Five Ways to Relax- On A Budget and Substance-Free!

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

Earlier today, I was catching up with my friend Merrill before heading out on a run. It was much of what you would expect- the latest drama, what we’ve been keeping ourselves busy with, trouble at work- the usual.

Then Merrill made the horrible mistake of asking, “So, what have you been up to?”

After a brief rundown of life at work (mmm… chaos) plus all the projects I’m working on for the blog (blog posts, interviews, upcoming books, and the like), she remarked that I am “stretched so thin that I can see your gluten matrix.”

I admit liking to keep busy– and the often-fraught relationship between my self-worth and productivity– but I take my opportunities to relax extremely seriously. With the recent changes to my work schedule (taking on a night shift rather than an early morning one,) I now have mornings free- so my “20 Minute Vacations” occasionally slip through my grasp in favor of a more solid morning routine.

All the same, I am always on the prowl for ways to relax that, ideally, don’t cost too much money. With so many chefs and cooks trying to embrace cleaner living, I thought I might come up with a few that don’t involve booze or substances.

I’ll be straight with you here- I’m a guy that loves his fancy beer and fine whiskey. I also love exploring Portland and trying out new food whenever I find it. That can get expensive, though- and if you depend on ANY substance to relax or have a good time, you might have some other issues going on that need to be addressed.

There’s never any shame or embarrassment in needing help- and there’s no end of people and resources there to help you.

Relaxation on a Budget


an open book with a red ribbon page marker

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

When I was a kid, reading was my #1 escape. I read abridged versions of classics, comics, novels, and whatever else my parents would hand me (if just to get me away from a screen.) I even read with horror novels of Bentley Little which- if I’m being completely honest- were really good but probably a bit mature for me at the time.

Books are everywhere, cheap (or free, if you look for public domain classics on Project Gutenberg), and not only entertain but can improve your vocabulary, expand your knowledge, and give you something besides work to talk about.

Amazingly, a lot of the food professionals I’ve worked with (especially those who cooked on the line) have difficulty sitting down and reading. This is likely related to constantly attempting to “multitask”– which is actually impossible for humans to do and impacts the ability to focus on anything. If that’s your situation, I strongly recommend losing yourself in podcasts or audiobooks- it’s a voice telling you a story, just like when you were a kid before bed.

Exercise/ Running

img-2462.jpgDespite all those smug memes on Facebook, running and exercise is NOT a replacement for depression or anxiety medications… but damn if it doesn’t help. You might remember, I started exercising and getting healthier to deal with the anger and sadness of a breakup. Back in college, during a psychology class on stress and stress management, I remember learning about WHY exactly exercise helps us.

Put briefly, the “fight or flight” responses that kept us alive back when we were running from predators never left. New ways to experience and trigger them have evolved- but the reaction is the same: your body goes into overdrive.

For a “flight” reaction, your body proceeds to burn lipids (a.k.a. fats) so that you get a low-grade, long lasting energy boost- the kind to help you run long distances. For a “fight” response, your body burns glucose (sugars) to give you a high-powered but short-lived energy boost- the kind you need to rip something apart with your bare hands.

The “flight” or “fear” response we now call “anxiety,” “uncertainty,” “overwhelm,” etc. The “fight” response we call “anger” or “frustration.” If you’ve ever come out of a situation where you just wanted to punch the wall, or “clear your mind” on a walk- this is where that comes from.

It takes a little self-knowledge and reflection to figure out where your stress is coming from- but once you know, you can pick the exercises that help you most! Anxiety and worry- go for a run! Frustration and anger- weight lift or work a punching bag.


silhouette of man at daytime

Photo by Prasanth Inturi on

Sometimes you really do need to just shut the world off.

In my “monkey monk” daily routine, meditation has given me a reason to do just that- ignore the world and focus on myself for even 20 minutes a day. Previously, I was using an app called “Headspace” to help me relearn how to meditate. Now I use a free service called “Insight Timer” which not only encourages making a habit of meditating daily, but offers THOUSANDS of free guided meditations- recordings from people all over the world with different goals for each one. Building confidence and self-love, increasing focus, healing from trauma- even handling physical pain.

If you want to meditate, here’s a simple one to start: close your eyes, and count your breaths for one minute. I guarantee you’ll feel considerably more chill.


person doing handcraft face mask

Photo by Prasanta Kr Dutta on

Baking used to be my hobby. It was how I relaxed, made food and gifts for friends, and heal myself after exhausting days on the ambulance. Now, it’s my job, and the very thing I tend to avoid thinking about on my days off. I need to run away from the same activity I once ran TOO for relaxation and healing.

All of us need hobbies– crafts and activities we take joy in without any intention of them being profitable or anything but a pastime. It can be sports, a craft, playing music… anything on this list, really.

Beyond that, hobbies also serve a second role of making you not boring. If you are a cook, and all you talk about, think about, read about is cooking, and the only people you know are other cooks…you’re pretty goddamn boring to nearly anyone else.

Find something you love to do that has nothing to do with work, and do it without getting paid. Enjoy it for yourself.


accessory buttons console control

Photo by Pixabay on

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough to be aware of my love of Extra Credits, you can’t be surprised at gaming’s appearance here. Gaming has a lot of additional benefits associated with it- empathy, storytelling, tangential learning, hand-eye coordination, and so on.

But really… it’s just friggin’ FUN. I’m nothing like what you might call a “hardcore gamer”- but every now and then I like blowing off some steam in a first-person shooter, or losing myself in the story and feel of a familiar game. In fact, on my ipad, I have a couple of games from ThatGameCompany- “Flower” and “Journey”- that I keep on there just because I know that playing them relaxes and soothes me. With games varying from $40 to free… there’s plenty out there so you can find something you like.

What do you think? Got any other low-cost, substance-free ways to relax? Drop them in the comments!

Stay Classy,

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