It’s almost that time of year. Halloween is coming up, then it’s Thanksgiving and bam! The holiday season is upon us. Combine that with your normal weekly workload and the result can be a stress overload. Chronic stress, as outlined in our recent blog, can have serious, negative effects on your health including high blood pressure, weight gain and lower energy. You need stress relief!
Here are some simple, daily stress-relief techniques that can help you cope when stress levels spiral out of control. Practice them regularly to help tame or avoid chronic stress:
1. Relive a past success.
This one’s easy and effective. When your to-do list runs long and stress takes hold, call a quick time-out! Stand up, leave your workstation and spend five minutes focusing on how you’ve successfully handled similar stressful situations in the past. Reminding yourself that you’re resilient and capable can help you overcome the stressful situation at hand.
If you’re in completely new stress territory, such as losing a parent or loved one or dealing with a divorce, don’t hesitate to reach out to a support group. Talking with people going through similar experiences can be comforting and extremely beneficial.
2. Wash your hands.
This tip helps get you out of your head to focus on a physical sensation. Here’s how: under warm water, lather up those hands, focusing on the actual feeling of the water and your hands working together. Our hands are amazing – where would we be without opposable thumbs!? Since it’s not possible to focus on two things at once, focusing on your hands enables your mind to release what you were worried about.
Keep washing, intently focusing on your hands, for at least 20 seconds. How long is that? About as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Go ahead and sing it – we guarantee your stress will dissipate. Bonus: handwashing can help keep viruses and other germs at bay when your immune system is weakened by stress.
3. Even if you weren’t a Scout: Always be prepared.
Have an early meeting, interview or appointment? Get everything ready the night before so you can arrive the next morning in a relaxed manner. Get organized: make a to-do list and clean your desk before leaving work. If you’ll need specific files or documents, gather them. When you get home, choose your clothes for the next day, put everything you’ll need in a bag by the door or get the kids’ lunches ready in advance. Anything you can prep in advance will pay off, providing a sense of control to set your mind at ease.
4. Crank up the tunes.
It’s hard to be stressed while singing a favorite song, right? Give yourself permission to do so – whether you’re at the steering wheel or in the shower. Belting out your favorite tune can be soothing. Not the singing type? Slow or meditative music works, too. Try listening to classical music as you drive. Your daily commute will seem more soothing when set to a new soundtrack.
5. The calming effect of water.
Floating in water triggers our relaxation response. If you’re curious about trying a sensory deprivation tank, find a local provider and sign up for a float session or two. If your gym has a pool or hot tub, go there. At home, fill your tub with warm water and add some Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts balances the body’s calcium levels, reduces stress, normalizes blood pressure and enhances the immune system. Stress disappears down the drain!
6. Airplane mode isn’t just for flights.
The boundary between work and personal life has become blurred. Redraw that boundary by taking advantage of airplane mode on your phone or tablet. Technological advancements contribute to chronic stress. Our devices also steal quality family time. If you can’t turn your work phone off, put it on mute and set a regular time to check it each evening—maybe just after dinner—to minimize the disruption.
7. Write worries down.
When worries are overwhelming, they sometimes become an evil loop on constant mental replay. Interrupt the cycle by writing them down. Describe the particular event you’re stressed out about and express your specific fears. Jotting them down on screen or on paper can make them seem less significant than when they’re on autoplay in your head. Once they’re written down, stop thinking about them and move on with your day. Bonus: if you write them on paper, you can rip it into tiny pieces and make them disappear.
8. Repetition is key.
The human mind takes comfort in repetition. Any physical activity that involves repetitive actions – including hobbies like coloring, knitting, or mowing the lawn, vacuuming or even shredding paper—have a calming effect on the mind. And your house or yard will benefit!
9. Laugh it off.
Seriously – stop taking things so seriously. Stress can destroy your sense of humor, but laughter is great medicine. It improves immune function as it lowers stress levels. Try listening to a comedian on your drive home. Download an app that sends a joke or funny meme each day. Watch a funny movie. Recruit your friends or kids to text you funny jokes or thoughts. Let go and giggle!
10. Workout. No matter what.
Too busy to hit the gym? Don’t fall into that mental trap. Skipping workouts adds to your stress level. Studies indicate that a 20 to 30-minute walk each day can help significantly lower stress levels – by up to 25 percent. It’s also a best practice to stand up from your desk a few times each day and stretch – set your phone’s alarm to remind you to roll your shoulders, flex your wrists, stretch your fingers, touch your toes, bend your knees – move around and change things up.
11. Focus on the positive.
Your mind has the power to frame the events of your day in whatever light you choose. Instead of complaining and starting a downward spiral of negativity, make a conscious effort to focus on the positive. Resist the urge to vent, rant or rave. Create a positive atmosphere by naming at least one good thing that happened in your day, and ask your spouse, roommate or kids what the best part of their day was. Recognizing the good and giving voice to positive events elicits hope for more good times ahead.