One of the top New Year’s resolutions, and the one we’re going to focus on today, is to manage stress better. I think 2016 showed clearly we all need more of that. Hopefully you’re nightly journaling (that I trust you’re all still doing) is helping with some of that. Either way we’re going to discuss some ways to further take the edge off.
- Avoid or limit alcohol. In smaller quantities alcohol is a stimulant, in larger quantities alcohol is a depressant. Neither of these things is doing you any favors when it comes to stress. A certain amount of certain alcohols does have it’s health benefits, so we aren’t saying give it up if you don’t a dependency on it (if you do, then yes, give it up. No one should be dependent on a substance and you will thank yourself for getting help getting sober) but don’t make alcohol your go to move when you’re stressed out.
- Avoid or limit caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and increases your level of stress. If you’re a coffee hound, we’re not saying you have to eliminate all caffeine (though that would really be best for you) but we do want you to limit yourself to no more than 2 cups a day. Normal cups, not thermoses with handles on them. If you really like the comfort of warm beverages look at switching over to herbal teas, hot cider, or even decaf. I personally occasionally heat up a mug of milk and add a little imitation rum extract and a little vanilla extract and it’s quite cozy. Energy drink drinkers and soda pounders, we’re looking at you too. Energy drinks are too much, cut them out of your life. The only time they might be acceptable is on a long road trips, and they should be few and far between. Soda we’d like to see you join us in our year of taking soda out of the daily habit, but if you’re going to do it go for the caffeine free options… most clear sodas fit in this category. Sprite, 7-up, ginger ale, squirt. Mountain Dew does NOT. Root Beer might, depending on the brand. Barq’s has caffeine, that’s why it has “bite.”
- Avoid or limit nicotine. There are so many reasons to quit smoking. We know you’ve heard them all before, and we’re not going to use this entry to preach at you about it. However, nicotine is a stimulant, and while it gives you that quick little buzz and can be a relaxing habit through familiarity, it IS raising your body’s sense of stress. Start looking at ways to quit that will be right for you. At the very very least start cutting back on how much you smoke.
- Avoid or limit refined sugars. Did you know vegans can’t eat refined sugar? I’ll let you ponder that one. But there’s a reason vegans are doing so much cooking and taking food with them wherever they go. Manufactured food almost always has refined sugar in it (even if it isn’t a sweet food.) When it comes to stress the biggest reason you want to avoid refined sugars is that in too high a consumption rate they will cause energy crashes and leave you feeling fatigued and irritable.
- Celebrate your achievements. So, you screwed up and indulged in a third cup of coffee. Is it less than your usual 5? You won that battle on the way to winning the war. Don’t berate yourself for not being perfect, none of us are no matter how much some of us look it 😉 You didn’t enjoy your work day, but you did everything you had to do to get through it and now it’s over. Awesome job making it through the tough days! Reward yourself with a little walk or hike to burn off some steam and tune in to nature. Your kids screamed at each other all day and made a horrible mess and didn’t like dinner. But they got all their homework done. You get a gold star on that chore chart too.
- Do yoga. I believe I sang all the praises of yoga yesterday. They still stand today. Yoga is a HUGE stress reliever.
- Eat well. Don’t skip meals, don’t eat food that came out of a window. Keep yourself stocked with healthy snacks you can grab for convenience, and take the time to get your three balanced meals a day. You can’t run the world until you can run your life, and you need the energy found in healthy food to make that happen. Learn to love veggies, and learn the value of fresh foods.
- Exercise. When you get that fight or flight instinct triggered your body is dealing with high levels of adrenaline and cortisol… stress hormones. If you’re in a situation where you genuinely need immediate protection from bodily harm then that system is doing everything it’s designed to do, but the modern world has a lot of stress that has nothing to do with physical danger that still triggers the same reaction. It needs an outlet. When you feel too stressed or tense, go take a walk. Around the block if you’re at home, around the building if you’re at work. Don’t think people will judge you, I’ve worked in a lot of high stress environments and it was routine practice for people to either walk around the building on breaks or lunches or if things got particularly bad indoors sometimes a manager would just send you out to walk it off. It’s normal behavior, and if anything people will admire your dedication to health. Make sure you’re doing exercise and physical activity daily, even when you don’t know or think that you’re stressed.
