I don’t know about you, but stress follows me around everywhere I go.
Pressure at work, loads of homework to be done, issues in relationships, and just plain human emotions can all add to the weight of daily life. I have struggled with strong stress amounts and anxiety in the last few years which has caused me to seek (and seek and seek) to find little helps along the way.
I call these items my “toolbox.” When I feel my shoulders slumping, when tears are my first response to any difficult situation, or I just want to spend the day under the covers, I know a handful of simple remedies I can use that can offer physical and emotional relief.
- firstly, breathe
When I am overwhelmed, stuck in the middle of a situation or buried under a pile of stress, I find myself breathing shallow. My chest constricts and air only gets in halfway before my lungs push it back out again.
There is something to be said for a true, complete, deep breath. One that trickles all the way down into your belly, fills you up, and gives new life to sore, tired muscles. When more oxygen has a longer time to travel around your body, it is able to reach your mind and infuse it with clarity. Oxygen helps loosen tight muscles and knots in your neck and back, as well as refresh your organs and blood flow. Scientifically speaking, it is one of the best quick ways to relax and de-stress.
try this: close your eyes if the situation permits it, lie down or sit in correct posture. Rest one hand on your belly and slowly quiet your breathing. Take slow, even breaths, about one breath every 4 to 5 seconds (this might take some practice since our tendency is to breathe quite quickly). When you breathe in, focus on getting the hand on your belly to move by completely filling your tummy with oxygen, then slowly release and feel your hand float back down as your belly empties. Continue to do this, taking notice of how your body relaxes and sinks down into your chair or bed. Focus your thoughts on the even, slow pattern of your breaths, like an ocean wave coming in to the shore, then falling back.
I find myself doing this on the drive to school or work, at night lying in my bed, or even sitting in class or at a desk. I often add prayer to this time, asking for peace from my Jesus. What’s key about this is that it can be done anywhere at anytime.
2. now move!
Whatever is the most relaxing way to move your body – a walk, a gentle run, sitting and stretching. I have fallen in love with yoga because it incorporates exercise, deep breathing, and a mental break all into one. Whether you can take five, ten, or thirty minutes out of the stressful day you are having to move your body, any little bit will help clear your mind. A non-strenuous activity like walking or stretching stimulates your mind and provides your body with improved blood flow without causing extra stress and work on your muscles.
I find that taking a five minute break a few times a day to sit or stand in one of my favorite yoga poses helps keep me energized and feeling flexible.
try this: one of my favorite yoga stretches that nearly anyone can do: fine a clear space of wall and sit down with your left side facing the wall. Lean over gently to the right side and lay your body down, then roll over onto your back and bring your knees up. With your hands on either side of your body, slowly scoot your bottom forward, closer and closer to the wall until you can rest your backside against it. Then straighten your legs, leaning them up high against the wall, and put your arms out to the side. Lay here, with your legs propped against the wall for 5-20 minutes, breathing slowly. When finished, reverse the moves to come slowly down, away from the wall.Sit up slowly.
**called legs up the wall, this is one of the best poses for stress, relaxation, and headache relief. The gentle flow of blood leaving your legs and flowing up your spine, to your head, restores the back and neck from holding onto any tension of the day. click here for a short video from one of my favorite yogis, if you are more of a visual learner, like myself!
3. now, do something that you love
The only condition is that it can’t induce stress. Do something that gets your creative juices flowing, brings you happiness, and calms your resting heartbeat. For me, this means cuddling with my cats, reading a light-hearted novel, painting or working on a craft, or organizing my room (a mindless activity that brings me a lot of satisfaction).
It’s important to remind your mind and body that you are still a priority even in the midst of stress. It is easy to be hard on yourself during a stressful time, with thoughts such as I should be doing more or doing better floating around your head. Giving yourself permission to take a break is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Acknowledge what you can and can’t change in the situation – what is up to you and what is beyond your control. Then, help your body and mind function better by infusing some joy into the situation.
try this: turn on some music that makes you smile, surround yourself with a calm environment, and then think of one practical thing that you know would make you happy. Then do it!
4. help yourself by asking for help
This has been one of the more important lessons I have learned this last year. Especially as an introvert, I cling to my alone time. But what I’m realizing affects me on stressful days is when I keep it all in my own head. I probably don’t need to surround myself with ten really loud people, but calling a good friend or asking for encouragement from my boyfriend have been life savers.
We aren’t meant to go at life by ourselves. We aren’t made to be solitary people, doing everything alone. I am blessed to have several close people in my life who I can call or text at any time who will always be there to support me, and vice versa. Their advice, perspective, and opinions are deeply cherished by me, and their added support helps me face stress with more strength.
try this: grab a coffee or cup of tea, settle in a cozy chair, and call your bestie. Or, schedule a skype “date” for that night, getting to look forward to girl time in the evening. Or, let a friend know you’re overwhelmed and could use some encouragement by text through the day. Often venting and just knowing that someone else knows you are swamped helps ease the burden.
5. finally, take it easy
It’s easy to expect a lot from yourself, but if you are under stress, your body, physically and mentally, isn’t functioning normally, no matter how much you wish it was. Realize that you aren’t at 100% and cut back. Whether that means going home early from work, sitting out on a weekly activity, saying “no” to one of your commitments today, or taking just one assignment off your to-do list for the day – you can’t do it all today, and that’s okay.
I am here to tell you that there is NOTHING wrong with going home, eating something delicious (take out allowed), running a long, hot bubble bath, curling up in your softest pajamas, playing one of your favorite movies on in the background and drifting off to sleep.
These aren’t stress cures, because you have to deal with the individual situations and causes of the stress in your life. But these are powerful tools that help me over and over again.
Would you like to hear of more ways that I deal with stress in my everyday life?
What do you use to fight stress in your life? I’d love to know!
photo credit: rose