Ya know what? You might not think this about me, but believe it or not, I am a tightly wound individual. I am very particular in how I like things to be and have a difficult time letting go if things are aren't quite as comfortable as I'd like. Jim likes to call me his "Little Exposed Nerve". My therapist just classifies me as a highly sensitive person. Whatever I am, I'm consistantly stressed on some level due to my general nature. Because of this, I rely heavily on coping techniques that I pick up along the way. I'm personally not a fan of taking prescription medication for my anxiety and depression, but I do have a list of vitamins and supplements I take regularly that have noticeably improved my symptoms and general mood, but for this post, I'm sharing the things I can do easily (sometimes) and immediately. Below I've compiled a list of 10 ways I deal with stress, and honestly, I use most of these daily.
1. Deep breathing and stretching
This seems too simple, but when I feel stress creeping up on me, my first physical instinct is to breath as deeply and as slowly as I can. I roll my head in circles around my neck to loosen the muscles as the tension starts to set in at my shoulders. I close my eyes. This gives me a chance to disconnect from the situation and collect myself. According to stress.org, I'm on to something.
Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. -Kellie Marksberry, AIS Executive Director
Stretching is wonderful because it promotes fresh oxygen rich blood in reaching your brain. New blood brings in fresh oxygen supplies and that in turn boosts your mood and promotes a sense of calmness and revitalization.
2. Talk to a friend
This might be the one that I deem most necessary and essential to my well being. I'm a very social person and really need to talk to other people. I'll talk to complete strangers if I have to. In the past 4 years, we have moved 6 times and it has taken a toll on having friends that I can see face to face. It's hard to cultivate relationships with new people when you know you're going to be moving soon. I've found a few amazing friends around here, but it's often hard to meet up with schedules, children and life in general, so I am constantly thankful for technology and friends that love to text just as much as I do. It might not be face to face, but communication in any form soothes me. Luckily I have a wonderful friend (who happens to be a mama and a photographer, as well) who I text pretty much every day. It helps that we're so much alike and can really relate to each other with our work and personal lives. I honestly think being able to have deep conversations and someone to empathize with is essential to stress relief and good mental health. Isolation is crippling in so many ways.
3. Get outside
Depending on where you live and the time of year (yeah, I'm talking to you New England and your inhospitable winters), try to get outside for at least an hour each day. Sunshine, fresh air and greenery do a soul wonders. We're lucky enough to live right on the ocean, so being able to have some strong ocean wind in my face is pure medicine. If you live near the woods or mountains, go for a hike or take a walking trail. Don't have either of those nearby? If you have a yard or space on a porch or balcony, plant some flowers, herbs or fruits and vegetables. Just get outside. We aren't meant to be holed up inside all day.
4. Ask for alone time/take a break
I think a lot of times, it's hard as a mother to ask for help or acknowledge and INSIST that we take a break. I'm my own worst enemy with this. I wait and wait for my stress to build up until I burst and then have a breakdown and beg for some alone time. In truth, Jim is constantly trying to give me that time, but I don't take it because I'll feel guilty (the vicious guilt trap!). Not everyone has this luxury and I'm fully aware of how fortunate I am. If you don't have someone to give you that break, see if you can find an indoor play space or work/play type place to go and get a little break while your kids run off their endless stores of energy. If you don't have kids and are in desperate need of a break, TAKE IT! Allow yourself to chill out, too. Stress is stress no matter the source.
5. Stop multi tasking and concentrate on one thing at a time
I know this isn't always possible. Sometime, I have no choice. I multitask all day because if I didn't my house would be condemned by the department of health and I would never make any money. My brain has always operated in this mode, even since I was a small child (that's called ADD and we'll get to that in another post at another time). I have a lot of things to do and, jeez, I've only been given 24 hours in which to do them. But, it turns out, multitasking is actually bad for your health. I can attest to this. The more things I'm juggling, the more stressed out I become. Yes, I'll be slightly stressed out knowing I have X amount of things waiting for me to complete, but I'll probably finish each task faster and with more quality that I would if I were doing it while I'm doing 6 other things. A good way to tackle this is to make to-do lists. Being able to see the tasks ahead is a great motivator and the feeling of accomplishment sure does beat the feeling of failure.
6. Eat chocolate
I've never been a smoker, but I always joke that chocolate is my cigarette. Seriously, I can take a bite of chocolate and the physical and mental response I have is so similar to how a smoker feels about lighting up. What makes it even better is that it tastes great and doesn't give me cancer! Although I prefer milk chocolate, I'm not above indulging in dark chocolate. The higher the cocoa percentage, the better. I could sit here and try to explain the complex benefits of dark chocolate, but T. Jared Bunch, MD explains it much better than I ever could. So next time you're feeling stressed, grab a high quality chocolate bar and have a little nibble... or just eat the whole thing and deny. Deny. Just deny.
7. Clean or organize
I don't know about you, but if my surroundings are a mess or my life is completely disorganized, I have a hard time concentrating on anything and my stress levels go through the roof. I may lean more towards the OCD side here, but I find cleaning to be therapeutic. I take pride in making my things and home look nice, but also, cleaning gives me a chance to do a mindless task... a mindless task that allows me to think, if that makes sense. I can zone out or concentrate. I can shut off thoughts of other things or I can think so clearly about something that I solve a few questions for myself. It's rewarding in that when you're done, you get to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment and (theoretically) more beautiful surroundings. It's kind of like a 2 For 1.
8. Grab my dog
This is a special one for me. Nothing melts my heart like a puppy dog. Nothing. Anyone that knows me is aware of how much I love my dog. Cat's are great, but they just don't do it for me like a sweet furry little puppy. It's completely proven that animals help to lower and reduce our stress levels. Pets are wonderful listeners and provide a social aspect that can be more calming than even a human friend. Anytime I feel overwhelmed, I can grab my little dog and give him a cuddle that lowers my blood pressure almost instantly. I often joke that he's my therapy dog, but the truth is, that's exactly what he is.
9. Regroup and Start Over
Ya know, sometimes you're just having a bad day. Things can start out rough (i.e, the baby being up all night and then waking up super cranky), but you can always turn it around. You have to tell yourself "Ok, from this point forward, I am starting my day over." It's not just going to happen without work, though. You have to make that effort to change your attitude. Convince yourself that you are in a good mood. A lot of time, the things that are stressing us out are not even really happening, but instead, our perception of whatever the situation is causing us to feel distressed.
10. Cry it out
I feels strange to say this, but nothing beats a good cry. The emotional release it provides is not just a figment of your imagination. It's real.
The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum. They also found that emotional tears contain 24 per cent higher albumin protein concentration than tears caused by eye irritants. -via Answers In Genesis (Gregg Levoy, ‘Tears that Speak’, Psychology Today, July–August, 1988, pp. 8, 10)
We're told so often to be strong, and strength is often associated with holding back emotion. The truth is that holding in our emotions does more harm than good. In as much as we need to feel happiness, we need to allow ourselves to feel sadness, anger and frustration too.
Always, always, always.... remember you're human. You aren't perfect. No one is. Get that in your head. Stress gets to all of us and we have to figure out our own personal ways to deal with it. What works for me might not work for you. I am constantly looking for different methods for myself that are constructive. Just because I'm being open with you and writing out a detailed list doesn't mean I always handle my stress appropriately. I freak out. I scream. I break down. It is a constant battle for me as is for many people. Stress isn't new and it'll never be old. It will always be present. Learning from yourself and others is the only way to navigate this life.
I hope this has been helpful for someone. As always, I hope to be as genuine as possible. I'm so interested to hear the ways in which other deal with their stress. If you have anything to add or have questions, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you.