- Get a massage. Maybe you can afford a professional one, maybe you have a partner you can exchange massages with, maybe you’re going to respond best to your own touch and can learn the art of self-massage. Touch is important, and massage is an excellent way to reduce stress. Work it into your regular routine. Always drink a glass of water when you’re done.
- Get better sleep. When we’re tired, our stress level is up. Conversely, when our stress level is high, it’s hard to fall asleep. Have a nightly routine that helps you to relax. Commit to a routine bedtime. Kids aren’t the only ones who need enough sleep, and if your body has a routine to go with then it will work with you to make it happen. Before bed give yourself enough time to take a hot bath or shower, do your journaling, and read a few pages or a chapter of a book. Your body and mind will both appreciate the unwinding and the tradition to know what to prepare for. Don’t do other things in bed besides sleep and your nightly routine. Don’t watch TV in bed without the intent of sleep. Don’t work in bed, ever. Don’t eat in bed. If you can’t sleep, get up and stretch and have a glass of water rather than stay there tossing and turning. It’s healthier to avoid having to go on medication to aid your sleep, but if all else fails, try melatonin. It’s healthy and it’s a substance that naturally occurs in your body. If you’re doing all of your part right then the melatonin will do the rest. Don’t forget those subliminal audio tracks either, you can listen to those in bed, and they’ll help get you in a relaxed state of mind.
- Give back. I know when you’re stressed about time the last thing you want to do is add in one more thing that has to be done. But people that volunteer are happier people. They have something they’re doing because they want to do it, not because they have to do it, and it feels good to help others. When you’re volunteering regularly you’re creating a support network that’s there for you on those truly awful days too. It may also help to give a little bit of perspective when you see people whose problems are truly worse than yours. I don’t respond well to “this other hypothetical person has things worse” or “if this other thing happened it would be worse”, but when I see an active reminder to count my blessings I do feel like I have a whole lot to be thankful for and the bad things don’t feel so big anymore.
- Go to therapy. There are no rules about what you need to be suffering from to go get some professional help. Maybe all you really need is someone to talk to that isn’t part of your personal life. Therapists are there to help you. Let them do it. You don’t even have to physical go if you don’t want to. There are a lot of online therapy resources these days where you can chat from the anonymity of your computer screen.
- Laugh. Whoever said laughter is the best medicine knew what they were talking about. Don’t ever feel guilty about laughing, you’re not obligated to feel sad and miserable, no matter what’s going on. Anyone else remember that episode of Mary Tyler Moore where she just couldn’t stop laughing at Chuckles the clown’s funeral?
Did anyone think it made Mary a bad person? We need laughter, it helps us cope, and floods us with hormones that will help us feel better. Find something you know gets a guaranteed laugh from you and save it away for those days that you especially need a good strong laugh. I, personally, cannot help laughing at Garfield Minus Garfield. It’s entirely ridiculous, but it gives me fits of the giggles. I save it for when I’m feeling really bleak so that I never get tired of it and never stop giggling at it.
- Learn abdominal breathing. You know how whenever you’re stressed out or upset there’s always that obnoxious person telling you to take a deep breath? That obnoxious person is right. Focus on your breath. Visualize it in colors if you need to. You should be breathing with your diaphragm, so your chest and shoulders shouldn’t be falling and rising, your abdomen should. Visualize an inhale through the nose of golden air full of healing energy and light. Exhale slowly, taking longer than your inhale, and visualizing it as whatever color is representing your stress of the moment whether it’s black or red or whatever color matches the emotion you’re feeling. If you’re feeling jealous, maybe it’s even green. Let that exhale push out all of the negativity. If someone says or does something that gives you a negative reaction, give yourself the moment it takes for a deep inhale and exhale before responding.
- Learn better problem solving strategies. Stressful situations are less stressful if you know you’re equipped to handle any situation that comes along. If you had to act on your problem situation immediately without time to analyze it then, still remember it for when you do have time and then write it out. What was the problem and how did you respond? How else could you have responded? Was the path you chose the best one or did you find a better solution you can implement next time? Start doing puzzles and mind games. Get those problem solving skills and logical techniques back in the habit of being used.
