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Waging War on the Winter Blues; Health & Beauty

Winter is often a time of discontent. With the seasonal festivities behind us, warm weather a mirage and summer holidays too far off to plan, stress can start playing havoc with our physical and mental states. But there are plenty of ways to beat stress, whether you have pounds to splash out or just a few pence.

British health farms are no longer the Spartan spas they once were. Instead of puritan regimes, they offer pampering of the highest order at a price. Inglewood Health Hydro at Kintbury in Berkshire (0488 82022) offers an unintimidating introduction for anyone new to the experience, with many treatments included in the starting price of Pounds 210 for three nights.

Healthy hedonism can also be enjoyed at Ragdale Hall, near Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire (0664 434831), where typical treatments include massage, aromatherapy and reflexology. Prices per night range from Pounds 71 to Pounds 105. A wide choice of therapies is available at Cedar Falls in Taunton, Somerset (0823 433338), including iridology and acupuncture.

Prices per night at this comfortable center can be as low as Pounds 43 or as high as Pounds 115. Equally relaxed is the sociable country-house atmosphere of Grayshott Hall in Surrey
(042 8734331), where a night costs from Pounds 76 to Pounds 120.

With an increasing number of people turning to alternative medicine in a bid to beat stress, it is important to pinpoint a good practitioner. As anyone can set up as an osteopath or herbalist without organized training, consult the principle bodies representing the various therapies (listed at end) for a recommendation, or write (sending sae) to the Institute of Complementary Medicine at 21 Portland Place, London W1N 3AF, which has a directory of registered practitioners throughout Britain.

Stress reducers make excellent presents for anyone who lives life in the fast lane. High-flying executives may find an hour’s flotation in a tank more relaxing than a share flotation. Flotation involves an hour lying quietly in the dark, suspended in a warm solution of Epsom salts. Fans say they emerge from the experience with a sense of well-being and for those who cannot bear the thought of an hour’s silence, in-tank tapes are available, ranging from baroque music to self-help for cigarette quitters. Gift vouchers cost Pounds 20 for an hour’s float from Flotation Tank Association, 3a Elms Crescent, London SW4 8QE (01-350 1001).

Equally good gifts are the vouchers for tailor-made treatments at Natureworks, London’s newest clinic for complementary medicine, which offers sessions of acupuncture, herbalism, homoeopathy, massage therapy, shiatsu and stress management. Vouchers start at Pounds 5 (sessions cost from Pounds 12 to Pounds 30, depending on the length and type of therapy) and are also available from Danceworks. Membership gives entitlement to dance and exercise classes, from classical ballet to salsa. Most classes cost Pounds 3.50, including use of sauna and sunbed. Membership is Pounds 75 annually (students Pounds 40); Pounds 22 monthly; Pounds 3 daily.

Natureworks/Danceworks, 16 Balderton Street, London W1 (01-629 6183).

But it is not only during leisure time that a relaxing ambience can help relieve stress, according to Lisa Quine, director of London’s Back Store. “In an office environment, stress is often caused just by sitting badly. To counter this common problem, we have a range of ergonomically designed chairs,” she says. Prices range from Pounds 175 to Pounds 665, with most around the Pounds 250 mark. The shop also stocks adjustable desk systems to ensure correct posture and writing slopes, computer lecterns and foot rests. The Back Store, 330 King Street, London W6 0RR (01-741 5022).

Anti-stress devices are personal, so what one person may find soothing another will find irritating. Some swear by Shog-Xing balls, Chinese hand-held massage balls with a chime inside which are rolled in the palm to relax muscles and joints and improve blood circulation. These come in a brocade box, priced Pounds 24, at Neal Street East, 5 Neal Street, London WC2 (01-240 0135). They are also available in the form of 24 carat gold walnuts a Chinese symbol of unity and long life at Pounds 24.50 (including p&p) per pair by mail order from Adelai Ltd, Freepost, PO Box 18, Camberley, Surrey GU16 5BR (0276 683133).

Neal Street East also stocks tubs of six Guatemalan worry dolls (Pounds 1.50), which you pop under a pillow at night. It is said that they do all your worrying for you.

To help you drop off to sleep, camomile teabags (Pounds 1.25 for 25) or camomile dried flowers for herbal infusions (Pounds 1.40 for 100g) are available from The Tea House, 15a Neal Street, London WC2 (01-240 7539 for mail-order details).

At nationwide branches of The Body Shop, there are wooden back massagers (Pounds 6) and Footsie rollers (from Pounds 3.65), said to relieve tired feet while activating those zones in the foot which can stimulate natural healing of the body.

There are reductions on several anti-stress devices at Harrods this week. The Thumper comprehensive vibrating massager is reduced from Pounds 299 to Pounds 239, while a small, hand-held massager is down from Pounds 6.95 to Pounds 5.

Relaxing tapes are available from New World Aurora at 16a Neal’s Yard, London WC2 (01-379 0818). Orders also by mail order. For catalogues, contact New World, Paradise Farm, Westhall, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8RH (050279 279). The shop offers a wide range of crystals and crystal jewelry, said to promote feelings of harmony.

But the place where even the busiest high flier can relax is the bathroom, so it is worth splashing out on Czech & Speake’s aromatic bath oils which combine herbs with essential oils to produce a calming effect.

These are available from 39c Jermyn Street, London SW1 (01-439 0216). Verde also has a stress-relieving selection of pure plant preparations, available by mail order from 4a, at 11 Long Street, London E2 8HJ (01-739 3612), while De-stress Bath Oil, Pounds 9.50, and De-stress Massage Oil, Pounds 6.50, from Elemis, are on sale at selected Debenhams stores.

For anyone trying to conquer the ageing effects of stress, Secret Garden offers an Anti-Stress Hydrating Gel Masque, Pounds 6.50, and Anti-Stress day and night creams, available from shops at 153 Regent’s Street, London W1 (01-439 3101), Bath, Kingston, and by mail from the London address.

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