provide better immediate benefits for stress reduction than that big holiday you have been stressfully planning for the last month.

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Bona fide relaxation techniques

Nature time and retail therapy are just a couple of ways you can relax. We are all different with different likes and dislikes (I have a friend who would baulk at the idea of sitting under a tree on the grass because she has a fear of insects).  The following are some academic research specific suggestions on how to relax in a variety of ways, each of which are linked to the academic articles certifying their relaxation credentials:

  • Group Drumming: good for emotional release, increased energy and productivity, induced relaxation, improved mood states, creates feelings of accomplishment, and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Yogic Meditation: improved mental and cognitive functioning and lower levels of depressive symptoms. Also linked in this study to an increase in telomerase activity suggesting improvement in stress-induced cellular ageing.
  • Listening to Instrumental Music and group singing: Music can be very therapeutic and cain aid in everything from relaxation to increasing concentration the attached open access journal article gives loads of info.
  • Dancing: The attached paper argues (from an Indian cultural perspective) that dance came into being as a way to get in contact with emotions and promote mental health (a good reason to hit the dance floor tonight or have a boogie in your kitchen today).
  • Getting Active and Exercising: There are loads of studies that show being involved in exercise will reduce stress, depression and anxiety. The one attached looks at some very stressed university students studying law and concludes that activities (in this case a ‘bootcamp’) are definitely beneficial in reducing stress.
  • Gardening: Getting down and dirty is a great way to reconnect with nature and reduce your stress and anxiety levels. The paper attached is a review of another publication on the subject but notes how many publications have agreed with this sentiment that gardening is good for the soul.
  • Art: Many may be aware of the notion of ‘Art therapy’ as it is commonly used for recovery from a number of ailments including mental health issues. the paper attached is fuse art and mental health programs in Samoa found that art helped to destidmatize mental health issues and imperative cultural connections.

How do you relax? Do you have a preferred method? Perhaps you use retail therapy? Maybe something less conventional like group hugging classes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.