- Learn how to say “no”, without feeling guilty about it. We don’t like to say no, we all want to make people happy, and by extension make them like us. We also just don’t want to miss opportunities or feel like we’re creating a conflict. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough time in the day to say yes to everything, and there are absolutely people who will take advantage of you and abuse the privilege if you never say no. If you don’t have the time, resources, or energy to do whatever’s being requested, be honest about that. Honest with yourself. You don’t owe anyone else any explanations for your no. Maybe you just don’t feel like it. That’s okay too. Be confident enough to say an assertive and definitive no. If you feel better using a gentler phrase, then that’s okay, you can add in all the “I’m sorry, but…”, or “I’d like to, but…” that you need to. The important thing is to get the message across clearly. No means no.
- Let yourself be sick. Don’t feel like the world is going to fall apart without you if you take a sick day. It’s better to let yourself go to the doctor and rest and recover at the beginning of a sickness than it is after you’ve gotten much sicker and infected half the people you’ve encountered so it takes longer to recover and puts people in a bigger crunch without you because they’re without a lot of other people now too.
- Listen to music. What relaxes you may vary from other people. My biggest relaxation music is Celtic. Yours might be classical, or it might be death metal, or anything in between. This is part of why we share a song every day. Taking some time out to listen to some music and just focus on it and what it’s saying can really give your mind a nice break and relieve tension all over. Most people I know hate to admit they listen to pop music, but it got the name “popular” for a reason. Studies have shown our brain lights up all the happy zones if we’re listening to pop music while getting a brain scan. Our brain really likes being able to predict the pattern of what the music is going to do next. It’s okay to like pop music, scientifically you’re supposed to.
- Log your sources of stress for a month or two. Write down all of your stressful events. What were you doing, who were you with, what time of day was it, what did you feel like, if you’re female where were you in your menstrual cycle? Rate how stressful each situation was from 1-5, 1 being a little stress and 5 being so much stress you didn’t think you could handle it. Did you do anything that helped with your stress when it happened? If not what could you have done? As you’re logging start looking for patterns. Are you getting more stressed when you’re hungry? When you’re coming down from that daily caffeine or sugar fix? Are you always getting stressed out around the same person and might need some distance? Are you using coping methods when things are happening or not thinking of them until you’re logging? Start training yourself to be in-tune with those stressful feelings and automatically knowing that if you feel stress you can and should do something to address it.
- Manage Your Time. Sometimes your to do list is quite simply too large and that can cause a lot of stress. Acknowledge that not everything might be accomplished and prioritize what NEEDS to be done and the level of importance of every item on your plate, then get to work on it. You might not get everything done that you want to. But the important things will be done and you’ll feel better about it.
- Meditate. How and where and when you do this are up to you. There are those guided meditations we share daily and they can be done anywhere but in the car. For me, if I meditate I put myself to sleep, so it’s an at home activity. The meditation I personally find most effective is to envision myself and everyone that I love and care about most in a beautiful place that I’ve created in my brain and doesn’t exist in this reality. We’re all touching in some way to be able to share energy with each other. And what happens next varies with my needs. Sometimes it starts to sprinkle, and then starts to pour, and we let the rain wash over us and cleanse away all of our problems and negativities with it. Sometimes it starts to snow, and we lie on the ground enjoying the warmth of the earth against the juxtaposition of the snowflakes that eventually build up to having covered us entirely in a drift of snow. Sometimes we get covered in falling leaves or petals or the wind whips around us and takes everything awful away with it. Sometimes there’s a light (the color also varies depending on my needs) that starts at one end of my body, pushing all of the negative energy and toxins and unhealthiness ahead of it and goes through each and every single individual body part until it has eventually pushed all of that toxicity out through the ends of my hair or the tips of my toe nails. You don’t have to include other people in your visualization like I do, maybe you need to visualize some alone time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not selfish to spend a little time everyday on just yourself.
- Relax. Easier said than done, right? But not unachievable. There are lots of techniques to help reduce stress and encourage relaxation. Is there a word or phrase that has a special positive meaning for you? “Blessed,” “Calm,” “Faith,” “Hope,” “Love,” “Joy,””Peace,” “Serenity,” “Strength.” Whatever word means something positive to you, repeat it in your mind. Visualize the word appearing, and then being decorated by all of the things you feel represent it. Flowers, or doves, or water, or rainbows, or religious symbols and figures, or pets, or family. Whatever makes that word meaningful to you. Keep it in your mind and keep repeating it and adding to it until you feel more relaxed. What smells remind you of that word? What tastes and feeling and sounds? Add them all in to your mental dreamscape that you’re focusing in on, and keep repeating that word.
