3 Completely Calming Things I'm Into Lately

Y'all know I get stressed out a lot -- here's how I'm trying to chill.
Publish date:
January 3, 2015

My life is deadline driven. Both my day job and my weekend stuff at xoJane involve a neverending series of rolling due dates -- I'd say they were like the tide but the tide goes out sometimes and deadlines never really do. By and large I am cool with it because it means I am productive.

But since I'm high strung, as you might have noticed, sometimes all of the deadlines just feel like entropy caving in on me -- it's all an inexhaustible series of things that must be done at the computer before the inevitable heat death of the universe, right?

Oh, melodrama -- where would we be without it?

The point is that sometimes I am able to catch myself before things get too ridiculous; I am able to recognize that I am winding myself up and there's just no good reason for it. Sometimes taking a break and a bit of a walk around helps. But sometimes I am stuck and snowed under work that is tying me to my desk. When that happens lately, I've been turning to these three things for a little bit of calm blue ocean in the middle of my self-created tension.

1. Mountain

Mountain is like a meditation on what a video game could be if it were a conceptual art project instead of a game at all. It costs one single dollar, so if you download it and then you're all, "WTF, this thing stresses me out because what the heck is it even?" you are only out a buck.

It does happen that supposedly relaxing things are more stressful than could possibly be imagined -- that's how I feel about those Zentangle things. They make me want to go count marbles in a very small room because that seems more calming than trying to perfectly draw repetitive patterns. But I digress.

The game -- or non-game since there is very little action you can take -- begins with a series of drawings that you must complete in response to a couple of prompts. Your drawings may or may not be used in the generation of your mountain, which then cycles through days and night while it spins about in limitless space. There's not even a clear lightsource for the dawn that you can watch.

You can zoom in and out. Your keyboard largely just makes sounds. Your mountain will sometimes make statements or ask philosophical questions. You can ponder them from the perspective of your mountain or yourself. But you can't start over and you can't really DO anything and for some reason that is the most ridiculously chill thing I've ever experienced in a video game.

(That means it tops The Undergarden -- I can barely play through a complete level of this game without falling into a deep and restful sleep on the couch.)

2. Snowmancam.com

My mom and stepdad project this on the wall and watch for wildlife and it's surprisingly fun to do the same even though I'm working with, like, a tiny laptop screen instead. I don't want to be out in that amount of snow but there is a fairly constant stream of wildlife -- squirrels and birds and even deer.

I actually like to browse earthcam.com in general -- the long and slow process of late afternoon to dusk to sunset is its own medication for my particular blues. Watching the quality of the light change at various locations means all I have to do is breath.

And if I can't get away with sitting for thirty minutes to watch the whole process, just checking in every five minutes or so to appreciate the change still lowers my freak out levels appreciably. EternalSunset is a good one for this, except when there is no sunset happening anywhere, which does sometimes happen.

But back to that snowman -- because when I first started checking it out, I really didn't think I'd be into it. Cold weather is not my bag, but apparently if you sit and watch the snow fall, even if you're having an 80+ degrees day in Florida, you will be soothed. I think it's the sitting and watching of nature in general.

3. Ken Burns' The National Parks

Speaking of nature, I've been watching this in bits and pieces so much that I have a couple of half-planned trips to the various National Parks laid out in a Notepad file somewhere. Ken Burns, why do you keep making these documentaries that make me want to do things like this?

There are six episodes and each one is pretty fascinating. I am, given my location, rewatching the one that discusses the Everglades quite a bit. They're RIGHT THERE and it's been way too long since I've been down there. Of course, there are other spots to visit as well -- Paynes Prairie Preserve is "just" a state park but it's got some very cool stuff going on, since it's a unique ecosystem within Florida.

Another thing to appreciate -- you can hear the air quotes when folks on this documentary talk about white people "discovering" the West. Since, you know, there were people living there for whom these were known features of the landscape.

Peter Coyote's narration is also a high point -- and it's fun to spot the celebrity voices tapped to read historical accounts if you are into that sort of game. Tom Hanks shows up more than you would expect.

But ultimately it's the footage of some incredible natural wonders that keeps me coming back to The National Parks, even if it's just for ten minutes at a time.

Then I get back to work. A little calmer, a little less panicked about everything on my ever-increasing to-do list. And THAT is really when things get productive.

What about you, do you have any awesome resources for keeping your cool when you're stuck at your desk or otherwise at work?