San Diego's happy places

What a long, exhausting civic trip it's been. No matter which side of the Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton presidential ticket you were on, you have to admit that the roller-coaster election ride was emotionally draining. It might be a new morning in America, but we're toast.

"I guess I would say this election is like a chronic stresser," said Steven Hickman, executive director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. "It is like we have been bombarded, and our poor nervous systems are shot. People are talking about being on overload and not being able to take anything else in. I think people have become kind of depleted over time."

To refill our emotional gas tanks, Hickman suggests we engage in a little self-compassion, which calms a nervous system made ragged by too many rounds of flight-or-fight panic. And pretty much any comforting activity is an excellent start.

"It is a process that can't be rushed. You need to have patience with yourself to know what feeds you," Hickman said. "What is your refuge? What is your safe place? It might mean setting aside five minutes for a cup of tea or a bath. It might be calling a friend or petting the dog. It is whatever gives the nervous system time to mellow and heal itself."

To jump-start the process, here are some stress-busting activities that will help you give yourself a break. Welcome to your happier place, San Diego. Let the healing begin.

Talk to the animals

"Come on in for some kitty therapy," volunteer Marcy Leftridge said earlier this week as she opened the door to the San Diego Cat Cafe. Don't mind if we do.

At the San Diego Cat Cafe, the purchase of locally roasted coffee or a snack buys you admission to the cat room, where you can pet cats, play with cats or watch cats snooze while your blood pressure takes a dive.

In addition to meeting your therapeutic needs, the cat residents are also available for adoption, thanks to cafe owner Tony Wang's partnership with the San Diego Humane Society. The San Diego Cat Cafe just facilitated its 205th adoption, so you can feel pretty great about that, too. (Open daily, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., 472 Third Ave., downtown.)

Need more quality animal time? At the San Diego Humane Society's weekly "Fur Fix Thursdays" meet and greet, you can mingle with adoptable cats, dogs and other critters with no take-home strings attached. The animals get some much-needed socialization, the humans get some four-legged loving and everybody wins. What a concept. (Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m., 5500 Gaines St.)

Watch the sky

Sometimes it helps to realize that no matter what is happening elsewhere, you live here. And here is not too shabby. With its staggering views of ocean, sky and people in flight, the Torrey Pines Gliderport is a fabulous reminder of just how not-shabby that is.

While intrepid souls indulge in paragliding, hang gliding and other lofty pursuits, you can sit safely in the observation areas and take in some of picturesque San Diego's most dazzling scenery.

You can also grab lunch at the Gliderport's Cliffhanger Cafe, which specializes in gourmet sandwiches that are miles ahead of your average snack bar. Or you can just be.  Ahhhh. (Open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset. 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive.)

Hit the beach

There are few things in life that are as healing as a blast of sea air, so whether you love the sweeping, family friendly sands of Coronado or the challenging tide pools of the Cabrillo National Monument, throw your to-do list out the window and make some time for the tides.

If you insist on multitasking, try Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, which caters to surfers, power-walkers and aimless wanderers alike. Write your worries in the sand and let the ocean wash them away. Bon voyage! (Moonlight State Beach, 400 B St.)

Hail the Queen

Queen Califia can't pull a rabbit out of a hat, but it is entirely possible that Queen Califia's Magical Circle will make your funk disappear.

Nestled in the Iris Sankey Arboretum in Escondido's Kit Carson Park, this dazzling sculpture garden features the singular work of the late French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. You may know de Saint Phalle from her "Coming Together" installation on the lawn of the San Diego Convention Center or the pieces stationed outside the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park, but these quick introductions cannot prepare you for the full-immersion experience of Queen Califia's Magical Circle sculpture garden.

With its 400-foot "snake wall," mosaic maze and menagerie of glittering sculptures, the sculpture garden blends Native American and Mexican folk-art imagery and fairy-tale whimsy into one blinding ball of life-affirming beauty. Is that the mythical queen herself, perched atop a five-legged eagle? It is.

The garden is only open from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays and on the second Saturday of the month, which happily falls on this weekend. Docents will be on hand to answer questions and hand you a tissue if you start to cry because it's just so special. (Kit Carson Park, 3333 Bear Valley Parkway.)

Park it

Do you know what San Diego also has a lot of? Parks. And what do parks have a lot of? Self-soothing opportunities.

You and your nerves should be aware that there is a Donald Trump protest rally scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Balboa Park, so there will be crowds and hubub. Things will be more peaceful on Sunday, when you can lose yourself in the many gardens and commune with your fellow humans at the free 2 p.m. concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Hickman is a fan of the sprawling Mission Trails Regional Park, where you can amble down some easy walking trails, visit the Old Mission Dam or start sweating your troubles away with the 5-Peak (Hiking) Challenge. (Visitor Center, One Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos)

And whether it is the beach or the cats or the cliffs, resist the impulse to augment your stress-busting activities with some talk therapy. Wherever you go, you don't need to end up there.

"Talking is highly overrated," Hickman said. "There is something nice about being with other people but not getting lost in the chatter. Processing is overrated, too. Grinding it over and over just feeds the beast rather than soothing it." 

karla.peterson@sduniontribune.com

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