Stress. We all have it. Some amount of stress is actually good for us and necessary, but most of us are experiencing too much of it on a daily basis. An overload of stress on the regular can have disastrous effects on our health, causing weight gain, increased blood pressure, lowered immune system function, headaches, sleeplessness….the list goes on!
But what can we do about it?
Most of us have had that moment where we’re so stressed out, that we just want to run away—drive to the airport, fly somewhere warm and sunny, and never come back. But generally that isn’t a realistic way to deal with the situation. (Neither is punching people, trust me on that one.) However there are some reasonably simple things you can do to help yourself deal with, or even eliminate, the stress in your life.
1. Take 5. Just take 5 seconds and scan your body to see where you’re feeling that stress. Now take 5 deep slow breaths, and concentrate on releasing that stress out of your body. For me, I tend to clench my jaw, and get a knot in either my chest or my gut. So I consciously separate my teeth (the old lips closed/jaw open trick) and send my breath to the knot, imagining an actual knot untangling in my body. If you need to take more than 5 seconds that’s totally okay. Depending on how stressed you are, it could take a few minutes. Just keep breathing slowly and consciously, this calms your nervous system and allows you to relax and be more clear-minded.
2. Walk Away. Yep, just walk away. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, removing yourself from the situation can give you some space to clear your head and get a calmer perspective. I’ve been in shared office situations where the only way I could deal with a stressor was to get up and leave for 10 minutes. Luckily, the ladies room was on a different floor, on the other side of the building. A slowish walk there and back, and I was usually cooled down enough to deal with my stressor more calmly.
3. Change your routine. Do you have a hellishly stressful commute to work? Can you change your morning routine to leave a little earlier? Often times traffic patterns are dramatically different if you can leave a bit earlier. Or, is there a longer but less congested route you can take? It might be worth the extra few minutes to have less traffic snarls—and sometimes the scenic route is its own reward. Even if your commute isn’t the problem, adding a few extra minutes to the start of your day can lower your overall stress. Imagine enjoying that cuppa while staring out of the kitchen window at the beautiful morning sky, instead of running out the door in flurry clutching a travel mug, and trying not to trip over the cat….not that I’ve ever done that. ahem.
4. Get out of your head. We all get trapped in the swirling chaos of our thoughts—especially when we’re stressed out. I call it my Monkey Mind, where everything becomes life or death, and danger is everywhere. If you can, do something that takes all of your focus, and really do JUST that for a bit. My sister colors beautiful Mandalas. Some people knit. My daughter cleans. Whatever it is, if you can allow your brain to rest while you put your energy into doing ONE thing you enjoy, when you are finished you’ll feel better and be in a better place to deal with whatever problem is waiting. If it’s even still there.
5. Let it Go. I know, we’re all tired of that song from the movie Frozen. But, some things you just have to let go. We can’t do ALL the things, we aren’t and never will be perfect, and most importantly we can’t change other people. For me, this has meant learning to say ‘NO’. If I know that someone or something really stresses me out, and I have an option to engage or not, I’ll say ‘no thanks’ . You don’t have to host/attend/participate/engage in everything with everyone every time. Recognizing that can often be the catalyst to leading a much happier, less stressed life.
Of course these are just five little suggestions on a Friday afternoon. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about stress and ways to deal with it, but until then what are your go-to stress relief strategies?
P.S. I was really stressed about writing this, but walking on my treadmill while I focused on this really helped relieve that feeling. See, it works!