As Stress Awareness Month, April is a great time to explore new methods for alleviating worry and tension. Perhaps you think you’ve already tried all of the stress-relievers out there, to no avail.
Along with exercise and mediation, sometimes you need an out-of-the-box idea to ease your mind and relax your body. Try one of these creative stress-busters the next time your anxiety level starts to rise.
Talk to yourself.
Talking to yourself is a sure sign of mental distress, right? Well, that might be the case for some. But if you’re doing it on purpose, expressing your thoughts out loud can be a healthy approach to combating stress.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead, try positive, verbal self-talk. Repeat a mantra that makes sense for you and what you’re dealing with. Ideas:
- I’m in control.
- I’ve done hard things before, and I can do this now.
- I can take this one step at a time.
- I’ll do my best to fix this mistake.
Adjust your mantra to fit what’s going on. And make it a regular habit for maximum impact.
You can repeat positive affirmations in your head, but you’ll likely gain more confidence and more benefits from saying them aloud. Find a place where you’re comfortable talking to yourself out loud — and go for it.
Establish a daily rhythm.
Having too many decisions on your plate can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. By cutting down the number of minor daily choices you have to make, you can save your mental energy for more critical decisions. Establish a routine for things like:
- Getting dressed and ready. Use general themes to simplify dressing, like casual Fridays or meeting-with-the-boss-ready Mondays. Set your clothes out the night before so it’s one less thing to think about in the morning.
- Planning meals and shopping. Weekly meal nights also make sense with themes, such as Taco Tuesdays or Leftover Sundays. Plan meals around themes that make sense to you, and grocery shop accordingly. Take a day when you don’t have as much going on and prep meals for the week ahead.
- Cleaning and housework. You don’t need to scrub everything every day. Make a cleaning schedule that works for your household. Then, only do the tasks on the list for that day (unless something unexpected happens, of course). If you have older kids and/or a partner, delegate chores to keep things even simpler.
Setting up a routine reduces the number of crossroads you’ll come to each day. You won’t have to stress about what to wear, what to eat for breakfast or what to do next with your time because those things will be built into your routine.
There’s no need to waste mental energy on menial tasks. Pressing matters feel a lot easier to handle when you can approach them with a calm, clear brain.
Do something good for the world.
Want to steady your own mind? Do something nice for someone else.
Studies show that extending kindness to others is a more effective mood-booster than engaging in self-care activities. Options are endless here, but you might try:
- Cooking a meal for someone else, especially someone who’s sick or can’t leave home
- Calling up older relatives or friends you haven’t seen in a while for a nice catch-up chat
- Running errands for friends who can’t get out of the house
- Doing some yard work, like mowing or trimming hedges, for your older neighbors
- Gathering outgrown clothes, toys and other items for a donation center
Use your natural inclinations and skills to find ways to help other people. It might take time out of an already busy day, but it’ll help refocus your mind. A mood lift for you and the people you help? Win-win.
Soak instead of showering.
A leisurely soak in the tub is more than just a self-indulgence. Bathing can improve your mood and reduce your tension.
Soaking in warm water benefits your body. And improving your physical well-being can help your mind feel better too.
Research shows that bathing is more effective than showering at lowering levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It’s also better at mitigating feelings of anger or frustration.
You have to get clean anyway, so why not use that time to knock out stress? Diffusing lavender essential oils in the bathroom or using lavender-scented soap may further enhance the relaxing effects.
Let it all out — for 10 minutes.
As much as you might try to knock out your frustrations before they consume you, sometimes you just need to vent. And in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Allow yourself that time to scream, yell, cry or complain — whatever you need to do to let it all out. Punch a pillow if you need to. Just make sure you’re alone when you vent, particularly if you have kids. You might need to let off steam at work, but it’s not the right place for it. Wait until you get home to let loose.
And once the timer goes off, it’s time to move on.
Take a deep breath, collect yourself and push away negative self-talk. Your stress has had its turn. Refocus and let your collected self tackle the tasks ahead.
Use your hands.
Once negative thoughts start to take up space in your brain, it’s easy for them to spiral out of control. To stop the cycle, you need to redirect your energy.
Have you ever told yourself not to think about something? It usually has the opposite effect.
In fact, the more you actively try not to think about something, the harder it becomes to block it out. Need to brush away the cobwebs? Move more.
Repetitive motion is particularly effective. When your brain focuses on an action that your hands are doing over and over again, it breaks the cycle of stressful worry and replaces it with a feeling of calm. Need ideas? Try:
- Kneading bread dough
- Whittling wood
- Crocheting a blanket
- Coloring a geometric design
- Cross-stitching a sampler
- Hitting a punching bag
- Raking leaves
Engaging your body in physical activity can do a much better job of redirecting your thoughts. Plus, you can knock another thing off your full plate while alleviating stress. Two birds, one stone. Pick a mindless project and let your brain off the hook for a while.
Take a nap.
When you have an endless to-do list, it might seem that there’s no way to cram a nap into your schedule. But a nap might be the best thing you can do for yourself.
According to a study by NASA, pilots are 34% more productive and 54% more alert after a nap. You might not be flying an airplane anytime soon, but you could probably benefit from a quick siesta during the day. Resting for 15 to 20 minutes may put you in better shape to tackle your long list of tasks
This principle applies at bedtime as well. Sometimes, you have to walk away from a stressful project and sleep on it overnight. Come morning, you’ll be able to focus on it with fresh eyes and a clear head.
Sure, your tension level will probably start to creep up again at some point during the day. Now, though, you have seven new tools you can use to address that stress – including another nap.