Life can be stressful for everybody, and at times that stress can get a little out of control. Stress can make it hard to focus, make us feel anxious and nervous all the time, make it hard to sleep at night, and even give us headaches, body aches and stomach aches. Stress seems to cause more things to feel stressed about.
A lot of stress can come from the pressures we put on ourselves, like being perfectionists (and if you just told yourself that you’re not a perfectionist because nothing you ever do is perfect.. then you might just be a perfectionist!), or like setting unrealistic goals for ourselves. But there’s also a lot of external stress and pressure, like exams, and tests, and try-outs, and tournaments, and conflicts with friends, and disagreements with family, (etc, etc, etc) that can make you feel you’re being pushed and pulled in a thousand directions. There are many ways that we try to reduce stress. Some are healthy, but many are not.
There are lots of things we are “supposed” to do to relief stress, like exercise, eat right, get a good night’s sleep, and so on. It all seems like common sense. So why is it the more stressed-out we get, the less likely we are to do the things we need to do to combat it? The answer I hear the most is “I have no time”.
It’s true. We are busy, busy, busy. The busier we are the more stressed-out we feel, the more we need to be taking care of ourselves, and the less time we have to do it. We run out of time, we run out of energy, we put ourselves last, and the stress builds up. We feel like no one understands, we feel like no one gets us, we feel like crap.
If trying to incorporate self-care into your crazy-busy schedule seems to add more stress instead of reducing it, then it’s time to get creative. Here are eight ways to reduce stress in no time flat:
1. Step away.
No matter what you’re working on, when you notice that you’re starting to feel frustrated it’s time to take a break. You’re not going to be able to think clearly if your mind is racing and you’re gritting your teeth. The break doesn’t need to be for hours (don’t worry you will still get it done) try just a few moments. Step away from whatever it is. Notice that you’re feeling keyed up. Once that feeling calms down, go back to whatever it is. If those feelings start back up again, take another break…. And repeat (as necessary).
2. Stretch it out.
I encourage clients to try starting their day with some simple stretching. Not a full routine, just a few brief stretches to get the blood flowing and make that mind-body connection. Throughout the day stretching is helpful as well. My personal favourite is a simple arms straight up, back straight, up on my tip-toes and stretch my body as long as I possibly can make it. Take #1 suggestion and throw in a couple stretches: you’ll notice that fired up, stressed out, feeling will start to dissolve much quicker.
3. Check your body and breathe deep.
Take a brief moment to check-in with your body, if you’re feeling stressed out you’re probably physically tensed up; your shoulders are most likely hunched, your breathing is probably short and shallow, your muscles are tight. Just as our mind sends messages to our body, our body sends messages to our mind. By purposefully relaxing the muscles, dropping the shoulders down, and taking nice, deep, slow breaths, the message gets sent upstairs to chill out.
This one goes a long with #3. Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, decreases blood pressure, relieves stress, triggers positive thoughts, and can change our mood. So smile, even if you don’t feel like it.
5. Switch up the music.
The power of music is hard to deny. During times of stress I encourage people to change the music they listen to. If classical music isn’t your thing, try some ‘chill out’ music, or something soothing preferably with no lyrics. Lyrics tend to trigger memories of events, people, and relationships which can increase stress levels. Turn off the rage-inducing, energizing, pounding tunes, or the song that reminds you of the ex who broke your heart, and instead listen to something calming, peaceful and relaxing.
6. Mindful moments.
The key to this one when time is of the essence is to bring mindfulness into stuff you’re already doing. There are so many things that we already do every day that are relaxing and feel good, but our minds are so busy focusing on stressful things we don’t notice them. So choose to notice. The example I often give is taking a shower, and letting your mind be there in that shower too (instead of thinking about school, or the up coming tournament, or replaying that last argument with your friend/boyfriend/girlfriend, etcetera). Take a moment to just notice how good the hot water feels, how nice the soap or shampoo smells, and the sound of the water. You’d be amazed how many things you can do this with throughout the day (like even washing the dishes, eating something tasty, even washing your face). The key is to give your mind a break and bring it to the here and now present moment to allow yourself to fully enjoy what you are doing.
7. Talk nice.
Decide to be your own personal coach, instead of a slave-driver. Remind yourself things like “I’m okay”, “This will be fine in the end”, “I’m going to get through this”, “It won’t be like this forever”. Also try to switch the “I must” and “I have to” and “I should” to “I want to” and “I choose to”. We are much more likely to respond to supportive comments of encouragement than to ‘kick your butt’ demands, even from ourselves.
8. Professionally decompress.
Consider connecting with a therapist to talk. I’ve heard many say they don’t want to “bother” their friends and family, and therefore don’t talk about what’s going on. Instead they try to keep it all bottled up and deal with it alone; which simply does not work. And lets be honest, sometimes there’s stuff going on that you may not feel comfortable telling your friends and family, or that quite simply are bigger than what your friends can realistically help with. And even one hour every few weeks of uninterrupted, confidential, and supportive ‘you-time’, with a professional you feel comfortable with, can make the world of difference. Be kind to yourself, even when you don’t have time and especially when you don’t feel like it. You’re worth it, and you deserve it.
By Joy Sereda, MA, RCC, RSW Joy Sereda is the Clinical Director of the Summit Counselling Group in Vancouver, B.C. Joy holds her Masters degree in Counselling Psychology; and is both a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Registered Social Worker. She has over a decade of experience working in the mental health field with people from all walks of life including: adults, couples, families, children and adolescents. Website: summitcounselling.ca Phone: 604-558-4898 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: Summit Counselling Vancouver Twitter: @SummitCGI