I live what most would call a “bachelor lifestyle”. Traveling to various well-known party cities, and generally doing things that single guys in their mid-late 20s do: work out a lot, read, hit the gym, and chase girls.
Living this way is enjoying and relaxing, and I strongly value my freedom. Nevertheless, between work, play and managing relationships, life gets stressful from time to time.
To stay happy and healthy, it’s critical that I keep anxiety to a minimum. Easier said than done…
There are many ways to relax, and having exposure to a wide range of friends and cultures, I’ve tried them all.
But many putative forms of relaxation don’t accomplish their intended effect – rather, they come at a cost.
Two methods in particular are very common among my friends: 1) watching TV and 2) smoking weed.
While these methods may work for some, each has its drawbacks.
Watching television puts us in a reactive state. It’s a way to stay idle and pay for mental stimulus, rather than go out and generate it within ourselves by some other action.
TV is also a means of “following” rather than “leading”. Following hollywood scripts, common movie archetypes, commercials, and society’s generally-accepted beliefs.
Likewise, smoking weed comes at a cost. Among the many not-so-pleasant long term side effects of smoking weed are limited short- and long-term memory, increased general anxiety, and an increased likelihood of psychosis and depression.
Though my weed-loving friends may suggest otherwise, the downsides are not worth short benefits of fun.
With TV and weed aside, one may ask – how then do I relax? Read on…
Here are my top 10 ways to relax without TV or weed:
This is quite obvious, and well-known (without diving into the physiological and mental benefits of exercise on anxiety levels). Less important are your methods of exercise: weightlifting, HIIT, long-distance running or jogging, or sports. More important are the general effects of being in nature, and just moving.
A short walk (30 minutes to an hour) each day outside will do more to ease the mind than 2 hours of watching your favorite TV show.
Here’s a quick tip:
Yes, meditation. You know by now (2016) that it’s important, that you should probably be doing it, and that it works well (either because you’ve tried it or seen the results in someone else).
There are countless ways to meditate, but all you really need to get started is a desire to improve yourself and a quiet space. Focus on your breath for 10-20 minutes without interruption, once or twice a day, and voila! You’ll be more relaxed and much happier as a result.
A good book is good for the soul. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Stephen Hawking or JK Rowling, a good author draws your mind into their world and helps center your mind in the world of the book.
With a focus on something uplifting or informative, your unconscious mind can calm down and you will feel more at ease. Personally, I love that reading a good book is like going on an adventure, but without the stress.
Side note: reading (slowly) to relieve anxiety works much better when you read for enjoyment or curiosity, rather than out of obligation or a desire to achieve some goal.
4. Play games
When I was young, I used to play games all the time with my friends and family. Then, as I got older, these became less cool.
Why? Probably because I tried to distance myself from a nerdy youth.
But the truth is, board games and card games are incredibly fun. They are at once social, intellectually-stimulating, and get the competitive juices flowing. After a good board game, I always feel happier and more relaxed.
Some of my favorite games are Risk and Texas Hold-Em. Small warning: if you’re too competitive, then you may end up with your blood boiling!
Once upon a time, they were the bane of my existence. Something I dreaded.
Please just let me hit snooze one more time and I’ll be okay. (So I thought.)
Now, I love mornings. I start the day with a morning routine that wakes me up, gets my blood flowing, and builds momentum into my day.
Hands down, my favorite part of my morning routine is journaling – writing out whatever thoughts come to mind and planning out my day.
Like meditation, this has the effect of clearing my mind (I put pen on paper and write “stream of consciousness”, literally scribbling out any and every thought that pops into my head).
What’s more, as I start writing, I start to get into it. I build momentum by the simple act of expression, and my mind, clouded from sleep and dreams, starts to unwind and relax.
I recommend a journaling habit for anyone. To start, don’t try to “build a habit”. Rather, simply follow your own curiosity. Ask, “what’s on my mind today?” and then let it flow.
