‘The vibe is beautiful, and makes you feel so good’
For Narmeen, 30, an events producer, clubbing is the ultimate release. At House of Happiness, an event she enjoys in London, she’ll meet new people, dance and sing Show Me Love at the top of her lungs. It’s just like any night out, but with a key difference – no alcohol.
Narmeen came across sober raving after giving up drinking two years ago. She had been searching for booze-free ways to destress from her intense job. “There are always so many last-minute changes that you have to be very agile,” she says of working in events. “It’s a very strenuous process.” The hours can be long and unpredictable. On a recent project, Narmeen worked about 100 hours in a single week, followed by the day of the actual event, when she worked for 20 hours straight.
Sober clubbing is the perfect de-stresser, says Narmeen – and it’s far more relaxing than a “normal” night out. “I might be self-conscious in a regular bar. But at a sober rave? Definitely not. It’s very welcoming: everyone’s just got the best intentions,” she says. “I can’t dance and I can’t sing. But we just go to do that. When you remove that factor of alcohol, it’s a much safer space, and judgment-free.” As a result, Narmeen feels comfortable showing up to sober raves by herself – something she hadn’t felt able to do on regular nights out. “Because it’s so not stressful going there, it helps you de-stress more.”
It’s also a way of keeping fit: while Narmeen regularly goes to gym classes, she finds that sober raves have the bonus of allowing her to express herself creatively. She is also left feeling “a lot calmer” after the raves, and ready to face a hectic work week. “It’s a beautiful vibe. It just makes you feel so good,” she says. “For those few hours, you forget about anything outside those walls.”
Sleeping in a field
‘The cows do bother you’
In his job as deputy head at an inner-city school, Richard, 38, is seldom on his own. “You are physically always within two metres of another human being,” he says. For a self-described introvert, this is a source of stress. “I absolutely love my job. Schools are a microcosm of humanity, and you feel alive working in one. But at the same time, it kind of goes against my natural characteristics.”
This has led Richard to try to carve out ways to be completely on his own. About five times a year, typically at a weekend in the middle of term, he’ll hop on a train to a rural location and spend the night in a secluded spot in a bivvy (essentially a waterproof cover for a sleeping bag) for respite. “Sometimes you’ll get rained on, or cows will come up to you,” he says. He’ll usually get woken up at around 5am by the sunlight, make some breakfast on a stove, and then head home.
While it often makes for a disturbed night’s sleep, for Richard, the destressing effects of rural solitude are unmatched. “I enjoy the silence, and the sense of distance from other people,” he says.
“Getting into nature grounds me … It’s more about gaining a clearer sense of perspective, I suppose.” It also makes him more relaxed. “My wife encourages it: I would be a nightmare to live with otherwise.”
In between these overnighters, Richard will try to get out in nature as often as he can. “Just being able to go to places that are super slow, where there’s no imperative to perform or to be my best,” he says, “helps me to do the job that I do and still enjoy it.”
‘It is physical and mental freedom’
When Laura, a 36-year-old lawyer from Gloucestershire, steps into a float tank about once a month, it’s a moment for her to be totally alone with her thoughts. Laura’s work is fast-paced, filled with heavy workloads and strict deadlines. The hour she spends in the tank, by contrast, “is complete physical and mental freedom – a reset button”.
Flotation tanks or pods are dark, soundproof spaces filled with concentrated Epsom salt water heated to skin temperature. They have become popular in recent years for their capacity to ease stress and migraines, and to boost creativity.
“You feel that you are floating without any sensations of your weight, temperature or visibility,” says Laura. “For me, it takes a few minutes to adjust, and then it is like playtime.”
Laura’s husband, who works in cybersecurity and forensics, goes with her and is able to “turn off completely” in the pod. Laura’s experience is very different. “I am an overthinker and struggle to turn my mind off,” she says. “So for me, it is a screen-free hour where my mind works through my to-do list and I come up with lots of solutions to problems.”
This includes particularly tricky legal cases. “I have such clarity when floating that I sometimes have a whole draft of a letter of response to the opposition ready when I get out.” After emerging from the tank, she’ll usually jot down these ideas.
“It has done wonders for our relationship,” Laura says. “We each get such clarity in the pod that afterwards we will spend time discussing issues, praising each other and talking about our marriage.” We call it our ‘freshly laundered’ day.”
‘Bees are enchanting and hypnotic’
For Sophie, a 38-year-old social worker from Perth, work is emotionally draining. “You’re meeting people in a vulnerable state,” she says. “There are never enough services for the people you’re meant to support. It’s hard not to feel personally responsible for them not getting what they need.”
When she’s not at work, Sophie still worries about the people who are “waiting for you to do something for them”. But in beekeeping, she has found something else to absorb her. For several hours every weekend, she will inspect her hive and check the bees’ health.
“It is my destressing tool; it helps with mindfulness,” she says. “It’s a complete escape. Bees are enchanting and hypnotic, and when I’m in their colony, I have to be fully present, particularly when I’m looking for the queen – she can be quite tricky to spot – or looking for eggs, which are tiny.”
