Ranking all the things I’ve tried in order to chill out, because my doctor told me to


words by hannah cole

Because your health is worth it.

It’s kind of funny – in the grossest sense of the word – that I upheld my busyness with pride for so many years. When everyone else said, “Slow down”, I would go faster. I wrote a sick narrative for myself: that I thrived off being busy.

It made me more productive, more efficient and the best version of me, I told myself. But it was really just stress disguised in sweaty sheep’s clothing. 64 per cent of 2019’s National Women’s Health Survey respondents under 36 said they had felt nervous, anxious or on edge in the past four weeks.

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The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey of 2021 found that 38 per cent of women are reportedly chronically time-stressed. Undoubtedly, that figure has only been heightened by the delicate dance of the pandemic, balancing family, work and life. We are not all jugglers, but we try.

Aspects of a full diary and important deadlines sound positive and admirable, yet stress comes with real, physical consequences. We struggle to concentrate or sit still, can’t stay asleep, become irritable, experience headaches and upset stomachs, and more. 

I have no doubt that this self-inflicted pressure and stress have a large part to play in my own health issues. Currently I’m on a journey to mend my faltering and off-kilter hormones. Hand in hand with supplements, the biggest takeaway from health professionals so far is to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Put the brakes on, jump into the backseat and become familiar with a leisurely pace.

Lifting that lead-laden foot is easier said than done, though, particularly after years of conditioning and finding self-worth in this mess. Here I offer you all the ways I have tried to chill out, ranked from revved to relaxed on a heart palpitations scale (the fewer, the better).

Burn a little incense, baby

I don’t doubt the power of scent in stabilising moods and invigorating the mind. A diffuser sits on my desk at all times, waiting for a few droplets (lavender and lemongrass, preferably). That, I reserve for particularly stressful and frazzled days when I need something powering in the background. 

Incense, for me, is the levelled up self-care version of this. It not only smells amazing and lifts the room but is so mesmerising to watch. The stick curls and crumbles, the smoke wafts and travels. My current favourite is Heartwood’s Indian Sandalwood. It’s natural, meditative and awakening. 

Heart palpitations: Seven. The pleasure is welcome but short-lived. 

A dunk in the water

There’s nothing like a splash of water to enhance alertness and jumping in the ocean is even better. The sensation of your whole body ducking beneath the crashing waves or wading in the still sea is incomparable. 

It’s the physical embodiment of refreshment. Schweppervesence. When I commit to the hour break, I don’t regret it. My heartbeat slows, I reconnect with nature and remember why I moved to such a beautiful corner of the world. 

Heart palpitations: Five.

Midday masturbation

Around lockdown (who knows what version?), I saw a round of articles channelling midday masturbation as one of the perks of this sudden remote lifestyle. Something that was once timed specifically for out-of-office hours was now achievable anytime we pleased. For some, the bedroom doubled as an office, minimising the distance and effort required even more. 

As a laggard with most things, I was late to the party. But let me tell you, it’s effective. Close the laptop and take some time for yourself; release the tension and welcome an instant mood booster (made even better with a cute sex toy).

Heart palpitations: Three. Quick, easy, fail-safe, but minus two points because it could dangerously derail my work ethic.

The productivity flow

As part of this curse, I trialled WFH productivity hacks. The one that has well and truly stuck is the Flow app – a desktop Pomodoro timer that allows me to set ‘focus’ and ‘rest’ time. Every day I keep track, counting down 90-minutes for a brief break. The delicate ping forces me to reset and refresh before digging in again.

Sometimes I’ll make another pot of tea, lie with my feet up the wall (another perk of WFH and a great way to relieve anxiety), or scroll Instagram (guilt and rabbit hole free because it’s timed). 

If it weren’t for this handy clock, I’d have bedsores on the most anxiety-inducing days. I have a habit of rarely leaving my seat, not even for a toilet break. But when the timed break is up, I’m back on – often with a fresh perspective and new ideas.

Heart palpitations: Two.

Treat yourself to acupuncture

The best thing I have done for myself all year is finding an acupuncturist. As fate would have it, my first visit was on one of my most anxious, fretful days. For the first time in too long to recall I felt at peace. Having someone else care for my body, understand its intricacies and then apply teeny needles and burn moxa takes me to a meditative place. 

The world could crumble around me, and emails could go unread, but I feel grounded and whole once again. For me, this is a worthy investment of my time and money as I learn to slow down, breathe and take life less seriously.

Heart palpitations: One (only because zero is dangerous).

For more on relaxation, try this.

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