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How to effectively de-stress after a poker session

While reaching for a drink, diving into video games, or immediately hitting the hay are common ways poker players attempt to unwind after a session, these methods often leave much to be desired. Alcohol, while providing a temporary escape, can negatively impact both body and mind, placing additional strain on an already stressed cardiovascular system. Video games, while engaging, fail to offer the physical relaxation needed after hours at the tables. And while sleep is essential, jumping straight into bed after a tense session can carry that tension into your dreams, hindering restful sleep.

Fortunately, research in medicine and psychology offers a wealth of alternative approaches to managing stress, both in the short and long term. These methods are not only more effective but also promote healthier coping mechanisms. Let’s explore five such techniques, delving into their basis and suggesting alternative options to suit individual preferences.

Morning or Evening Pages: Unloading Your Mental Load

Borrowing from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and rooted in the principles of writing therapy as explored by psychology professor James Pennebaker, this technique involves releasing pent-up anxieties, frustrations, or nagging thoughts by putting pen to paper. Unlike traditional journaling, “Pages” follow a specific structure and are confined to four sheets of paper.

The Process:

  1. Timing is Key: Determine the best time to write based on the source of your stress. If it stems from daily plans and expectations, opt for morning pages. If it’s the emotional residue of a poker session, write immediately afterward. For those who tend to dwell on the day’s outcomes, evening pages before bed might be ideal.
  2. Find Your Sanctuary: Choose a quiet, safe space where you feel comfortable and free from judgment or distractions.
  3. Let Your Thoughts Flow: With four blank pages and a pen or pencil in hand, simply start writing. Don’t strive for a cohesive narrative or censor any thoughts, no matter how strange they may seem. Avoid rereading what you’ve written—let your mind freely “unload” onto the paper.
  4. Release or Reflect: Once complete, you have the option to discard the pages if you don’t wish to delve deeper into your thoughts. However, Cameron and Pennebaker suggest keeping them for future self-reflection. Avoid sharing them with others or rereading them too soon to prevent potential shame or anxiety.

Important Note: Writing by hand is crucial, as studies indicate that typing may diminish the effectiveness of this technique.

Alternative: If expressing yourself on paper feels daunting, consider a blog or open discussions with trusted individuals. However, ensure you have a thick skin for potential criticism, are open to discussing sensitive topics, and trust the people involved. Prioritize expressing your concerns before seeking feedback or analysis.

Caution: This approach carries risks, as negative feedback or misunderstandings can exacerbate stress levels.

Stretching for Stress Relief and Mental Clarity

A 2013 study by Spanish researchers found that incorporating regular stretching into your routine can significantly reduce stress levels, alleviate bodily aches, relax muscles, and combat fatigue. The key lies in improved blood circulation during periods of rest, something that’s difficult to achieve with more strenuous exercise.

Beyond the physical benefits, stretching positively impacts mental health. By focusing on bodily sensations and muscle relaxation during stretches, you encourage the release of endorphins, those “feel-good” hormones that elevate mood and promote a sense of well-being.

Finding the Right Stretches: Numerous smartphone apps and YouTube videos offer guided stretching routines. Consider varying your routine based on the time of day and your goals. For instance, morning stretches can boost energy levels, while daytime stretches can help loosen tight muscles, and evening or nighttime stretches can ease tension before sleep.

Resources: Apps like those offered by Leap Fitness Group on Google Play provide a comprehensive range of stretches catering to various needs and goals.

Important Note: Always consult a doctor before starting a stretching routine, especially if you have any injuries (fractures, dislocations, sprains, ligament damage) or chronic conditions affecting your joints or spine.

Alternative: Exploring Yoga

If you’re looking for a calming and safe form of physical activity that incorporates stretching and mindfulness, yoga might be the perfect fit. Yoga involves a series of postures (asanas) held for specific durations while focusing on your physical sensations.

Getting Started with Yoga: Abundant resources cater to beginners, including free smartphone apps, YouTube videos, and online guides. Consider joining a class for guidance and the added benefit of social interaction if you’re unsure where to start or prefer practicing yoga outside your home.