- Stay hydrated. A hydrated body is a healthier body and is better able to deal with whatever else comes at it. Drink the correct amount of water for a person your size. If you get sick of water you can alternate with herbal teas, and a small amount of fruit juice (which does have health benefits, but is high in sugar. You’d be better off eating the fruit the juice was made from. Fruits generally contain a lot of water and will help in the hydration process.
- Talk it out. Talk to someone about how you feel to release some of the tension. Or talk to someone about something entirely unrelated for distraction. Make it a point and an effort to have a good laugh somewhere in that conversation. Both for you and for the other person. If your talking buddy starts to think of you as always complaining they’ll stop wanting to listen, but adding in a good laugh to the conversation makes it less negative for both parties. Stress needs an outlet or the pressure just continues to build until it’s explosive, so if talking is the right outlet for you, do it regularly, before it gets to that stage.
That’s your big goal for today. Find one thing you’re willing to try to help cope with stress, and put it into action. Other than that, your little list of daily tasks are:
Dress extra nice today. That may mean different things to different people. Maybe you’re used to wearing your pajamas all day everyday. Get out of them and into some clothes you could wear out in a casual environment. Maybe it means trading jeans for slacks. Maybe it only means ironing your clothes today instead of just throwing them on. Maybe it means picking out the top of the line designer outfit from your closet. Maybe it means buying an entirely new ensemble. Maybe it just means doing a load of laundry. Maybe it’s polishing your shoes. Whatever it is that makes it a step up from your normal daily attire, put in that little extra effort today.
Clean a Bathroom. If you have a half bathroom, then today that’s the one to focus your energy on. If you don’t pick another bathroom that needs the attention. As always, start up at the top of the room and work your way down. Dust those light fixtures, windex that mirror, organize any medicine cabinets, scrub down the sink and the vanity. Wipe any finger prints or dirt off the light switchplate. Organize any cabinets. Dust any shelves or knick knacks or wall art. Organize those shelves too. Toss out burned out candles or dusty past it’s prime potpourri or spent air fresheners. Scrub the toilet, both inside and out. Sweep and mop or swiffer the floor. Half baths can be tricky so be sure to get all those little nooks and crannies. Toss out or recycle any empty soap containers or toilet paper rolls. Wash and replace any linens. And that’s it! You’re done with the cleaning!
Do some cardio. If you’ve got access to one, hop on a stationary or recumbent bike, or even take a ride on your regular bicycle. If you have none of the above then go for a jog or even jog in place in your living room. Whatever you need to do to get up and get some blood pumping.
Give your face a blackhead treatment. Or more than your face if you’re up for it. Blackheads are those clogged pores that are a kind of mild but unattractive form of acne. Most people (of both genders) get them on their face, particularly on and around the nose, but you can get them on virtually any part of the body. They can do a number on your confidence. For today we’re going with one easy idea provided by naturallivingideas.com.
They tell us that Baking Soda is a great warrior in the fight against blackheads, and that with regular use of this treatment you can kiss them goodbye for good. They also tell us it’s an excellent exfoliant for getting rid of dead skin cells, which leaves your skin soft and smooth, and people buy all manner of expensive products to accomplish.
Their instructions for using baking soda to treat blackheads is:
“In a glass or ceramic bowl, mix about a tablespoon of baking soda with just a small amount of water to form a paste.
Apply the paste to blackheads and allow it to dry for about 10 minutes.
Rinse with lukewarm water.
Repeat the remedy once or twice a week to remove debris from pores that can cause them to clog, resulting in blackheads.”
Pretty simple. Exactly two ingredients, both of which you very likely already have, and if not you can purchase baking soda from any nearby store.
And you’re done! Whatever you do with the rest of the day is up to you. I will see you all later on Facebook for the Question of the Day!
A word about music: We include songs for a reason. Music helps us deal with the world, helps to soothe the soul, and gives us something else we can focus on when everything is too much. Listen to the songs we post. Even if you already know them. Listen to them like you don’t. Pay attention to the lyrics. Pay attention to what the instruments are telling you. They all have a message, they all have a purpose, they’re all chosen for a reason. If you like the song, please support the artist by purchasing the MP3 or Album that features it.
Today’s music can be found on Amazon.com:
MP3: 19th Nervous Breakdown
Album: Hot Rocks 1964-1971