People have long sought out the peacefulness that a destination spa brings. Traditionally, you book a weeklong stay that is meant to be a transformational journey of sorts. It is at this type of spa that you can experience and learn how to change or enhance your life for the better, how to overcome obstacles, and how to balance body, mind, and soul.
We asked the experts at some of the best destination spas in the country for their tried-and-true tips for when the going gets tough. Now’s the time to find a quiet spot, take some time out for yourself, and give one of these a go.
1. HAVE A HEALTHY ATTITUDE
This is absolutely key, says Michelle Kleist, the executive director of the Destination Spa Group. “With the economy headlining everything these days, it’s easy to get overworked about finances and the future. As history has taught us, everything is cyclical.” She suggests slowing your mind down and taking a good deep breath or two. “Regular practice of deep abdominal breathing triggers the relaxation response and makes you more stress-hardy. Accept what is: There are some things you cannot change, so don’t spend endless hours worrying or trying to change things. Focus on the positive and relax your mind.” To help do this and to maintain a healthy attitude, Kleist suggests journaling for 10 to 15 minutes a day to release your thoughts and chatting it up with friends and family by sharing your thoughts and feelings. “Don’t make it all serious,” she advises. “Be sure to share a laugh or two, as well.”
2. TAKE CARE OF YOU
“Resign as the Master of the Universe and take care of you!” says Cindy Clemens, spa life coach at Red Mountain Spa in Ivins, Utah. “Nurture yourself with healthy food. Get outside and enjoy nature. Fill yourself with the endorphins created by exercise, and you’ll find yourself with a more positive outlook and more energy. “Stressful times are the ideal times to try something new, she says, and recommends yoga, t’ai chi, or meditation for their stress-reducing techniques. Which brings us to our next tip.
3. MOVE IT
Whether it’s a gentle yoga class or a vigorous, endorphin-releasing cardio salsa class, exercise is a great stress reliever. In addition, says Jeanine Clingingsmith, the fitness director at the Deerfield Spa in East Stroudsburg, Penn., weight training can make you feel physically stronger, which naturally translates to a feeling of personal empowerment–a very positive feeling when you’re feeling under siege. And exercise, believes Kleist, may be the single best approach to managing stress. Says Barry Shingle, fitness director at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, “If you have a regular exercise program, this is not the time to give it up! Stress can release hormones into your body that can cause damage if not used up with physical activity.” By maintaining your exercise program, says Shingle, you can establish control over your health and keep stress hormones from getting the best of you and causing illness. “It is proven that the fewer things a person feels they have control over, the greater impact outside stressors have on those people.”
4. SKIP THE QUICK FIX
We tend to define ourselves by the work we do. This doesn’t come as a surprise to Peggy Holt, life management therapist at Canyon Ranch resort in Tucson. “We get the most credit for our jobs (from other people), we get paid to do it, we get lots of self-worth from it, and we practice it the most, so therefore we get really good at it,” Holt explains. But when things go wrong in the area of work, we don’t have anything else to fall back on. This is when, says Holt, we need and look for a quick fix to escape reality because we haven’t invested time in other areas of our lives. “Most often these quick fixes are alcohol, shopping, gambling, and high-calorie foods. These things aren’t necessarily bad when practiced in moderation,” she notes, “but when quick fixes become your long-term best buddy, you need to take a closer look at what you’re getting from these quick fixes: is it an escape, or is it relaxation?” Holt says that if you are able to determine what the rewards are that you gain from your habit, you can find other substitutes that you can do to obtain the same benefits. For example, she suggests, if you want to escape, then go for a run or engage in one of your passions. If you need to relax, try stretching, deep breathing, or taking a nice hot bath. “Volunteering is also a great way to get out of your own world and gain a new perspective. By spreading your focus to multiple areas, you have a list of things that help you to remain constant, even if one area is experiencing chaos.”
5. TAKE CARE OF CREATURE NEEDS
We’re talking food, water, and sleep, as basic as that may sound. “If you’re tired, hungry, or dehydrated your performance suffers and your threshold to stress is lowered, ” says Tom Siekmann, director of operations at the Golden Door in Escondido, California. Eat often, advises Siekmann, who suggests keeping basics like peanut butter, jam, whole-grain bread, and fruit on hand. “I eat at least five times a day. The constant fuel level also keeps me from mental lows and highs, and I avoid the sluggishness after a big lunch.” Also important is going to sleep at the same time each night and rising early in the morning. By paying attention to these basics, Siekmann says, he has learned to keep life stresses in perspective.
