Relaxation Day: 5 Ways to Relax Before School Starts

The first day of school is just around the corner. It’s a stressful time of year, but, luckily, August 15th is Relaxation Day and we’re using it as a reminder to loosen up before everything turns topsy-turvy with the new school year. Here are 5 ways to relax before school starts.

Dog

Image source: Chapple via Flickr

Take Time for Your Pet Having a dog or cat around to bond with has shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. In fact, at some university campuses, they’ve employed therapy dogs for students to visit when school becomes too stressful. At Harvard Medical School, you can even “check out” a dog just like you check out a book. If it works at Harvard, it may just work for you.

Exercise A good workout may not sound appealing, but aerobic exercise can actually help you relax. It lowers stress hormone levels and releases endorphins – the feel-good chemical. In addition to releasing endorphins, according to a study from Princeton University, exercise re-organizes the brain to shield it from stress. Take 30 minutes to jog down the street and you’re on your way to relaxation.

neck-massagerTouch There aren’t many people out there who would turn down a massage. In addition to feeling good physically, it can reduce anxiety, stress and aggression. Australian researchers examined the effects of daily massage on participants over seven weeks and tracked their anxiety and aggression levels. They found massage reduced stress and anxiety almost instantly. A daily massage may not be a reasonable activity, but the effects may warrant having a massage ball or neck massager handy at all times.

Play with Your Kids You only have a few weeks left to spend time with your kids, so playing with them is a no-brainer. What you might not know is studies show playing reduces stress. Researchers at Kansas State University found the more time mothers spent engaging with their children, the less overwhelmed they felt. You love being around them anyway, that they make you feel relaxed is an excellent bonus.

chocolate-cupcakeEat There are all sorts of soothing foods you can eat to relax. At the top of that list is dark chocolate. It contains Tryptophan which is an essential amino acid that aids in the production of serotonin which can help your sleep and improve your mood. Tryptophan is found in a variety of foods – honey, spinach, cheese, eggs, duck, to name a few. When you’re planning your next meal, make it a relaxing one and be sure dark chocolate is for dessert.

Anytime is a good time to relax, but sometimes we have to make a point of working it into our schedules. Make Relaxation Day your notice to slow down before things hit hyper-speed on the first day of school.

June 18th is National Splurge Day: 3 Ways to Spoil Yourself

June 18th is National Splurge Day…We’re taught to practice restraint in everything we do, but sometimes we need to let loose and do something for ourselves without feeling like we’ve done something wrong. Here are 3 ways to spoil yourself without feeling guilty for overindulging.

ShopaholicShopping

There are many reasons why we spend money and there are many reasons we don’t spend money. One thing is for certain: we like to spend money on things we want. Though the study hasn’t been officially published, researchers at the University of Michigan believe shopping can reduce residual sadness. Since Splurge Day is coming up, we’re going to give shopping the benefit of the doubt and give you the green light to splurge on whatever dress, piece of furniture or shoes you’ve been dying for. Buying something new might just lift your spirits – if they need lifting.

spa-day

 

Spa

A day at the spa doesn’t need much of a defense. By definition, it has countless benefits. British researchers found massage can reduce anxiety, but massage – more specifically, touch – releases the hormone “oxytocin,” which, new research shows, can keep you young. The study published in the journal Nature Communications was done on mice injected with the hormone – both young and old mice. Muscles in the old mice were actually repaired by the hormone while there was no effect on the young mice. This is not hard evidence showing more touching will make humans young, but a good massage is worth splurging on if there’s even a possibility it keeps us young. So please, splurge on that day at the spa.

Chocolate-CakeFood

There’s not much evidence eating too much of anything is good for you, but there are foods we are trained to eat sparingly – but some of those items can actually be good for you. One of them is chocolate. It contains flavonoid antioxidants which are considered to be good for your heart and blood vessels. With some evidence to back that up, Swedish researchers studied its effects on women who had suffered heart attacks and found the more they ate, the greater their chance of survival. It sounds too good to be true, but any reason to indulge in chocolate is a good reason.

We can’t eat, buy and do anything we want every day, but every once in a while it feels good to indulge; on Splurge Day, it’s ok to do just that. Happy Splurge Day!

