48 Hours to Unwind

After a stressful week at work it can be hard to switch off when the weekend rolls around. Linda Smith shows you how to let go and recharge, leaving you refreshed and ready for Monday.

After a stressful week at work it can be hard to switch off when the weekend rolls around. Linda Smith shows you how to let go and recharge, leaving you refreshed and ready for Monday.

You might be physically tired, but your mind is probably wired, and even though you've got two days off you can't stop thinking about phone calls you need to make, emails you need to respond to and paperwork you forgot to file. The good news is, according to the experts, there are lots of little tweaks we can make to help beat stress at the weekend.

“It’s very important to relax and unwind...but not just on the weekend,” says Professor Tim Sharp, motivational speaker and founder of The Happiness Institute (www.thehappinessinstitute.com or www.drhappy.com.au), an organisation which helps everyday people to be happier.

“To be switched on and alert, and functioning at work, we need at times, to switch off and allow ourselves time to recuperate, recover and re-energise.”

“We can definitely retrain ourselves to feel less stressed – this will be easier for some than others, and might take more than one weekend – but we can definitely start in a weekend and accordingly, make some progress each and every week.”

Laughter is a great stress reliever. Watch a funny movie, go to a comedy show, or search for funny videos online. Subscribe to websites that send you a daily joke or photo and make sure you spare a few minutes each day to enjoy the joyous distraction. Research shows that even 10 minutes of laughter has a great impact on the body. Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones, like cortisol and epinephrine, increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and even boosts immunity to prevent illness. A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and is a good workout for the heart. Laughing 100 times is said to be the equivalent of 10 minutes on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike.

“Humour is often very underrated but it’s been proven to be a great source of exercise and a very effective releaser of physical tension,” Tim explains.

“Having a laugh, at appropriate times, can pay huge dividends and can be a great strategy for managing stress and difficulties and can also help give us a fresh perspective.”

Clutter – at home or at work – is a reminder of all the things we think we should be doing, whether it’s mounting piles of washing or the messy assortment of tax receipts that need to be organised before lodging a tax return. Remove your physical clutter and you'll feel mentally calmer and stronger. Consider whether you really need all those items junking up your kitchen cupboards or spare room – one of the biggest mistakes many of us make is thinking that we’ll find happiness in material possessions, but often the opposite is true.

“For most people, an organised life will enhance the sense of control they feel they have and this, in turn, will reduce stress and boost positive emotions such as calm,” Tim says.

A healthy dose of optimism helps us deal better with stress, so make an effort to think more positively about your problems. Feeling depressed by the chilly weather? Take a drive and play in the snow, walk on a blustery beach or visit the park and admire the pretty leaves. Feeling upset about all the things you haven’t achieved? Focus on the things that you have achieved instead.

“Changing unhelpful thoughts into more helpful ones is a great stress reliever,” Tim says. “We all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, but the good news is they can be changed.”

He says we need to be aware of what we are thinking or saying, and look at ways to change our attitude to a more positive one. Ask yourself: Is this thought helpful? Am I being realistic? Is there another way of looking at this? How would someone else think if they were in this situation? Also, put thoughts into perspective and consider: Is it as bad as I am making out? What is the worst that could happen?

Remember, happiness means different things to different people and no one is 100 per cent happy, 100 per cent of the time.

“For some, the experience of happiness is one of predominately ‘high arousal’ feelings such as joy and excitement; for others, it involves more ‘low arousal’, but equally important, emotions such as calm, contentment, peace and tranquility,” Tim says.

“True happiness involves recognising that as humans it’s perfectly normal to experience the full range of emotions including so-called ‘negative’ ones such as anger, sadness, anxiety and stress. The key, however, is responding to and managing these emotions so that they don’t unduly or excessively impact on functioning and that they don’t persist for too long.

Escapism is great for relieving stress, and books give us some quiet time alone as well as taking us away from the worries of daily life and into another world.

“Reading, for me personally, is a great stress management tool,” Tim says.

“Sometimes we need some distance and some relaxation to then see a problem or stressor clearly and then to deal with it effectively.”

Popular relaxation techniques like yoga and tai chi use repetitive movements to stop our minds from stressing. The repetitive processes of other activities – like playing computer games or knitting – can also work in positive ways to reduce stress by lowering our heart rate, relaxing our breathing and letting our brains zone out for a while. Whether it’s doing jigsaw puzzles, playing solitaire, shooting some basketball hoops or kicking the soccer ball, Tim says repetitive activities can provide great stress relief – as long as you find something you enjoy.

“The simplest ways to relax and unwind are traditional strategies such as relaxation and/or meditation,” Tim says.

“There are, however, many variations on these strategies so I always recommend people try a few styles until they find what feels comfortable.’’


  • Stare at the sky or gaze at the ocean. Seeing the colour blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals.
  • Hold your loved one’s hand. Brain scans show the contact provides immediate relief from stress.
  • Turn off your computer. Think of a fantasy place, like a tropical island, for five minutes before restarting.
  • Take a shower with a luxurious gel and when you get out lather your body with rich body butter.
  • Buy yourself fresh flowers or pick some from the garden to brighten your day.
  • Call a close friend or family member, with whom you have a relaxed relationship, for a chat.
  • Embrace aromatherapy. The top stress-relieving scents to keep around the house include orange, grapefruit, lemon, peppermint and lavender.
  • Drink green tea, which is great for aiding relaxation.
  • Eat berries. They taste great and are packed with antioxidants.
  • Pat your pets. Studies show patting cats and dogs can reduce stress.
  • Go for a walk – the fresh air will invigorate and de-stress you.
  • Put slow songs on your iPod. Studies show people who listen to slow-paced tunes have a lower heart rate and blood pressure than people who hear faster songs.
  • Keep a list of compliments on your computer. Read the list when you’re feeling down.
  • Subscribe to a website that makes you smile.
  • Indulge in dark chocolate, which contains loads of feel-good chemicals.
  • Donate your loose change to charity. You will feel good and help someone at the same time.
  • Wear yellow, which is associated with laughter, happiness and good times. A person surrounded by yellow feels optimistic because the brain releases more serotonin (feel good chemical in the brain).
  • Smile. The world will seem better and you might make others smile as well.


This doesn’t have to be an expensive or exotic overseas holiday – a weekend break from your usual routine will do. Check into a hotel, go camping or hire a holiday house for the weekend. Even a Sunday drive in the country is a great escape from the daily stresses of life. Not only does our mind and body benefit from the rest, but planning a holiday, a weekend away or even a day trip gives us something new to focus on and creates excitement as the break approaches.

“Mini breaks are an important strategy for switching off regularly in order to then switch on again,” Tim says.

Children are great at having fun! They are always finding joy in simple things. And so can adults, if they can think like a child. Put some time aside for arts and crafts, make play dough, build a Lego construction or feed the ducks at your local park. Enjoying childlike activities, and looking at the world through the eyes of a child will give you a new appreciation of life.

“For various reasons, as we mature and take on responsibilities, we seem to lose the ability (and maybe the desire) to play and to laugh and to have fun,” Tim says.

“I think as adults we have an amazing ability to overcomplicate things, and often we imagine life is far more difficult than it needs to be. But this isn’t always helpful. Simplicity has many advantages as does remembering that great motto – laughter is the best medicine. 

“A positive and playful attitude is vital for happiness. I believe there’s much we can all learn from children about how to live happier lives,” says Tim.

Rate This

Average: 4.5 (2 votes)
The information presented on this website is not intended as specific medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical treatment or diagnosis. Read our Medical Notice.