This article was originally posted on SparkVision.
We all have those moments where we feel like we’re taking crazy pills, drowning in plain sight and out of control. These are moments where we’re experiencing the negative impact of stress.
By definition, “stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger–whether real or imagined–the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as fight or flight reaction or the stress response.”
Given that April is National Stress Awareness Month, it seemed like the perfect time to touch on this heavy topic.
And, before we get too far, I must put out a disclaimer…Stress has a valid role in our lives. It’s one of our most human expressions when we process strain. There are times where stress can be the emotional trigger we need to get to higher ground. However, the stress I’m referring to in this article is the counter-productive kind. The kind that creates unnecessary burden because of the false emergency alarm that’s going off in our brain.
The majority of stress that I’ve personally experienced has been an inaccurate and inappropriate interpretation of someone else’s demands which triggered me into my fight or flight state. I used to be Rocky when it comes to stress. Fighting with and for the most important things that HAD to be done ASAP. You know that kind?
It wasn’t until I started an active mindfulness-based practice, set intentional boundaries and ignited regular self-care, that I was able to reclaim what elicited stress in my life and what was just part of being alive and getting my work done.
So enough about what stress is and how sh!tty it feels. Let’s talk about the best ways to de-stress and ignite self care. Let’s get off the stress-filled emotional roller coaster and instead go for a peaceful walk on the beach (or in the park, in the city, etc.)
Every single one of these recommendations is something I’ve done personally, is at least semi-backed by research, and has worked for others I’ve known, also. I’ve even put it all together in a calendar so you can easily map out your official Month of Stress Reduction!
- Define + Live in your Values: Many people talk about their values, but they don’t take time to define them for themselves. So how can you live in alignment with your values if you don’t know what they are? Take a pen to paper and start writing out what you believe in and how you can live in those beliefs each day. Need a jump start? Check out my Values Policy article.
- Determine what is in and out of your control: We often stress about things we have no power over. Is it going to rain during our party? Will my boss be a jerk to me today? If we parse out what we have power over and what we don’t, we can lean into the things that we can control and let go of the things we cannot.
- Spend time in nature: Reconnect to the universe through nature. When you connect to the environment around you, it’s a solid reminder of how much bigger life is than your immediate issue.
- Remove yourself from a toxic environment: In the middle of a nasty conversation? Can’t stand the people you work with? Physically remove yourself from the toxic space that’s leaking its negativity onto your spirit. Not sure if you’re in a toxic workplace? Check out these 5 warning signs.
- Set Boundaries: People learn how to treat you by the boundaries you create. If you leave it up to others to decide, you’ll likely get the short end of the stick. Phrases like, “I have another commitment at that time,” or “What would you like me to take off my to-do list in order to accomplish this new task on time?”can be very helpful.
- Take yourself on a date: Haven’t gone to your favorite spot in a while? No need to wait for a date to make it happen! Take yourself where you’d like to go. Personally, I love going to the movies alone.
- Listen to music: The soothing power of music is no secret. It has a unique link to our emotions, so it can be an extremely effective stress management tool. Listening to music that brings us a sense of calmness can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies.
- Get a manicure or pedicure: The circulation created when a technician is massaging your hands/legs/feet actually releases pent-up stress that your body is physically holding on to.
- Take a nap: Sleep can be one of the first things to go when we’re stressed out. Racing thoughts keep us up and we need to catch our Zzz’s in elsewhere. If you’re not getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep at night, a nap can be a great way to recharge until you’re back in a healthy routine.
- Get a massage: Massage can help relax tight and painful muscles, improve range of motion in the joints, enhance circulation and lower stress levels. It may feel like a luxury experience, but it’s worth every penny if it can physically release some of your tension.
- Listen to a podcast: Let’s make sure it’s an episode on a topic that you love and also brings you joy when you learn more about it.
- Repeat a mantra: Try one of these mantra’s to play on repeat when you need the healthy reminder: “All situations are temporary.” “There is no wrong decision.” “I’ve survived all the difficult moments in my past.” “I am on the right path.”
- Meditate: If practiced for as few as 10 minutes each day, meditation can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation. Need a guide? Check out the Headspace app.
- Move your body: Physical activity produces endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers–and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
- Drink tea: Green tea contains an amino acid that produces a calming effect, and the act of drinking tea can be a relaxing ritual. Pick out some that make your taste buds dance and brew yourself a little relaxing treat each day.
- Give someone a hug: Physical acts of touch increase oxytocin levels. This chemical reaction can help to reduce blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Cook a favorite dish: Cooking can help relieve stress, enhance creativity, and build connection with others. Make sure you set aside blocks of time that are only for cooking. This will make cooking more enjoyable and allow you to focus your energy on the task at hand.
- Take a long shower or bath: The heat of the bath mixed with Epsom salt increases the temperature of the aching muscles, helping them to relax, and blocks pain sensors which provide pain relief. Don’t have a tub? Take a shower with Epsom Salt scrubs!
- Read a book: The written word can literally take us to other worlds in our mind. A book can feel like a vacation if it’s the right fit for you.
- Dance to music that makes you happy: When the body feels good, the mind does, too. Any type of physical activity releases neurotransmitters and endorphins, which serve to alleviate stress.
- Take a walk: You can use this as a way to remove yourself from a toxic environment, connect with nature AND talk to a friend!
- Sit outside: Getting outside (especially if you’re in an office all day) can be an instant state change. Particularly when the sun is shining and you can soak in the Vitamin D.
- Do something creative: Scientists discovered that no matter the artistic experience, about 75 percent of people experience a decrease in their levels of cortisol, a hormone that the body secretes to respond to stress. Go express yourself!
- Watch a movie you enjoy: This can be one of the best nostalgic experiences. I always watch Alice in Wonderland when I need a pick me up.
- Practice yoga: Yoga is proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate. Namaste, anyone?
- Indulge in a favorite treat: Go treat yo’self to something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy when you take it in.
- Spend time with pets: Studies show that interactions with animals can decrease stress in humans. Playing with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Practice gratitude: Studies have shown that practicing gratitude on a daily basis can make you happier, lower stress, protect you from depression, help you sleep better, boost your immune system and improve your relationships.
- Journal: It’s simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. Keeping a journal can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health.
- Talk to a friend: Don’t go at it alone. Often the simple act of making people aware of your stress can ignite empathy and support from others. We’ve all been there–and we can lean on each other to come back to a less stressful place.
What if this month, you TRIED a handful of these and reflected back on whether or not they made a difference for you? Then you can create your own toolkit of what works for YOU! I’d love to hear what your list looks like–so let me know in the comments below.
P.S. I wrote this article WHILE getting a pedicure. I love practicing what I preach and I hope you will, too!
MaryBeth Hyland, founder of SparkVision, believes that when you connect people through purpose, there’s no limit to what they can do. Her organization helps multi-generational teams who need an unbiased partner to identify the gap between their current and ideal culture. By analyzing a company’s values and behaviors, she ultimately empower your people to own their role in crafting culture every day. SparkVision creates environments where people thrive.
Grounded in her BA in Social Work and MS in Nonprofit Management, this millennial leader is sought after for her ability to create movements that resonate. MaryBeth has been honored in Maryland as ‘Innovator of the Year,’ ‘Women on the Move,’ ‘Top 100 Women,’ ‘Top 100 Millennial Blog, ’Civic Engagement Leader’ and ‘Leading Women.’