6. Get a massage
The body is the mind. – Elliott Hulse
As we take care of our muscles and our body, our mind follows suit. The stresses of life get stored in our muscles and nervous system (literally, the tightness in our muscles is our body’s way of remembering).
Thus, relieving the body’s tension is essential to easing the mind. Massages are one of life’s greatest “hacks”, in that we are able to pay a small fee to destress in a healthy way.
Unfortunately in places like Europe and the US, massages aren’t cheap, ranging anywhere from $50-100 for a basic massage. Hence, it’s something that should be done sparingly, else you risk adding more worry to your life in the form of financial anxiety.
Another option (and much better, imo): spend some time in a country where massages are both normal and affordable. A few recommendations: Vietnam, Thailand, and The Philippines. Getting 2 or 3 massages a week was a normal part of my life in Saigon, making relaxation a breeze.
7. Listen to music
We all (I hope) love good music. Everyone from my 6 year old niece to my great aunt smiles when one of their favorite tunes starts to play.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lover of the classics or a true Belieber, the sound of music has the power to calm even the most anxious mind.
Research has shown music’s power to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and even cure depression. These effects aren’t limited to your average Joe, but even work on cancer patients or people recovering from brain injuries.
Isn’t music great? I think so.
I use a music radio app called 8tracks, wherein users create playlists and share them with other users. Check this one out: Chill+Relax.
8. Hit the sauna
Benefits here: tons.
Downsides: little to none.
Pools, saunas and steam rooms are like small gifts from the creator. They have the power to take a stressed mind and calm it down in just 20 or 30 minutes. I personally love to combine this with #2 (meditation), meditating in the sauna each morning.
I love the feeling after a long, hot session in a sauna. But I was never sure why I felt so relaxed.
As it turns out, hot temperatures do more than just make you sweat – they actually reduce muscle tension and lower anxiety. Recent research shows that sauna use rewires the brain, altering circuits that control mood and behavior.
What’s more, these are the same circuits that regulate serotonin, the brain’s happy chemical (and the one that makes us love everyone and the world when we take MDMA).
As the authors of the paper point out, “Whether lying on the beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island, grabbing a few minutes in the sauna or spa after work, or sitting in a hot bath or Jacuzzi in the evening, we often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being.”
9. Call someone
Effective anxiety reduction is often about distraction, since your mind can be your worst enemy when you have severe anxiety symptoms. A very effective technique is to talk to someone you like and trust, especially on the phone. Don’t be shy about your anxiety – tell them you feel anxious and explain what you’re feeling.
Talking to your family, or reconnecting with old friends takes your mind off its constant hamster wheel of thought and focuses on something more virtuous: your relationships with people you care about, and who care about you. Further, these short conversations are a pleasant reminder that healthy relationships are the bedrock of a happy, integrated life.
I prioritize establishing and enhancing meaningful personal relationships. I always have time for family or a true friend. – Taylor Pearson
10. Have sex
Okay okay, this is a little too obvious. But I include here for a good reason.
Most of my friends would rather catch up on Game of Thrones rather than talk to someone they find attractive. The latter can be a bit nerve wracking at first, but it’s a simple matter of priorities: one helps you relax in the short-term and the other has many long term benefits (increased self esteem, being a major one, acts as a buffer against anxiety).
We’ve all met someone and immediately recognized: he/she really needs to get laid. As crass as that sounds, there’s a kernel of truth behind it (especially for men).
When guys don’t have sex for a long time, we tend to get very angry and irritable – quite the opposite of being relaxed and comfortable in our own skin.
Look, I’m not your mom. She’s probably much nicer and more generous than I ever will be.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t know a thing or two about relaxation.
Turn off the TV. Put down the joint.
Start exercising, meditating, reading and getting outside. It’s not really rocket science.
A big part of being happy and confident is knowing how to lower and manage your anxiety. Start small, keep at it, and before long you’ll notice some big differences.