Not Your Ordinary Stress Relief
When I am stressed, I pull at my hair, plucking it out strand by strand. I grab an unhealthy snack….or four. I bark at my children. Stress disrupts my sleep. And in the face of much to accomplish, stress stops me in my tracks, so I’m spinning my wheels not really doing much of anything. Because I monitor my heart rate, I know that when I’m stressed, my resting heart rate spikes. Once any of these features are present, I know I need to get a grip. More and more studies are showing that stress can literally kill you even though it is a preventable ailment. Everyone experiences stress in different ways, so everyone needs to identify their own effective stress relievers.
Stress relief should never be harmful to your health, or the health of others. Stress relief should not kill your finances. Stress relief is not a license to do whatever you feel like because you are feeling stress. Relieving stress is about using your power to heal your outlook, even temporarily, so that you can constructively move forward.
So this is not your average list of stress relievers. This is not a list from an expert on anything other than my own ways to handle life when life is completely trying to manhandle me. Try them or don’t. Maybe they will spark news ideas. Those of you who know me well won’t be the least bit surprised...
1. Sing at the top of your lungs. My heart is with community theater and the arts so I’m happy to sing along, even if my voice is not fit for human consumption. And it doesn't matter who might be listening. My kids will often sing along. I choose songs that have inspiring messages, or a great beat for dancing, or songs that transport me to a new time or place. I choose songs that above all else, I know all the words to! (Few things are as frustrating as being forced to hum along because you can’t decipher that one line in the song.) A few of my favorites? Fight Song by Rachel Platten, No by Meghan Trainor, 22 by Taylor Swift, and just about any song from any musical, but our recent household favorites include Hamilton, Annie, Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen. After singing, I legitimately feel better.
2. Organize something small, detailed and preferably unimportant. I dig into my daughter's nightstand drawer. She’s eight and doesn’t yet mind my hands in her stuff. And it only takes 3 hours for it to get messy so when I’m searching for something to do with my mind and my hands, I dive in and start the process of putting her gel pens in rainbow order, alongside the erasers, grouped by subject, and the little friendship bracelets untangled and grouped together. Imposing order on even the smallest of tasks doesn’t take a lot of time or mental thought and is often the break I need.
3. Make a total unapologetic mess. Yes cleaning makes me happy. But once in a while, behaving like the hotel staff will handle it later relieves my stress, too. A complicated recipe with lots of chopping and mixing and using of the appliances that have a million pieces is sometimes just what I need. A craft project that I typically say no to I say yes to. I stop worrying about the little pieces of paper on the floor, or the paint on clothing (washable paint - let’s not go crazy), and I just let it go. Feels good. Often, I’m feeling so much better that I enjoy bringing things back to order just as much as the activity itself.
4. Watch an unconventional movie, genre or reality show. We discovered Korean dramas. It is a whole new world and a whole new set of feelings they evoke. As a family we renewed our effort to watch every “dinosaur” movie we could find. By watching something different and out of your usual “box” you inevitably walk away feeling changed, maybe even better. Personally, nothing makes me feel better than watching other people’s lives spiral out of control, whether it be because of a relationship gone bad or a dinosaur on the loose. It reminds me that no matter how I feel, or how much I have on my plate, there are people out there dealing with worse. Even fictional people can elevate my own mood and reduce my own feelings of stress.
5. Dance it out, just like they do on Grey's Anatomy. I turn on the music and groove the stress away. One of my least favorite household tasks is the perpetual dirty sink and messy counter battle. And when I’m ready to cook and I see a full sink, a cluttered countertop and a full dishwasher that still hasn’t been emptied, I lose my cherub-like demeanor in a flash. If I turn on the tunes and prance around in my rubber gloves, cleaning sponge in hand, the stress of this chore is less likely to hang around and continue to infect my peace as the day continues.
6. Do a puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle. A logic problem. A crossword, search and find, or hidden picture. Keeping my hands busy literally stops me from picking at my hair or grabbing for food. The light mental demands and the tiny success just feels good. It feels good to flex my brain, and it feels good to fill in all of those pesky little boxes in a challenging crossword puzzle. Instant gratification and proof that I am powerful - “I did it! I can do anything I put my mind to…”
7. Make a schedule for the day. I still believe in writing it down. I still believe that writing it down and planning, even during these Groundhog Days, helps to alleviate my stress. When I know what to expect, what I’m going to eat, who or when I’m scheduled to speak with someone, I feel just a little more in control. And more control alleviates stress because it reminds me that even in these uncertain times, there are still things actually in my control.
No one else is going to control the stress for you so find your best stress relievers and be ready to use them when needed. It doesn’t matter how silly they seem. And please - find me if you need a dance partner.