5 ways to de-stress
Understanding and identifying when we are really stressed is usually a no brainer. What to do after the fact is another thing.
The impact that stress has on our mental and physical health can be very harmful over a long period of time. Identifying when we are feeling stressed and being able to do a few things to reduce that in the short and long term are of great importance. We have all heard and read somewhere that going on a holiday or getting a massage are great ways to de-stress but most of us do not have the time, money or accessibility to do such luxurious things. There are however, a few simple, cheap or free things that we can do for ourselves to help us empty out our stress buckets, unwind and cope with what life throws at us.
1. Take a shower or bath.
If you have a bath and get enjoyment from having one then absolutely do that for yourself. Add some bubbles, light some candles (if you want) or just lay back and relax until the water goes cold. If, on the other hand, you have children it is just about IMPOSSIBLE to have a bath that is actually relaxing!! The idea of a long relaxing bath in total silence that is uninterrupted is bliss but it can never be my reality. After 1.3 seconds it is guaranteed that someone needs to ask a why question, needs a referee or wants to discuss the meaning of life. Although these things are part of parenting and sometimes enjoyable (not being the ref), they just do not help my brain to slow its thoughts and regroup. Instead, have a shower. Again, this may not be the uninterrupted, blissful, and serene time that we imagine is needed to de-stress, the action in and of itself can be almost a reset and calming. Metaphorical in washing away the stress and the days worries. Having our routine to fall back on of get in, wet hair, wash hair, wash body, scrub face, brush teeth or whatever your sequence in can switch our brain from stress to autopilot and this short break can be enough to begin the process of unwinding and decompressing.
2. Exercise, go for a walk or just get outside.
I know the excuses already because I have used most of them myself. Its too hot, its too cold, its raining, its windy, i'm not in my perfect exercise gear, I don't have time.... insert any excuse here. But, getting outside, even for a short time (think 5 minutes) in fresh air can provide our body with fresh air and Vitamin D which our body needs to maintain good health. Optimally 20-30 minutes outside every day is ideal but in my book, any time outside is better than nothing. If its available to you walk around the block or find a walking path to change up your scenery, otherwise do laps around your back yard. What ever is available to you, make it work. If you can not get outside, open a window, pen the curtains to let sunlight in. Take deep breaths and allow yourself the space to work through/process whats going on for you. This activity has multiple benefits in that you get oxygen, move your body, improves sleep, improves digestion and can relieve pain. Any physical movement is great for your brain and your body, within reason if you are not injured or in significant pain. The release of our feel good hormones called endorphins (insulin, cortisol, human growth hormone and glucagon among others) counteract the negative effects of the stress hormone cortisol (yes that is also in the good hormone list but in such high and prolonged amounts does harm to the body).
Now hear me out. I know that when I hear play or do something fun most people will eye roll, laugh or get angry at what seems such a frivolous and immature thing when we have so much going on that is much more important. BUT, in doing things that give us joy and/or make us smile we can definitely reduce the amount of stress we are experiencing. Fun for you is going to be unique and completely different to what anyone else may think of as fun. I am in love with the author Brene Brown at the moment and my feelings of fun/play were similar to hers and are what I described above (basically a waste of time) but her definition in the book DARING Greatly has changed the way I view fun. Fun is something that when we are doing it we have no real concept of time, we can get lost in the activity and it brings us peace. The kicker in this is to do it because it is enjoyable and not because its to check off another part of a list. Making the conscious choice to set other things aside and do something for yourself is difficult in the society we live in. When our tiredness and lack of spare time is seen as a badge of honour rather than a sign of exhaustion, taking time out to look after yourself is seen as a luxury, waste of time and selfish. Play or fun does not need to be something grandious or extreme. Writing, reading, sewing, knitting, colouring in, fishing, gardening, playing board games, etc. Find what is fun for you and make time for it. Our creative selves counteract stress and decrease negative emotions significantly.
4. Watch a movie or something funny.
Yes sometimes its okay to go down a youtube rabbit hole of comedy specials. Its good for your mental health. Laughter really is the best medicine and now we have legitimate reasons to binge watch something on netflix, youtube, or where ever. This is not meant to be an everyday thing but when the stress is really high and you can not find another way to switch gears, this is an option. Distraction and laughing is great for the immediate, short term and a great way to keep our stress levels at a reasonable level thereafter.
5. Fell all the feels.
This one may be the most difficult to practice and implement on a regular basis but when done regularly provides the greatest benefit. Actually delving into why you are so stressed and going through, breaking down, understanding and really facing the problems or situations that cause the greatest stress can be difficult to face. Confronting what is going on inside our minds and honouring whats going on for us right now is extremely powerful. A lot of the things that cause us stress such as work, parenting, running a house hold, marriage, and study they can all feel fixed and impossible to change. This is where the old adage of accept what you can not change and have the courage to change what you can comes into play. Explore what areas are of the greatest stress to you and your ability to make changes in those areas. Negotiating where needed or possible if at work, home, study and other areas which can not be changed, try to accept that and let the perfectionism and control go.
You do not need to do these things all at once or only pick one. Find what works for you and try to incorporate it into your life. If possible do some of these things or others you find before you get to the point of losing it or total breakdown. In lessening the stress we feel as our base level we can deal with more that gets thrown our way but if we continuously start off from a place of high stress we have no room for movement.