Nature Walks: A Breath of Fresh Air for Your Mind and Body

Combining moderate physical activity with exposure to nature’s sights and sounds provides a powerful antidote to both physical and mental stress. A 2020 article in Medical News Today summarized several studies, concluding that spending just one hour walking outdoors in a natural setting can significantly reduce activity in brain regions associated with stress responses. Interestingly, research suggests that stress-relief activities are generally more effective when performed in natural environments, such as parks or areas with ample vegetation.

Walking Recommendations: Aim for at least 150-300 minutes of walking per week, incorporating muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice weekly. Opt for comfortable clothing and footwear, and explore new walking routes to provide your brain with fresh stimuli and enhance your ability to concentrate.

Alternative: Cultural Excursions

If you’re not particularly fond of the outdoors or prefer activities besides walking, consider “artist dates” as proposed in “The Artist’s Way.” These involve treating yourself to cultural or entertainment events alone, such as concerts, exhibitions, or theatrical performances. While they may not offer the same connection to nature as a walk in the park, they provide new experiences, allow you to indulge your interests, and offer a mental escape from the world of poker.

Tip: For maximum benefit, attend these events solo and share your experiences with loved ones afterward.

Finding Zen Through Martial Arts: Tai Chi and Beyond

While yoga is often touted for its mindfulness and stress-relieving benefits, certain martial arts can be surprisingly effective for managing post-poker tension. One such practice, according to a 2020 study, is Tai Chi (Taijiquan). Similar to Qigong, this Chinese martial art emphasizes slow, deliberate movements and meticulous body control. Researchers suggest that this approach facilitates “mobile mindfulness,” allowing individuals to alleviate stress through gentle physical activity while simultaneously focusing on their internal state.

Learning Tai Chi: Unlike the previously mentioned relaxation methods, martial arts typically require guidance to ensure proper form and technique. Consider seeking instruction from an online trainer or attending local classes.

Alternative: Exploring CrossFit

For those seeking a more vigorous workout, CrossFit offers a compelling alternative, though it requires access to gym equipment. While vastly different from the gentle movements of Tai Chi and Qigong, CrossFit shares one crucial element: a focus on functional movements. The goal is to develop strength and conditioning across all muscle groups through varied, high-intensity workouts.

Benefits and Drawbacks of CrossFit: A significant advantage of CrossFit is the ability to create a personalized training program tailored to your specific needs and goals. However, it necessitates access to a gym or a well-equipped home gym.

Social Sports: Teamwork, Exercise, and Stress Relief

Pickleball, tennis, basketball – the options are plentiful when it comes to social sports. Engaging in these activities offers a trifecta of benefits:

  • Active Engagement: Participating in sports demands physical and mental focus, effectively diverting your attention from post-poker stress.
  • Social Interaction: Even without extensive conversation, interacting with teammates or opponents fosters a sense of camaraderie and belonging.
  • Intense Physical Activity: Running, jumping, squatting, and diverse arm and head movements provide a comprehensive workout.

Bonus: The tactical element of team sports – strategizing, anticipating opponents’ moves, and collaborating with teammates – further enhances your ability to focus and switch between tasks efficiently. A 2017 study by the American Osteopathic Association found that group exercise makes people approximately 26% happier than solo workouts, regardless of the game’s outcome. The sense of community and shared goals contributes significantly to overall well-being.

Alternative: Virtual Reality (VR) Gaming

If social interaction isn’t your cup of tea or access to sports facilities is limited, virtual reality gaming offers an engaging alternative. Many VR games require significant physical activity, with options ranging from dance and combat to rhythm, exploration, and even artistic endeavors like painting in a virtual space.

Benefits and Drawbacks of VR: VR allows for diverse physical activity in the comfort of your home. However, it necessitates a spacious play area for safe and unrestricted movement. For instance, the Valve Index recommends a minimum play area of 2 meters by 1.5 meters for standing VR experiences.