There’s also something destressing in caring for something that isn’t a person. “I care for people all the time – the people I work with and my family,” says Sophie. “There are no expectations on me when I’m caring for my bees … I feel at peace with them.”
During the week, Sophie will make frames for the bees, hammering nails into wood. “It’s a great way to have tension leave the body,” she says. “The honey at the end helps and it has been a wonderful bartering item. For instance, my neighbour lent me his digger in exchange for a supply of honey.”
Keeping calm in the presence of bees isn’t always easy. “It’s hard not to be nervous when poking among 80,000 bees,” says Sophie. But she’ll quickly become entranced. “The smell when you open a hive, watching their busy wee bodies, it all helps draw me in and keep me grounded … Their buzz is almost meditative.”
Dungeons and Dragons
‘I find it the complete antithesis to work’
For Andrew, a 31-year-old junior doctor, work can be gruelling. The most stressful aspect, he says, is when he is on call at night and has to deal with sometimes life-threatening emergencies. “Dealing with an issue like that at 3am, while still groggy from sleep, is a consistently awful experience,” he says.
But during the drop-in sessions of Dungeons and Dragons he attends in London, Andrew gets to be someone else. The appeal of DnD – a fantasy, table role-playing game that allows players to design their own character – is how immersive it is. “Role-playing games often require you to spin so many plates – be it focusing on the shared storytelling or remembering the occasionally arcane rules,” he says. “I find it offers one of the most complete escapes from work.”
Andrew attends the sessions – which last for about three hours – on his own, at least once a week. Recently, he has been playing the character of a dwarf druid. “He’s a bit of a hippy who has gone a little loopy,” says Andrew of his character. “His personality allows me to say some very silly things while playing.”
Although DnD is a serious game – it used to have its own championships – Andrew sees it primarily as a way to have fun. “Making people laugh at my character’s antics is something I really value midweek, as it is the complete antithesis to the often challenging clinical environment I work in,” he says.
Before attending the session, Andrew will typically be feeling lingering stress from work, and an element of social anxiety. But after playing, he says he feels sheer warmth: “It’s just such a pleasant feeling to have entertained my fellow players and know that we all built a story together.”
Andrew typically won’t get home until 11pm after a DnD session. While this means less sleep before work the next day, for him, it’s worth it. “I find the joy I get from it completely outweighs the slightly unhealthy sleeping pattern.”
Grooming: Sara Bowden; rings: Stephen Webster
‘I get a huge rush – a feeling of freedom and ecstasy’
For most people, hurtling out of a plane at more than 100mph may not sound like a relaxing activity. But for Grace, 24, a university teacher from Newcastle who skydives about once a week, there is no greater feeling of Zen.
“In peak times – when I’m teaching and marking assignments – it can be quite overwhelming, with tight deadlines,” she says. Sometimes, she’ll take on extra marking when she needs more money, which makes for especially “crazy” months at work.
Grace discovered skydiving at a low point in her life. She was working her way through her bucket list in the hope of regaining her “zest for life” – and has now been doing it for two years. The feeling of relaxation it gives comes with experience, she says. “I get a huge rush – a feeling of freedom and ecstasy.
“When I’m doing it, I’m totally in the moment,” she says. “I’m not thinking or worrying about anything else – including my long work to-do list.” After skydiving, her mood is boosted. “I feel as if I can take on the world, even if beforehand I felt as if I couldn’t face anything.”
It can also be a social activity. Grace sometimes skydives with friends she has made in the dropzone (the area where the skydiver lands), and they try out new tricks together. “A fun one we did recently was a ‘tube exit’, where a friend and I held on to each other’s ankles and rolled like a wheel out of the plane,” she says. “We have a proper laugh.”
‘If my eyes are in the sky, it brightens my mood’
In her work as a courier, 27-year-old Amelia (not her real name) is constantly battling burnout: “It’s a day of chasing the time and thinking on our feet when things go wrong – from tyre blowouts to road closures to not being able to contact a customer … Managers get stressed so drivers get even more stressed.”
Faced with these demands, Amelia indulges in her favourite pastime: tracking the movements of aircraft. “Planespotting is like a daydream, as I’d rather be in the air, or even flying myself,” she says.
It’s something Amelia has been doing since she was a child. “I lived on the flight path for Heathrow airport, so many planes passed my bedroom daily,” she says. “It started out with looking out for Air Jamaica aircraft – which is what my parents and I flew on to meet the Jamaican side of the family.”
The obsession has stayed with her in adulthood. “No matter what I am doing, if I hear an aircraft engine, my eyes will be in the sky,” she says. “It brightens my mood.”
Along with trying to identify passing planes, Amelia will track flights on the Flightradar24 app when she’s not working, to see where planes are heading. It’s a way of transporting herself elsewhere. She’ll also attend airshows, which she describes as planespotter’s heaven. “I can sit for hours watching pilots flying aircraft around the skies.”