The only person without stress in his or her life is resting in a pine box! While certain stressors can be minimized with conscious life choices, effective stress management is truly the path forward to better physical and mental health. I am not an expert in stress management, so what I share is through my own experiences. I lead a fairly high-paced life with career, travel, and family; however, the amount of stress and my ability to manage it has ranged anywhere from cakewalk to five-alarm fire. The following is a list of stress management techniques that have worked for me at different times in my life and in response to varying stressors.
Spend time outside
If you live close to something beautiful — a beach, park, mountains, gardens — go there. Leave the phone and the kids at home. Take something to sip, and just sit and be in nature. Fifteen minutes is great, but the more time you can spend, the better.
Have a dance break
Put on whatever song is making you smile right now; crank it up (watch your hearing if you are using ear buds!) and dance like crazy. This obviously doesn’t work well if you don’t have a private office. However, you could institute office-wide dance breaks so everyone is shaking a tail feather. Then coworkers will be laughing with you . . . instead of at you.
Honor your inner intro/extrovert
If you are an introvert like me, time alone recharges your batteries. Lock yourself in the bathroom and have a bath, go for a walk or run, or take a scenic drive. If you are an extrovert, call up a friend or go out with someone who brings you joy.
There are various meditative breathing techniques out there, but one that everyone can do, anywhere, without feeling silly is called square breathing.
Here is how you do it: Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe in for four counts, hold the breath in for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. Try and do a few rounds of this whenever stress takes hold; it is easy to do several times a day if need be.
For me, yoga has always been a go-to for managing stress in my life because it combines physical activity, me time, meditative movement, and breath all at once. I cannot recommend it enough and if you have been wary of trying yoga because it is too new age, expensive, or intimidating, I highly recommend seeking out yoga DVDs and online videos by Tara Stiles, who has a very inclusive, modern approach that is easy to connect with. You can do yoga in the comfort of your own home, so no intimidation!
There is nothing better than a heart-pumping workout to blast the cobwebs out of your brain. Everyone can find time to work out three times a week; it is just a matter of shifting priorities.
Indulge in a favorite hobby
You know that hobby you had when you were younger that you gave up? If you allowed yourself the time to indulge in a hobby, you would probably feel a lot less stressed than you do now. I love to cook and I love to read; doing either calms me down and makes me feel in control and happy.
Meditation doesn’t have to involve chanting or complicated techniques; meditation is simply bringing one’s attention to the present moment. Try Googling “simple mindfulness meditation practice” and see what pops up. The more you practice, the more it will bring you a sense of calm.
Want to get started right away? Set a timer for five minutes and sit comfortably for this basic meditation: close your eyes and simply focus on the sound and sensation of breathing. Focus all your attention on your breath, and when thoughts come, let them go. You don’t have to worry about not thinking—just don’t get attached to the thoughts that come.
Pay attention to your inhales and exhales; where does the breath go? Use your awareness to watch it. You are not trying to clear your mind; simply remove attachment to thoughts, allow them to wash over you, and focus on the breath. There! You just meditated for the first time. It might not have felt like much, but as you practice, you will be able to go deeper into the process.
Sleep is reparative; the more stressed out you are, the more you need to sleep. And a cozy bed will provide the comfort that you might have normally sought out in a bag of potato chips. Sleep is healthier.
Start saying no
I have the disease of yes, and many times, my current stress level and workload are a direct result of taking on too much. Then I start making mistakes, and that stresses me out even more. Start saying no; it’s good stress prevention.
Spend time with family and friends
No matter how busy you are, you need to carve out time in each day to have real quality time with your family or friends. The stronger those bonds are, the happier you will feel, and the more you will feel you can reach out when you need help. Use your commute to connect (hands free) with friends; institute a no-device rule during dinner for some family quality time.
More from: Un-Junk Your Diet
Reprinted with permission from Un-Junk Your Life (2014), by Desiree Nielsen and published by Skyhorse Publishing.