When stress levels rise, do you manage stress in a healthy way or are you more like me. You hunker down and push through with the assistance of copious amounts of chips and chocolate.
My body can tell me when I’m feeling stressed and too busy to notice. Muscles tighten and my shoulders end up hunched up by my ears. I can get intense headaches, go quiet, and usually work even longer hours. These responses only heighten stress levels, not reduce it.
I’ve been working on changing my response to stress in a more positive, healthy way. It’s not always easy to remember in the moment, it’s a habit that needs to be cultivated. Here are a few simple ways I’ve been looking at to help manage my stress levels.
Manage Stress Through Creativity
Creativity can be expressed in many different ways. For me it is writing, photography, coloring, and designing. For you it might be something like cooking, baking, gardening, decorating your home, painting, sculpting, or music.
Expressing your creative side can be an escape from the everyday hustle and bustle. It can help you be engaged with what is right in front of you. It can help you be present and in the moment. It can help you let the outside world start to fade away.
It’s also a way to exercise a different part of your brain. In seasons of high stress we tend to be emotionally reactive, or hyper attentive to the what if’s and should do’s. We can turn off these types of reactions and learn to channel some of that energy to our creative side. This is a powerful way to feel more rested and at ease instead of stressed out or anxious.
Patients suffering from cancer and chronic illnesses find a welcome respite from their problems by engaging in creative work. Patients found that “art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness,” reduced “stress and anxiety” and saw “increases in positive emotions.” -Source
Your Assignment: Make a list of 3 ways that help you express your creative side. Pick one that you can easily spend 30-60 minutes diving into the next time your stress levels spike.
Manage Stress Through Rest
Resting doesn’t always mean taking a nap, sitting and reading a book, or sleeping in late. Rest can mean doing something you enjoy, that is different from the every day.
I find writing to be quite restful actually. My morning walks (and sometimes runs) with Bailey are a restful way to start my day. Hauling wood, shoveling trailer load after trailer load of dirt 🙂 can be forms of rest. Physical labor is restful for my brain. Instead of being absorbed in the problem, physical labor helps me be in the moment and be focused on the project in front of me.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” -Source
Rest can also mean no activity. There are days I plop down into my favorite rocking chair with my laptop and a stack of paperwork to catch up on. The project usually isn’t too taxing and it keeps me still for long periods of time. Physical rest can also also mean getting more sleep at night or adding power naps to your daily schedule.
Rest is a hard one. We are wired to keep moving, we think we are not productive enough or not contributing enough if we are not always on the go.
Learning to keep the essentials in mind can help reduce stress and change our lives, so that regular rest becomes the norm and routine, not the exception to your schedule.
Assignment: When we are stressed out and feel like we have no time to rest, that is the time we need to rest the most! Start a habit now of taking 5-10 minutes to just sit and be for a few minutes so that when stress levels rise, you have a built-in habit. Plus, don’t forget to go for a walk, a run, or go work in the yard when the stress levels spike!
Manage Stress Through Breathing Deep
There are plenty of ways to relieve stress — exercise, a long soak in a hot bath, or even a massage. But believe it or not, something you’re doing right now, probably without even thinking about it, is a proven stress reliever: breathing. -Source
The level of stress many of us live at day in and day out has changed how we breathe. We tend to breathe only from the top of our lungs instead of deep belly breaths that completely fill the lungs.
During times of moderate stress we tend to shallow breathing or even unintentionally holding our breath; this worsens when we experience intensely stressful situations that send our body into “fight or flight” mode. -Source
Have you ever noticed that after a hard workout or hard physical labor, that often times you feel more relaxed? That is because we have to breathe deeper, expanding the lungs, bringing in cleansing breaths that our bodies so desperately need and crave.
Breathing exercises give your body the oxygen it needs helps to relax and refresh you. Breathing can help you get to sleep and can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
Assignment: During your 5-10 minutes of rest, pay attention to your breathing. Are you breathing shallowly from the top of your lungs or are you breathing deep? If not start a breathing exercise practice that helps calm you and refresh you. The link above might be a great place for you to start!
Managing Stress Through Developing New Habits
Finding ways to manage stress should not be hard or complicated. Simple, wins the day. Simple means we will do it. Simple means it is easier to do it again and again.
When we take the time to cultivate new healthy habits, we are taking steps to combat and manage stress. New habits like expressing our creative side, finding ways to rest, and learning to breathe deep can go a long way to help reduce stress and anxiety in our lives.