You don't need two weeks in the sun to recharge your batteries. A few hours of me-time can provide exactly the same benefits - without the risk of sunburn or losing your luggage. Here are 10 easy ways to boost your wellbeing whenever you have a few spare hours...
By Jane Murphy
A luxury spa break requires time and money - both of which are often thin on the ground for most of us. But taking a solo trip to a day spa every few months needn't be expensive - and provides you with just the right amount of get-away-from-it-all TLC you need to relax and recharge. Most spas include a head and shoulder massage or facial, as well as use of all the facilities, as part of their special-rate day packages. Search online for the best deals and book well in advance so you have something to look forward to.
Research shows that donating your time to charity can benefit your stress levels immensely,' says psychologist and life coach Trudy Hill from www.seventy-thirty.com. Don't fret: this needn't mean you have to commit to running a marathon or working in your local Oxfam every Saturday. Most charities run schemes that allow you to help out just when it suits you. An example? Cancer Research UK's new Craft For Life scheme calls for people to create one-off greetings cards that can then be sold in the charity's shops. Find out more at www.docrafts.com.
Growing your own fruit and veg is a great trick to beat the credit crunch, of course - but it's also a brilliant way to boost your wellbeing, thanks to all that fresh air, exercise and sense of achievement. Concentrating on a single task such as gardening can be a huge stress-buster as you tend to forget about your daily worries while you're tending to those radishes! Check your local council's website for details of allotments near you. Be warned: waiting lists can seem ridiculously long, but if you're prepared to take on the challenge of an overgrown or unpopular patch, you could well jump the queue.
Good fiction is more gripping than any movie,' says Robert Ashton, author of "'The Life Plan: 700 Simple Ways To Change Your Life For The Better' (Pearson, £8.99). And joining a book group where you all discuss what you've read is a real mind-stretcher - plus it's sociable.' Worried you'll feel under pressure to finish 'War and Peace' before your next meeting? The trick is to choose your group wisely. If you're a busy mum, for example, try to join a group with other busy mums. Check library and book-shop noticeboards for details. Alternatively, why not set up your own book group with like-minded friends?
Check out great books for reading groups here (find 'reading groups' in the left-hand column)
Chances are you're already a fairly good cook - but there's always room for improvement. And mastering a new skill in the kitchen can provide a tremendous boost for your tastebuds, as well as your self-esteem. Buying and using fresh ingredients is relaxing, and can deliver more wholesome food, too,' says Robert Ashton. Try your local adult education centre for short culinary courses that fit in with your lifestyle. Or if you fancy a treat, check out www.mychocolate.co.uk for one-day chocolate-making workshops or www.peggyscupcakes.co.uk for cupcake baking and decorating classes. Be inspired by thousands of recipes with the Allaboutyou.com recipe finder
If you can't think of anything less relaxing than being taken out of your comfort zone, you're probably not alone. However, setting yourself a physical challenge - such as a charity race, trek or even rock-climbing - can be a brilliant way to destress. The positive benefits of exercise include improved self-esteem and lower anxiety levels,' says Trudy Hill. Couple this with the feeling of achievement you'll have when you push your body to its limits, and you'll reap far greater awards from completing a physical challenge than you would from having two weeks in the sun.' Browse charities' websites for ideas - or check out the more unusual courses at your local gym or leisure centre.
It turns out Granny knew best! Recent years have since knitting groups spring up here, there and everywhere, as people of all ages have suddenly realised what a relaxing and rewarding hobby it can be. The reasons? You get to focus on a craft, have a good gossip - and come away with a snazzy new scarf. Various celebrities - including Kate Moss, Geri Halliwell and Cameron Diaz - are all said to be avid knitters, too. Convinced? Check the local press and library noticeboards for knitting groups in your area. Some established groups run classes, too: visit www.iknit.org.uk or www.castoff.info.
Granny was right again: the sea air really does do you good. There's nothing like an invigorating coastal walk for clearing your head and helping you put everyday stresses in perspective while you watch the waves crash on to the beach. What's more, you're never more than 67 miles from the ocean in the UK - which isn't really that far away, is it? (The furthest point is the Derbyshire village of Coton in the Elms.) Even if you don't live by the seaside, try to make a pact with yourself to visit the coast for a wellbeing-boosting stroll every month or so. You can always treat yourself to an ice cream when you've finished your walk.
Learning to make your own jewellery is another win-win method of relaxing. Focusing on something fiddly and creative will help clear your mind of other stresses and concerns - plus you'll end up with lovely jewellery, which you could even turn into a part-time money-making venture. It needn't be an expensive hobby either. You can buy all the equipment you need for next to nothing online: try www.spoiltrottenbeads.co.uk. And if you want a little guidance or inspiration, sign up for a one-day workshop or short course: check the internet or your local adult education centre for details.
Traditional relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation work well for many people. But if you're looking for a more exciting way to destress and unwind, why not try a spot of wild swimming in one of the UK's many picturesque outdoor spots? Favourite locations include Hampstead Ponds in London, Grantchester Meadows near Cambridge and the lake at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire. Find out more at www.wildswimming.co.uk. Obviously, it's important to be careful - and ideally take someone with you - when you swim outdoors. But we guarantee you'll feel super-invigorated afterwards. Who needs the Caribbean, eh?