We’ve all heard the benefits of reducing stress over and over again. We buy books, listen to tapes, etc. all in the pursuit of the ever evasive secret of how to reduce stress not only in the long term but, also, on a daily basis. As an instructor, I am frequently confronted with questions revolving around stress and the emotions that come with it. Stress in our lives, relationships, and jobs eventually cause anger, frustration and/or resentment. Stress reduction can be simple and inexpensive.
First (you knew this was coming), exercise!! Exercising works for many reason, but in the interest of time I’ll mention only a couple. 1) Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for positive moods. Your active body will soon begin to crave it. Optimism counter acts stress 2) Exercise will clear your thinking. Take a walk, let your mind de-clutter and your body unwind. Soon you’ll wonder what the fuss was all about.
Write it down! Stress Diaries are important for understanding the causes of short-term stress in your life. They also give you insight into how you react to stress, and help you to identify your level of stress. The idea behind a stress diary is that, on a regular basis, you record information about the stresses you are experiencing, so that you can analyze these stresses and then manage them.
Use your imagination! Imagine yourself stress free. In other words use your imagination to relieve stress. A lot of people create their “Happy place”. Create, in your mind, a place of calm, relaxing and nurturing surroundings. Piece it together in great detail, tuck it away and then take a vacation anytime that you wish. You can find yourself on a warm sunny beach, on a boat, on a swing or nestled in the mountains. The possibilities are endless. Leave any time you want and the best news is...it’s free!!
Simply breathe! Breathing is as old as time. Its truly one of the most fundamental things we can do. Most people take shallow, short, fast breaths. Focus your mind and energy into your breaths. Fill your lungs from top to bottom, left to right. On the in breath imagine filling your body with patience, love, whatever you need. On the out breath release your stress, frustration, anger, etc. Initially it might take many breaths but pretty soon it’s as easy as…breathing!!
Meditation, focus on it!!! It’s not always sitting in the lotus pose humming (although it’s very effective) 1) Sit quietly and comfortably. 2) Close your eyes (using a timer allows you to free yourself from checking your watch and wakes you if you accidentally fall asleep) 3) Start by relaxing the hair on your head and every muscle downward until you reach the tips of your toes. Remember the little guys!! 4) Focus your attention on your breathing (above paragraph) 5) Relax, breathe, repeat!!!
Get positive!! Positive thinking and acting is essential. Many times we fall into a rut. Things get bigger than what they actually are. Try to answer questions in the positive. (Example: child: “Mom can I go outside to play?” Parent: “Absolutely, as soon as you’re finished with your chores.) Positive thinking (and acting) change your perspective and create a positive atmosphere. Focus on what you can change and let the others take their course. This is one that takes practice but pretty soon life is extraordinarily sunny.
First things first!! Kids, work, school, grocery shopping, community, etc. Prioritize!!! Pre-plan. What’s important to you? What comes first in your head and heart? Then plan for the expected. Was seeing the hurt on little Timmy face worth it when you yelled at him to hurry because YOU were late? Prioritize!! Is getting a speeding ticket on the way to work worth it because you didn’t pack your lunch last night? Pre-plan!! Remember the saying “lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” That goes both ways. If you know it’s going to take extra time to get to work at a particular hour plan in advance. That way you don’t become angry, frustrated and stressed.
Honesty, honestly!! Learn to be honest always. Whether it’s with yourself, a colleague or friend. If you don’t think you can make that appointment or baby-sit while your friend goes shopping, say so. It’s better to be honest and say no than stress yourself out over it then find yourself apologizing or worse resenting. This, often times means getting rid of the guilt. It’s okay to say no, in the short and long run your honesty will be appreciated. Remember nobody appreciates a flake.
Look up, look down, look all around! Look at your environment. Is there something around you that is bothering you; that you can rid yourself of. Clutter? Broken appliances waiting for repair? A pile of things to return to others? An out of control desk? Push your sleeves up, take a breath and Do It!! Procrastination equals stress. Get it out of the way so you can focus on something worthwhile.
Stretch your way to less stress! Move your body. Focus on postural awareness. When you’re sitting in traffic and you start to wear your shoulders as ear muffs you have stress. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store and the person in front of you is paying $28.93 in pennies and your head and shoulders slump forward in agony…stress. Sit up strait, throw your shoulders back, and think tall. Stretch your neck, shoulders and back. Enjoy the moment to focus on you!!
Ahhh, the sound of silence!! Sleep!! I sit and wonder at my toddler who repeatedly, day after day, fights bed time. As an adult, that moment, when I crawl into bed is a beautiful thing. Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Is T.V. really so important you’ll risk your health? Can that task wait until tomorrow when you can think more clearly? Whether it’s a cat nap or a full nights rest allow yourself to rejuvenate. Your body will be able to work harder and more effective for you when you’re gentle with it. Everything will be a lot clearer (and less stressful) in the morning!
Food, for stress relief??? Lastly, eat well. Enjoy healthy, invigorating, and nourishing foods. Give your body the fuel it so desperately needs to function and keep things in perspective. A lot of times the food we eat (sugar, caffeine, processed fast foods) can interfere with our ability to effectively rationalize, concentrate, and problem solve. Imagine that. Wow, the places we can go!!
To sum it up…find balance and harmony in your life. Incorporating one or many of these ideas into your daily living will drastically reduce stress. The key is consistency. Be gentle with yourself, take time, enjoy the process…it’s a journey not a destination. What have you got to lose…stress?!?!