6. SAY SO LONG TO CAFFEINE AND SUGAR
“Eliminate or severely restrict coffee, sugar, and refined grains which affect blood sugar levels and stress the adrenal glands,” advises Yvonne Nienstadt, nutrition diretor, at Rancho La Puerta. She recommends sticking with high-nutrient carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. “Not only are they loaded with nutrition, but these good carbs are half of the equation that helps the brain produce serotonin, its own natural anti-depressant,” states Nienstadt. “The other half of the serotonin equation is made up of proteins rich in tryptophan, such as fresh dairy, turkey and other poultry, eggs, fin fish, beans, nuts, and seeds.” In addition, she says that omega-3 fats from fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, and trout, as well as from leafy greens, flax and chia seeds are also important and help keep one calm under pressure (they’re also anti-inflammatory).
7. PRACTICE SELF MASSAGE
When paying for a massage is not in your weekly (or monthly!) budget, try an at-home alternative. Joan Wolff, owner and director of Deerfield Spa, suggests practicing Do-In, the Japanese art of self-massage. “It’s a great way to re-set your mindset during a stressful day, and it has the added benefit of reminding you that you are indeed able to self-soothe, take care of yourself, and nurture your body, mind, and spirit in good times or bad,” she says. Try this simple position: Sit comfortably with legs straight in front of you. Place your right forearm across your chest and lay the right fingertips on top of your left shoulder. Place your left forearm across your chest in the other direction, then lay your left fingertips on top of your right shoulder. Bending and pulsing fingertips, gently massage the tops of your shoulders from the neck outward for one minute.
8. CELEBRATE THE SMALL THINGS
It doesn’t cost anything to maintain a positive attitude and be thankful for what you have, believes Cathy Cluff, managing director of The Oaks at Ojai in Ojai, California. “We need to continue to celebrate the small things and not get overwhelmed by the fear factor of these times. We must be thankful for what we have and realize there is always someone less fortunate,” she says.
9. TAKE A STEP BACK
Oftentimes, it’s hard to stay focused. “As you find yourself distracted by the busyness of everyday life, step back to gain the clarity, commitment, and courage to move forward,” says Tracey Welsh, general manager of the Red Mountain Spa in Ivins, Utah. Allowing yourself the time to focus and recharge to create a plan to move ahead creates balance and reduces your stress immensely. All too often, believes Welsh, we move with the intensity of the busy world around us and find ourselves more stressed because we made the wrong move and didn’t give ourselves the time to plan.
10. LISTEN TO MUSIC
Especially classical or spiritual music, advises Nienstadt. “Slow, peaceful music, such as the largo or adagio movements of classical symphonies has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduce muscle tension. Additionally, it has been clinically shown to induce alpha brain waves characteristic of deep mental relaxation.”
11. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
“Sometimes when the external world seems crazy and out of control one can gain control and balance by focusing on their internal world. Meditation is a great tool,” states Shingle. Even if you don’t meditate, he says, deep breathing is a great way to relax-and it’s easier than you may think. Shingle suggests finding just a few minutes three times during the day to close your eyes and focus completely on your breath. Breathe in long and slow, five to 10 counts, and then exhale with the same duration. “Just 10 breaths like this can completely calm you down, take you out of the external, and even change your body chemistry,” he says.
12. STAY FOCUSED
This is one of the most important factors in overcoming any challenge, believes Orlando Hidalgo, owner of Hosteria las Quintas Eco Spa in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. “When we are so deep into the forest that we can’t see the trees, it’s difficult to know what to do, how to proceed, or even to create a game plan for the future,” he says. “Remaining focused on your core principals, values, goals, and ethics will help guide your way in tough times. Sure your surroundings and environment may change, but your core values and goals should remain the same.” If you stay focused, he explains, you only need to concentrate on finding new and creative ways of accomplishing what you already have set in your life. If you don’t do this, Hidalgo believes that you’re at risk of faltering and settling for less or getting lost in the confusion of the circumstances around you. “There is a saying in Spanish ‘Rio revuelto, ganancia de pescadores,’ which loosely translates to ‘turbulent river, fisherman’s prize.’ In other words, in a turbulent economy, while other fish are jumping just to get their bearings, those fisherman who stay focused are the ones who are going to have the best catch of the day!”
13. DON’T MAKE DRASTIC CHANGES
If you’re going through a transitional period, remember that transitions are just that, transitions, advises Holt–and we need a certain amount of time to get through them. “We are such a quick-fix society that we want the answer now or even yesterday,” she says. “Allow time for transitions to happen. Stay with the simple things that you know to be true.”
Margaret Coventry is Organic Spa Magazine’s contributing editor of beauty and body. Additional reporting by Rachel Grice.
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