How to Force Yourself to Relax

I remember weekends in college when I only changed out of pajamas to go to the bar. And one whole summer in grad school that was spent by the pool in my apartment complex with books of poetry and People magazines. I studied hard back then, always had multiple jobs and felt a lot of responsibility. Of course, it wasn't nearly the kind of work or worries I have a couple of decades later. Still, I wonder how I got from that lifetime, the one where I was able to let down as soon as the last class on Friday was over until moments before the next class on Monday morning, to this one, where relaxing is something I have to force myself to do.

In the year ahead, while other people are furiously counting calories and trips to the gym, I will be working on getting healthier, too. But a big part of that goal is to make myself spend more hours unwinding the stress and schedules I am wrapped up in all week. I may not be spending whole weekends in my jammies. But digging back into those poetry books (OK, People mags) sounds divine. 

Care to join me by the pool for a few hours? Here's how to force yourself back to a less-stressed state of mind.

1. Schedule monthly massages. Can you set aside the funds for an hour-long massage once a month? Or maybe a shorter, less spendy foot or hand massage at your nail salon? Call now and set up times for the next six months. Make the commitment with your credit card so you are sure to attend. And since most spas now have a cancellation fee, there's no backing out five minutes before you're supposed to be in a towel on a table. 

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2. Sit in the steam. Day spas often offer a rate to use the steam room, sauna, whirlpool and other amenities for a few hours. Schedule a "lunch meeting" once or twice a month and spend the money you would have on a giant salad to detox. If you don't have this luxury in your city, commit to an after-work hour with a bubble bath or steam shower in your own home, even if that means hiring a sitter to corral kids in another part of the house.

3. Plan a long weekend somewhere that's not touristy. Gather girlfriends, your honey or even go alone on a trip that's meant for doing nothing. Find a B& B with hiking trails nearby or a little hotel close to antique shops where you can wander all afternoon. Book a cabin on a lake or a room on the beach. Take a book you've been meaning to read for five years or a craft project you can never get to at home. Just don't put pressure on yourself to visit lots of museums, relatives or must-sees wherever you go.

4. Spend five minutes breathing before bed. This simple tip is surprisingly tricky to implement, at least for me. To remind myself to release the flurry of thoughts, worries and to-do lists occupying my mind before I go to sleep, I put a coin with the word "breathe" on my night stand. My son gave it to me, and when I see it as I plug my phone in for the night, I am reminded of his gentle urging for me to find ways to relax. Twenty deep breaths with eyes closed and palms opened can do wonders for a tense body and busy brain. 

5. Have sex. Lots of it. Who doesn't want to make this a resolution for the New Year?! I do my best to keep this goal going all the time, knowing that indulging my body also clears away all the crazy stuff in my mind. Plus, who wants to jump up and fold laundry, file taxes or make a grocery list after luxuriating nakedly? And if you are without a partner? No worries. Make time to be good to your own body in whatever way feels best.

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6. Turn off the reality TV. Many nights, I collapse on the couch and flip on Real Housewives, House Hunters or Say Yes to the Dress in an effort to zone out. It quiets my own thoughts and puts my life in perspective, I reason. And while I have no judgement about anyone watching reality shows, even every day, I also admit that it never ends up being relaxing. I'm working on turning off the TV for 30 minutes (or more) before I head to bed and instead, filling that time with music from my favorite Pandora channel.

7. Paint your own nails. Remember the days when we gave ourselves manicures and pedicures? As much as I love to have someone else do this for me, I realize I have lost the patience for painting my own piggies. And that's because it requires focus, care and time to sit still while each coat dries. Get out the box of polish, a bowl of sudsy water and tend to your own nails. No need to have Pinterest-worthy designs or crazy color combos, just give care to your hands and feet for an hour and see how it feels.

8. Do stuff you don't want to do, but drink tea while you're doing it. A professional organizer friend of mine suggested that I light a deliciously-scented candle and sip on a favorite-flavored tea while I am writing out my to-do list every day. She said that countering the must-accomplish items with a soothing ritual would make it seem more like a treat and less like one more stressor. And you know what? It really works. Identify those things you have to get done and then make them less awful by adding in tea, candles, maybe even a few squares of chocolate. Ahhhh, much better.

What ways are you intent on relaxing in 2013? 

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