Holiday

Long, Stressful Weekend? Here's a Better Way to Treat Yourself

November 28, 2016

Day 8 of 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving: You made it through Thanksgiving weekend—now relax!

Halfway through my Thanksgiving morning cooking machinations, I was pretty sure the game was all but lost. That when my family arrived in just a few hours, odds were the turkey would still be thawing, the potatoes un-mashed, and the house still a-shambles. And then—praise whatever deity you believe in, because I don’t know how it happened—my luck turned.

Somehow, my turkey skin turned itself a perfect, crispy, golden brown. My potatoes practically whipped themselves, and as I zipped a rag across my floors, they suddenly shone like new—almost as if they somehow knew my mother was on her way. As legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn would say, I 'had the game in the refrigerator': “The door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the jello's jiggling!!” I’d somehow done it. (And even had time to whip up an apple crisp, who’da thunk it?)

Whew.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

I’d very much like NOT to repeat this whole stressful process ever again, but alas, Christmas is coming in hot on our heels—and a perusal of the best ‘holiday stress relief tips’ the Internet has to offer churned up such helpful ideas as “just breathe!” or “pamper yourself with a manicure or massage!” You don’t say.

I am not a person who looks forward to massages for their calm and relaxing properties. No, I look forward to massages because I can use the forced downtime from my daily responsibilities to make mental lists of things I need to do, write intros to articles in my mind, and otherwise not relax or ‘be in the moment’ in any way, shape, or form. It’s the same with facial appointments, nail salon visits, and other time-honored pampering rituals. Instead of zoning out and enjoying the service I’m paying good money for, I go into think-tank mode—fretting and worrying about whatever is vexing me at the moment, like "how am I going to cook a ham for Christmas in a pal’s unfamiliar oven?" and furthermore, "why did I agree to do so in the first place?"

So instead, I go swimming.

As someone to whom relaxation doesn’t come easily, putting myself into a situation where I have to keep my arms and lungs moving in order to just stay alive is the only way I can force my mind to chill out, be blank, and stop problem-solving. Stroke, stroke, breath. Stroke, stroke, breath. Repeat. That’s it. Swimming laps is an activity that defies my all-star ability to multi-task. It forces me to focus on only that one thing—or find myself sputtering and coughing up water as I cling to the side of the pool like a kid at their first swim lesson.

Because of its repetitive nature, swimming is incredibly meditative. It’s basically water yoga—the alternating stretch and relaxation of muscles while simultaneously deep-breathing in a rhythmic pattern. There’s even a built-in mantra: the slow, repetitive count of laps and strokes in your brain. You can’t concern yourself with how you’ll get everything on your holiday to-do list done (or what your significant other’s family really thinks of you) when you are busy concentrating on not sucking water into your lungs and drowning. (The classic anti-stress admonishment to "just breathe” doesn’t sound so stupid now, eh?)

Swimming laps is an activity that defies my all-star ability to multi-task.

My local public pool (yes, it’s heated, but I am a true California girl so I wear a wetsuit to be toasty at all times) is a bare bones affair. Mine was built sometime in the 1960s, and there is something about the endless expanse of utilitarian concrete involved in its design that I find soothing. A day pass to swim costs a whopping three bucks, making it not only the best but also the cheapest decompression from holiday stress I’ve yet to find. (And those of you with fancy gym memberships already have access to a toasty warm pool far cushier than us public pool swimmers will ever dream of!)

In the mornings before work, there is a local high school’s swim team using the pool for practice. In the afternoons, it’s chock full of senior citizens chatting while they bounce up and down the lanes, doing their version of ‘laps’. After work, it’s a more serious crew—American flag swim caps and nose clips everywhere. Something about the mad mix of folks from all walks of life enjoying the same activity adds to the feeling that somehow, everything is going to be just fine—for at least the next half hour.

A day pass to swim costs a whopping three bucks, making it not only the best but also the cheapest decompression from holiday stress I’ve yet to find.

Besides swimming, keeping my hands busy with cutie crafts, mixing fancy cocktails as an special after-dinner solo treat, and baking for friends far and wide are my other go-tos when I find myself very much not embodying a spirit of peace, gratitude and ‘goodwill for all’. Rolling dough and doodling on leather like a kindergartener provide some of the same meditative, repetitive properties as swimming. So in that spirit, here are my favorite Food52 recipes and DIY’s to treat yourself with when the holidays are just suddenly too too much of everything.

Alison Freer is the author of How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing.

Tell us in the comments: How do you decompress after a long holiday weekend? (This is a safe space to say, "bake more cookies!")

1 Comment

AntoniaJames November 28, 2016
I bought a house with a long lap pool many years ago, in large measure for decompressing after long stressful days at work. (I'm fortunate, I guess, in that holiday weekends never seem stressful. I suppose it's all relative.) Interestingly, I find myself solving gnarly problems - conceptual, strategic points in drafting and in negotiating -- while doing my laps. It's amazing what happens when you let your brain sort of take over by removing all distractions. I do some of my best thinking and problem solving while doing laps, which I enjoy year round, at least 4 days a week, under a magnificent soaring redwood. Life is so good. ;o) P.S. The ultimate stress reliever for me is working in my kitchen to put dinner on the table, with a view of that beautiful pool, and that redwood and (this time of year) San Francisco Bay out my kitchen window.