I turned 27 last week. I’d watched the date approach from the distance, with the usual stress about not really having achieved anything in the year. Since hitting my mid-twenties, my enjoyment of birthdays has dipped lower every year (surely I’m not alone in this?). I knew I’d be spending the day off work, and on my own. So how could I spend it?
There was lots to look forward to around my birthday – my family were coming to visit at the weekend, I was seeing friends during the following week, and I was going out to dinner with my partner that night. But being aimless on my own during the majority of the day itself seemed like a recipe for disaster. As I’ve described in previous posts, I have been struggling with depression and anxiety increasingly over the past year alongside working from home. I wanted to enjoy my birthday off but I was worried about wasting what should be a special day in a sad fog. Then a little thought popped into my head – I could go to a spa for the day. I could just check-out of everything, switch my phone off (deactivating the Facebook birthday notifications that stress me out every year!) and chill. The problem, obviously, was cost.
After not much searching, I found a (just about) viable option. A £65 morning spa package at a 5-star hotel about 30 mins away by train. This included 4 hours use of the facilities (a swimming pool, sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy pool) and 2 treatments. The negative voice in my head kept saying that’s too much money, it’s a frivolous thing to do, you’re not earning enough… But I kept returning to the idea. The expense would be investing in my well-being, it would be exercise, it would give me a sense of purpose and achievement for the day, it would help alleviate the tension crippling my body, and I could write about the experience. So I booked it. I felt a thrill of excitement (and a bit less dread) in the week leading up to my birthday. But all the while, the negative voice kept up a low murmur of “you’ll get it wrong and not know what to do and everyone will judge you”.
You see, I’d never been to a spa before. I haven’t been to a beautician since I was about 18. I haven’t been swimming for about 3 years. This was an instinctual idea rather than a logical one. I knew enough about spas to be aware that there are towels, and robes, and you wear certain things in certain rooms, and people may look down their noses at you for any faux pas. I wasn’t too concerned about going by myself – it seemed like a very understandable place for some alone time. But I was worried about being the one who didn’t know the rules. Like many occasions in life, this sort of worrying was totally wasted energy.
In reality, the experience was very relaxed. As I went on a Wednesday morning, there weren’t that many people around to judge my questionable swimming, my dripping up the stairs to get changed, and accidentally soaking my slippers in the locker room. It wouldn’t have mattered – I had a fantastic time. I’d go again tomorrow. Of course, cost is a factor and in an ideal world spa days should be on regular prescription. But if you’re on the fence about whether it’s worth sparing some money to go occasionally. YES it is.
So, let’s talk treatments. My package included a choice of two amongst fairly basic options. I went with a 25 minute back, neck and shoulder massage, and a 25 minute file and polish manicure. As a first visit, I wasn’t looking for anything especially sophisticated – I just wanted to feel good about myself afterwards. With my rosacea, I also wanted to steer clear of facials. In my research, I did find spas that have treatments specifically for this common skin condition but I am still very risk adverse. So for now, it’s all about the neck down! I had a really lovely therapist (around my age) who made the back massage feel calm and not-at-all-awkward, easing me into what felt like 5 mins of deep relaxation. She also did my manicure, during which we chatted as easily as friends. This was absolutely perfect for my birthday, and as an antidote for how isolated and low I’d been feeling over the past few months.
I left feeling pretty, confident and relaxed – worth every penny. But, as I hoped, I also learnt a few key things to share:
Firstly – find the right spa for you. This seems obvious but it’s SO important to spend time selecting the venue that suits your needs. If, like me, you enjoy getting your teeth into some research it’s also a fun part of the experience. Identify your deal breakers – for me, that was the date (it had to be on my birthday), costing under £100, with a good pool and accessible by public transport. But your’s might be it needs to fit neatly inside the school run, or you want time away from a city, or you know your body needs an hour’s massage. There are various sites you can use (spabreaks.com, spafinder.co.uk, spaseeker.com, treatwell, etc) to identify venues in your area, read reviews and check if any of the deals on offer match what you need. But it’s also worth comparing these findings against the venue’s own websites – like booking a hotel room, it’s often cheaper to go direct to the venue. Don’t be afraid to give them a call/email to discuss what package they might be able to offer for your needs.
Secondly – have realistic expectations. I went along to the spa knowing full well that I wasn’t going to leave feeling fixed and rejuvenated in half a day. It would take several tranquillisers and a fortnight of pampering to make me feel fantastic. I just wanted to go swimming again and have some treatments to encourage me feel better about myself. And that’s what I got. My point is, know what you can feasibly get from the experience. Pay attention to the finer details of what you’ve booked – particularly the length of the treatments, and whether you get any extras (like a glass of prosecco or lunch). Ensure you get your value (claim that prosecco!) but don’t expect a magic cure.
Thirdly – no amount of money can buy relaxation. By which I mean – you have to put the effort in yourself too! Switch your phone off, be polite and conscious of other people but focus on your own experience, sit in quiet areas, slow your walking and breathing pace. These are all free things to do, in the spa and outside it, that add £££ to the quality of your experience.
Finally and crucially – book your treatments for the end of the experience. I’m so glad I read this tip before booking, so when I got an email from the spa saying ‘what time would you like your treatments?’ I knew what to do! Otherwise, I would have been tempted to spread them out across the half day. But please, please, give yourself time to use the facilities before your treatments! Especially if you enjoy a swim, a steam, or some jacuzzi time! Once you get into your treatments and are coated in face products, body oils and (especially) nail polish, you won’t want – or be able – to go back for a dip. Even if you’re not too fussed about being in the water, I’d recommend booking treatments towards the end so that you can settle in, go for a walk if the venue has gardens/grounds, read and enjoy any relaxation spaces – whilst looking forward to the main events! For my spa trip, I arrived at 10am and my first treatment was a couple of hours later. Which meant I could take my time getting changed into my swim wear, go for a steam, sit in the ‘hydrotherapy pool’ (jacuzzi) then swim several laps in the cool water. Then I had a leisurely shower, exploring the complimentary toiletries, and had time to dry my hair. So when I was collected for my first treatment (the massage), I felt nicely tired from the exercise, scrubbed clean, and ready for the second stage of my spa experience. My manicure followed on directly after the massage, and then I sat in the relaxation room and gingerly flicked through magazines until lunch. If I’d booked my treatments any earlier, it would not have been as smooth an experience!
Central to all these tips, really, is one idea – give yourself time. In the spa. Before the spa. In life. And in this 27th year of mine.
P.s. apologies for the quality of the selfie – quickly taken in the changing rooms, trying to keep my phone off as much as possible!