The Perfect Guide for Chocoholics

Chocolate sales for Valentine?s Day reach more than one billion dollars in the United States each year, Americans eat 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and more than 58 million pounds of chocolate and chocolate candies are sold during Valentine?s week.

chocolate-heart

If you?re a chocoholic you definitely don?t need a holiday to get you thinking about this delicious dark concoction. We?ve got a quick and simple guide to help you see the major differences in chocolates, and figure out what type of chocolate pairs best with wine, fruit, and more. Now you can really perfect your Valentine?s Day dessert.

Cacao vs. Cocoa?

We?ll start with the trickiest question: what?s the difference between cacao and cocoa? Well, nothing. They?re actually the very same thing, just with different spellings and pronunciations. When you see cacao nibs and cocoa powder, you?re seeing the very same thing in different forms. Now that you?ve got that out of the way, let?s look at the three common types of chocolate: white, milk, dark.

White Chocolate

White chocolate is more commonly referred to as a chocolate derivative, because it doesn?t contain chocolate solids.? White chocolate is much sweeter than traditional chocolates, and is made with cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. It pairs well with more delicate flavors, including apple, peach, and strawberry.

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is exactly what it sounds like. Made from cocoa, sugar, and the addition of dairy, milk chocolate is lighter in color and taste, creamier, and sweeter than dark chocolate, but not as sweet as white chocolate.

Dark Chocolate?

Simply made from cacao or cocoa butter and sugar, dark chocolate has the highest concentration of antioxidants, and a slightly bitter taste. An emulsifier or flavor enhancer like vanilla is commonly added, but dark chocolate never contains milk. The percentage of cacao denotes the flavor, and can range from sweet (30%) to bitter (80% or higher).

Chocolate Pairings?

And now onto the fun stuff: the best pairings for chocolate! Take notes so you can bring chocolate to your Valentine?s Day celebration! There are three important things to consider: amount of sugar, consistency and fat content, and preference. If you know beyond a doubt that your significant other hates dark chocolate, just don?t use it!

Wine: The standard rule of thumb with wine is: the darker the chocolate, the darker the wine. Dark chocolate is the recommended wine pairing in most situations. The bitter components of dark chocolate will bring out the sweeter aspects of the wine, but a sweeter option, like milk or white chocolate can bring out the bitter aspects of the wine. (Not a great idea.) Here are a few quick tips to help you choose.

  • White Chocolate: Riesling, Port, Moscato, Tokaji, Sweet Ros?
  • Milk Chocolate: Shiraz, Port, Sparkling Semi-Dry Ros?, Oaked Chardonnay
  • Dark Chocolate: (Most red wines) Red Zinfandel, Bordeaux Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tawny Port

Strawberries: This comes down to both personal preference, as well as the quality of the strawberries. Since you should be melting the chocolate pieces in a double boiler with butter, you can control the consistency, meaning the sugar or cocoa butter content of the chocolate isn?t as important. If you have super ripe and sweet strawberries, bittersweet chocolate works best here, but for lighter or more sour strawberries, both milk and white chocolate will bring extra sweetness for a more balanced bite. For pairing chocolate with other fruits, check out these fruit and chocolate tips!

Ganache: Most people recommend dark chocolate for ganache. When ganache is made, the flavors and sugars are concentrated, so a chocolate with less sugar to start, such as dark, is your best bet. Additionally, ganache is usually paired with something creamy and high in fat, so dark chocolate performs best here.

Fudge: Any! You can use any type of chocolate to make fudge, but if you?re making it at home from scratch, it?s best to use a pure cocoa powder flavor that you love, such as Special Dark or regular Milk chocolate. Just adjust the added sugar to balance the sweetness of the chocolate.

Cookies: Finally, what chocolate to use with chocolate chip cookies? There are diehards out there who will only make their beloved chocolate chip cookies with semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate), but we say: experiment! That?s the best thing about cookies. They?re already sweet and savory and sometimes a little salty, so you can actually pair most cookies with each type of chocolate, depending on your preference. Try those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate chunks, and try white chocolate with savory options like Rosemary Brown Butter cookies, Molasses cookies, or Earl Grey Tea cookies.

Image Source: Lulas