Soul Survival

Stress can seem like a runaway train when you’re going through separation or divorce. Getting away from it all at a spa can help you get your life back on track.

Kathleen was sitting at her desk, clutching a handful of phone messages in one hand and a cold cup of coffee in the other, when it hit — the mega-ton headache. Ever since her separation from her husband, the headaches had increased both in frequency and intensity, but this one was the mother of all migraines. The pain travelled through her shoulders, wrapping itself around the tensed cords in her neck, and thrusting its way through the back of her skull to her brow. Her vision blurred as she rubbed her temples: how would she get through the day?

Stress. We’ve all experienced it in our lives. Sometimes, it even propels us to great heights in our careers and personal relationships. But in times of transition, like divorce, stress can be anything but positive, says Connie Tyne, executive director of the Cooper Wellness Program at the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. “When you’re stressed out, you feel like your world is spinning out of control,” she explains. You may not have chosen the divorce — and even if you initiated the divorce, your life may be changing in ways you hadn’t foreseen. “And when you feel you don’t have control of your life and relationships, you tend to abdicate control of some other areas — like eating, fitness, and health.”

If you’re going through separation or divorce, you’ve probably experienced one or more of these unhealthy warning signs:

* You can’t sleep
* You can’t concentrate at work
* You’re short-tempered and moody
* It’s been longer than you can remember since you’ve had a square meal
* It’s becoming increasingly difficult to hold things together in front of the kids.

Unfortunately, looking inward at the emotions that are causing this stress can be really frightening, says Tyne. “I think one of the reasons people fill up their lives more and more either with their kids or their job during times of great stress is because we’re a little bit scared of the quiet time,” she asserts. “So we compartmentalize all those feelings — but they’re always there, and they weigh heavily on us emotionally. They’re the reason we don’t sleep, why we overeat… it takes an enormous amount of energy to keep that huge flood of emotions under wraps.”

That’s why it makes sense now to deal with your grief, fears, and disappointments during this time of transition. At a safe place like a spa, where you’ll be free from family and career obligations, you can get started on a course of self-care that will sustain you through the difficult days ahead. Consider this time a gift for yourself: to help you get your life back in balance. Leave the cell phone, pager, and computer behind, and just “get out of town,” advises Tyne. “It’s absolutely critical,” she insists. “A few days at a spa will give you a chance to push the re-start button.”

Choosing a spa

Spas come in all shapes and sizes today and, according to the International SPA Association, they’re more popular than ever. Though the traditional destination spa, with all of its pampering treatments and luxury accommodations, remains popular with Americans, there’s also been a growing trend towards more “medical-type” spa products and services. These types of facilities seem to account for the increase in male participation at spas across the country. At the Cooper Wellness Program, for instance, there’s typically a 50:50 male-female ratio. “It’s because we’re medically based,” explains Tyne. “We’re perceived as more ‘serious.'”

What’s on the menu at a destination spa? Exercise, and plenty of it; workshops; consultations with nutritionists, physiologists, and other “life coaches”; spa cuisine; relaxation sessions; and as many (or as few) beauty treatments as you choose. Each spa also has its own unique offerings and personality. At The Cooper Clinic, for instance, guests undergo a physical exam at the outset of the program; there’s also a psychologist on staff to help guests address any issues they might have in a safe setting, should they wish. At The Greenhouse, a luxurious, women-only destination spa in Arlington, guest speakers provide enlightenment and entertainment in the evening hours; afterwards, guests are treated to a special “tuck in” massage in their rooms.

Structure is important during a spa experience; it helps you make the most of your precious time away. At The Greenhouse, each guest receives a schedule for the day on her breakfast tray. “We try to customize our program for our guests,” says Kathy Moore, director of reservations. “So whether they want a lot of activities or just to relax, it’s all prearranged for them. They don’t have any additional stress or worry about what their day will hold.”

At the Cooper Wellness Program, guests are also given a daily schedule to carry with them through the day. According to Tyne, they’re kept busy, too: “Years ago, we used to give people a lot of personal time. That was a big mistake, because the minute people drifted back to their rooms and started checking e-mail, they’d be lost for the day. I like to keep them in their shorts,” she laughs. “From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m, they’re mine.”

You’ll want to factor in your time, preferences, needs, and ultimately budget when choosing the spa that’s right for you. The informative website is a great place to start your search. Check out each spa’s online presence, and you’ll begin to get a feel for what type of spa appeals to you. Read carefully about the kind of programs offered, the treatments, and the staff/guest ratio. Be sure to ask about what’s included, and what’s extra. And one final word: even if you’ve never travelled alone before, don’t be afraid to go to a spa by yourself, says The Greenhouse’s Kathy Moore. “It’s absolutely not a problem if people come by themselves. There’s a really special bonding that takes place here with the small number of guests we have,” she explains. “We just like to open our Southern doors and greet them, be with them, and guide them through their whole week.”

If you just don’t have the time for a stay spa, why not test the waters at a local day spa? Whichever approach you prefer, stay or day, be good to yourself, and make the call. Then go forward with the knowledge that you’re taking the first step towards getting your life back on track.

Treat Yourself

Try these spa treatments to help you beat extreme stress:

* “Sports” massage: untie those knots in your shoulders with a stress-relieving, deep tissue massage.
* Stone therapy massage: the careful placement of heated stones to induce relaxation and provide stress relief.
* Shirodhara massage: said to promote deep relaxation, relieve stress headaches, and provide emotional release, this trendy new therapy involves placing a gentle stream of warm oil over the middle of the forehead.
* Deep cleansing facial treatment: stress can cause skin eruptions and breakouts, even in mature skin. Detox your skin with a rejuvenating facial.

Types of Spas

The International SPA Association (ISPA) lists seven types of spa-related facilities:

* Destination spas focus on lifestyle improvement and health enhancement through professional spa services, spa cuisine, fitness, education, and on-site accommodations.
* Medical spas are unique hybrid spas offering medical and spa services as well as spa cuisine and on-site accommodations as part of an extensive wellness program.
* Mineral spring spas are traditional spas located at the source of natural mineral or thermal springs or seawater, which are then used in the various spa treatments.
* Resort/hotel spas are situated within a resort or hotel offering professional spa services, fitness and wellness components, and spa cuisine menu choices.
* Day spas are, as the name suggests, day-use-only spas where clients can partake of a wide range of professional spa services.
* Club spas are situated within fitness centers where professional spa services are offered on a day-use basis.
* Cruise ship spas offer on-board professional spa services, fitness and wellness programs, and spa cuisine.

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