Can you imagine what would happen if you were facing a threat and you didn’t feel stressed about it? You wouldn’t try to avoid or manage it, which could prove disastrous for you.
Stress is necessary and in the right forms and proportions it actually promotes growth, motivation, action and thriving.
Too much stress however, is harmful.
Stress, although necessary, needs to be properly managed in order to be beneficial. Worrying about an issue is important in order to motivate you to act, but constant worry and chronic stress (negative stress as we now know it) can have a deletirious impact on our bodies, our immune, reproductive, digestive and cardiovascular systems to mention but a few.
There are countless articles and books about stress management, and yet people continue to struggle with; the majority of my psychological practice centers on proper stress management. Today I am going to share 10 things you can use to immediately reduce stress. 9/10 are free, don’t require any special skill, tool or skill set so take the challenge and do one of these things every day for the next two weeks. I guarantee you will be less stressed
1. Check in with yourself – I outline this in my last blog post and I maintain that if everyone could build this simple habit of checking in with themselves 3-5 times a day I might have a lot less business at Life in Focus Therapy. In my opinion this is the single most important point of this list.
2. Outsource a task – We already outsource so many things; personally I outsource my dry cleaning, some of my home cleaning, my car washing and maintenance, my food growing and butchering, I outsource the tedious parts of my gardening, my plumbing and so on.
Actually, women could not have integrated the workforce the way they have, had they not started outsourcing so many of their domestic tasks. What outsourcing does is provide you with time, and time is the only commodity you cannot get more of.
When life gets stressful consider the things you have to do and whether you may be better off outsourcing something either one time (after all grabbing dinner to go one night is not that big of a deal, the 2 hours of prep and cook time for that healthy balanced meal may be just what you needed to unwind) or permanently (would having someone come every other week to help you deep clean be so horrible?).
3. Go off grid – I will not beat this one to death. You brain needs to disconnect. Being online or plugged in means being constantly stimulated, potentially reminded of work, available to others in seconds all the time, and in the evenings all the blue light emission just screw with your circadian rhythm.
Technology is here to make our lives easier, to provide us with more time and flexibility. I find that with most people I meet, it has actually added another level of stress. Often they are expected by their bosses/clients to be available 24/7 or by their friends, or their online leisure activities (Facebook, candy crush, twitter, Instagram…) have been designed to create a compulsive need to check-in and be updated, in effect they are designed to make you a slave to technology.
Unplugging, creating specific screen free time in your week has been associated with reduced stress. Try it if you don’t believe me… oh, and notice the withdrawals.
4. Sleep more – I know I have discussed this a bunch of times, so if you want to know why this is important and how to do it go here.
Interested in giving it a try? Set a bedtime for yourself that is at least 30 minutes earlier than usual for the next two weeks and notice how just a half hour to an hour more of sleep can improve your mood, functioning, intellectual acuity and stress.
5. Make out – If you can’t or don’t want to make out, then at least get physical with someone. hug, touch, kiss. I don’t care if you are doing this with your child, your partner, a good friend or your pet. Intimate (not necessarily sexual) physical contact (20 seconds or more) with someone you care about or love leads to the secretion of oxytocin a beautiful and amazing bonding hormone and a decrease in cortisol levels so go for it! This guy gets it!
6. Laugh – While you are out there being social and somewhere in the midst of hugging and connecting with this other person try laughing. Laughing helps oxygenate your organs, it helps circulate air in muscles and reduce physical tension and it helps suppress our sympathetic stress response.
If the videos online don’t do it for you, or you need some extra help, these guys here in San Diego meet for free laughter groups, and I bet you there in one wherever you hail from too.
I remember as a kid laughing to the point of tears, it used to be a near daily occurrence during my school years. Sometimes I was laughing with others, other times I laughed at stuff I pictured in my head (the kind of thing you try to explain afterwards as you dry your tears, and no one else finds funny). Those fits of laughter left me feeling physically spent, but emotionally so free.
7. Walk barefoot – There is a growing body of research that is showing the importance of grounding or earthing. It is associated with improved stress response, health and sleep. I have listed some sites that speak of it in more depth, but again, I recommend trying this.
Unless you live in a completely urban space go find a bit of grass, dirt or sand and walk around 5-10 minutes and notice how simply connecting with your physical world makes you feel better.
8. Breathe or sing – Breathe deeply, breathe with purpose, breathe through your nose, breathe to let tension leave your body with every exhalation. As I mentioned I will be posting a video on various ways of doing this.
If you don’t know how and want quick access to the benefits of breathing then choose a song you know the words to and sing out loud, hold the notes as long as you can and focus on your singing. If the song is one that makes you feel good, feel happy, then that is just another reason to sing.
9. Play –
Be silly, play board games, go follow a kid (preferably one you know so you don’t freak out the child and their parents) in the playground. Play tag, hide and seek, twister, wrestle, go do parkour if you are agile enough, jump a rope, play with play-dough, action figures or dolls. Do something you find enjoyable and fun.
Why? The number one reason would be because when we are stressed we tend to retreat, to forget to have fun. We seek relief in ways that may be labeled as fun, but they have more to do with self medicating (alcohol, getting high, zoning out in front of TV of a video game).
Taking the time to engage, and I mean fully engage, in a fun activity is a way of recalibrating the mind, reminding it of the good things that are present. It also is likely to induce laughter and keep you off grid for a bit, so the benefits are doubled.
Note that you will not feel like playing when you are stressed. You will not feel funny, silly or energized. The key is to engage in play DESPITE the way you feel and notice how you end up less stressed and more engaged.
10. Practice the Art of Doing Nothing – Daydreaming is a bit like unplugging for the mind. You can look at it as the simplest form of meditation. Daydreaming is the simplest form of guided imagery. Allowing your brain to let go, and follow a train of thought, but not a specific idea nor problem solving, just simple easy mindless daydreaming. Maybe that is why those ASMR laundry folding videos are so popular on YouTube.
According to Forbes, this is what successful people do to manage stress. Many of the techniques outlined are really good, but a lot of the cognitive ones (like think positively) really require some specific focus and understanding of how in order to be effective.