If it Makes you Happy, it can't be that Bad
There's a lot to be said for toughing it out in trying times. 'I'm hitting the gym like there's no tomorrow,' says Debashnie, a 31-year-old accountant whose office is experiencing major staff cutbacks. Training hard helps me sweat out stress and gives me a sense of control. But I'm also doing two people's jobs at work and studying for my MBA. Sometimes all I want to do is pull up the duvet for a day, surf the Internet and eat chocolate'.
And sometimes that's exactly what we should do, say some therapists. It can do us good to give ourselves a little TLC when life is hard. Constantly fighting off cravings to veg on the couch with some Cote d'Or may cause us more stress - and even be more harmful - than indulging in a few not-so-deadly sins.
Have Some Chocolate
Denying yourself something you really love can set you up for bingeing and guilt. If you crave chocolate, eat one or two blocks of good-quality dark chocolate without nuts or creamy fillings. But compromising by having dark chocolate if its milk chocolate you're passionate about will leave you unfulfilled and you could end up devouring both. Rather opt for a small milk-chocolate bar with a marshmallow, wafer, biscuit or muesli filling, as this tends to pack fewer bad fats and kilojoules.
You can fend off cravings with a drink of hot or cold chocolate made from skimmed milk, cocoa, vanilla essence and a little sugar. Cocoa powder is a good source of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters associated with feelings of wellbeing, making it a natural antidepressant.
Even 'healthy' chocolate high in energy, and energy not burnt is stored as fat. It also has saturated fat that can clog arteries. So indulge only occasionally and in moderation.
Savor a Glass (or two) of Wine
After a demanding day at work a glass of wine can help us unwind. Wine relieves stress. Resveratrol, a potent antioxidant, makes red wine particularly beneficial, and research indicates it may reduce blood clotting. Antioxidants can also help protect against certain cancers.
Benefits are linked to drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. Too much can damage heart muscle, blood pressure and pile on kilos. It can be addictive, and high intake is associated with serious consequences including liver damage and increased risk of breast cancer.
A single binge incident (three or more drinks for a woman) can - because your inhibitions are lowered - put you at risk of motor accidents and even STDs. If you don't already drink alcohol, don't. If you do enjoy the odd glass, indulge, but keep it to no more than two glasses a day.
Relax with Retail Therapy
We tend to feel guilty about buying anything for ourselves apart from basic necessities. Women often sacrifice both time and money for other people, while men tend to be selfish, finding money for social occasions and sporting events.
But feeling deprived or depressed can fire the urge to splurge. A recent study showed low moods make us turn inwards and, when we reflect, we tend to devalue ourselves. We then buy to boost ourselves with possessions. But retail therapy can work: the US's Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor reported this year that 65% of women surveyed felt happier when they wore something they'd just bought than something they'd had for a while.
Shopping has always been a form of therapy. It's part of our basic social need to be around people. Going to the marketplace has been a drive since the earliest times. Buying something we want can prompt the brain to release dopamine.
The rush from shopping won't last. If you've spent more than you can afford, you may be left feeling lower than before - particularly if you use shopping to manage deep emotional needs that should be dealt with in formal therapy, or when you buy things you don't truly want but have been persuaded to get by clever marketing. Getting into debt will make you feel even worse. Shop smartly: treat yourself to a hot new lipstick instead of a pricey new perfume, or heels from Zoom instead of Jimmy Choos.
Put you First
Why settle for Christmas with his folks instead of yours, or pizza and his sports channel again when you want candlelight and sushi? Life's about compromises but sometimes it's healthy to insist on having your own way. Many women are still raised to put their needs last, and self-deniers tend to become perfectionists, prone to obsessive worry, impatience, unexplained tearfulness and depression.
Consider a One-Night Stand (Carefully)
Society disapproves of casual sex, especially in this HIV/Aids age, but it can occasionally work for you, provided you recognize the risks and are responsible. A one-night stand between consenting single adults isn't necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has sexual needs but you may be in a single phase for some reason. Today many young professionals are too time-pressured to pursue complex relationships, opting to have their physical needs met despite the lack of a relationship. For these women, sex is like going to the gym - an outlet, a body function, a way to assure yourself you're attractive. It can feel pretty good too. Without the emotional complications of a relationship you're free to concentrate on physical satisfaction. The unfamiliarity of sex with a stranger can be thrilling, and knowing you won't meet again can encourage you to try out fantasies without fear of judgment.
Be Warned: There's always a chance you'll be hurt.