The Importance of Unwinding

You need it, I need it, we all need it. Something that will allow us to relax and let the string spool off the YoYo of Stress. If you don’t take the pressure off now and again, you go pop! like a weasel, and that isn’t good for anyone.

13The key is to find the things that relax you, and make sure you make time for them. It sounds a bit self-indulgent, perhaps, but consider these words from the philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas. “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” In other words, lighten up a bit.

Seneca the Stoic agrees. “We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength.” His suggestions include going for a walk to get plenty of fresh air, going on a trip for a change of scene, or having “social meals and a more generous allowance of wine.” There you are, then. Be stoic: take a walk with friends to the nearest pub. Or consider the Cowper Cups that “cheer but not inebriate” – nothing like a nice cuppa when you put your feet up.

August Borckmann Teestunde auf der Veranda 1889Jane Austen’s heroine Fanny, in Mansfield Park, says “to sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Many others before and since have shared this view, although Mary Crawford (she of the flexible conscience), proclaims “I must move… Resting fatigues me.”

Others favour a creative pastime, or reading, or listening to music, or taking long hot baths. The poet Dylan Thomas claimed that “Poetry is not the most important thing in life… I’d much rather lie in a hot bath reading Agatha Christie and sucking sweets.”

When the Caped Gooseberry and I were preparing to marry, we went through a thingy designed to bring to our awareness any issues that we might have in merging our lives. Forewarned, forearmed and all that sort of thing. The results suggested that we needed to work on finding ways to relax together, because we tend to find different things relaxing. (Other than that it was pretty much you’re weird, he’s weird, go for it.) I like to read and watch DVDs; he likes to think and play strategy games.

BrainStonz1So we had to diversify our relaxment portfolios, and this was a good thing, because there is nothing worse (figuratively speaking) than finding yourself in a stressful situation and being unable to relax. Trust me on this. The Caped Gooseberry and I have been looking for a house to buy for some time (in fact, since just before the prices took off) and our efforts in that direction – with corresponding stress – suddenly increased three or four weeks ago. Just as I developed a pain in my wrist. What it was that was wrong with my wrist, I do not know, but I couldn’t knit with it.

I. Couldn’t. Knit.

I had always assumed that my MO in relaxing was curling up with a classic mystery, and I had not noticed how important knitting had become in the general scheme of relaxation. Had not noticed, until it suddenly disappeared for two weeks. (Twitch, twitch.) I would no doubt have fallen back on my old standby without thinking about it, had it not been for the fact that I boxed them all up back in March because I thought they were getting a bit too much of a hold on me.


Once I noticed the rising stress levels, however, I decided it would be all right to fish a few out to be going on with. Now my wrist has stopped doing whatever it was it was doing, I can knit again, and I feel much better. The question remains: will the mysteries stay out of the box, or go back in?

Well, the stress of house-hunting has died away. (In!)
Because we bought a house today, and that brings its own stresses. (Out!)
And we’ll be moving house soon. (In!)
But unlike the last time we moved house, I have no intention of packing away the stress-relievers first. Not all of them, anyway. I have at last learned my lesson: find what relaxes you, and stick to it.


Death to the Common Cold! Three Things that Don't Help and Five that Do

Having had a sort-of-but-not-quite cold for the last, oh, three months, I am about ready to get out there with a flamethrower and start frying some viruses. Are you with me? photo essay 080911-A-8725H-067

Ok, I’m not really planning to let loose with a flamethrower, nor with the weapon of my (literal) dreams: the flamooka. (Flamethrower + bazooka. Yes, this is the kind of thing my subconscious mind comes up with while I sleep.)

Here are some other things that don’t work:

1) Joining the wackos who advise drinking home-made bleach as a cure-all. For one thing, there’s the risk of chemicals exploding in your face; and for another, why drink something you’d hesitate to use on the kitchen floor? Yes, it’ll kill any germs it encounters, but so would a flamooka, and you don’t see me swallowing one of those, do you? No, you don’t.

2) Taking antibiotics. The common cold is a virus. Antibiotics are useless against viruses, and taking them will only wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your system, leaving you open to anything that might stroll in. Not to mention that unnecessary antibiotic-taking is a leading cause of antibiotic resistance, which is how we get lovely things like untreatable necrotizing fasciitis (do not click unless possessed of a strong stomach).

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Bacteria

Don’t take the antibiotics – or me and my flamooka are coming after you. If you want the placebo effect, swallow a tic-tac and tell yourself it’s a cure-all. Or pour a little white meths on a sugar cube and swallow that. It might not help your cold, but rumour has it that it makes you unattractive to bugs, so you’ll at least have one less thing to worry about.

3) Buying a cute, cuddly little model of the cold virus (also comes in pillow size!) and sticking pins into it. A useful way to store your pins, perhaps even some relief to your feelings, but of no proven health benefit (alas).

So, instruments of destructive chaos and cuddliness aside, what’s the plan of attack? How shall we rise up and conquer?

1) Rest. Don’t rise up, and conquer. Rest is good for what ails you, whatever that may be. (Except bed-sores.) This is why people are put in induced comas, although this may be a bit of an overreaction to a common cold.

The London Blitz, 1940 MH26395 2

2) Liquids. Especially hot liquids. Especially hot lemon, honey and ginger. (Nothing like a hot ginger for medicinal purposes!) Chili is another excellent ingredient, I hear, although I am seldom desperate enough to overcome my wussiness in the face of burning tastebuds. Garlic is another healthy additive, but you may find it makes the drink taste odd. Remember there is always water, which is good for you and tastes just as good if you let it get cold.

3) Fresh fruit & vegetables. Preferably not genetically modified to grow legs and dance the tarantella, or whatever it is they get them to do these days; and not covered in any sort of -cide, because -cide means kill, and who needs a killer vegetable when they’re sick?

Grimaldi and Vegetable

4) Fresh air. Preferably with rain, hail and mist not included – getting cold doesn’t give you a cold, but it certainly doesn’t help. Consider: all the air in here has been circulated through your lungs and is thus all germy and yuck. Get rid of it and get in some fresh stuff.

5) Exercise. Can be combined with the acquisition of fresh air, but don’t overdo it. I know, it looks like I’m contradicting #1, but trust me, there is a balance to be found. Obviously, this balance involves a nice big fat rest sitting as close as possible to the fulcrum while a brisk little walk hangs off the far end.

Coincidentally, all these things are good for you the rest of the time too, which will save you going to the trouble of making new habits when you in due course recover.
Of course, there is nothing new in all this: it’s all Just Like Mother Made (except the flamooka – unless you had a very exceptional mother).

Old woman in Kyrgyzstan, 2010

What’s the ancestral wisdom relating to colds in your family? Let’s pool our knowledge – together let us make the cold uncommon!

Disclaimer: Ancestral wisdom is not always smiled upon by medical authorities. Seek medical advice when ill, and don’t request (or accept) antibiotics for a virus.