While curling into a little ball and sleeping for hours a day could be therapeutic, it’s not necessarily the most practical (or healthy) method of stress management. Besides, in real life, who has time for all that sleeping? Part of the reason I’m stressed is I have no time for anything! So, here’s how a real person – a working mom – handles stress on a daily basis. Maybe not all of my ideas would be approved by my doctor, but I make it without medication, so that in itself should validate my strategies. So, here’s the list:
1. Exercise. Now before you roll your eyes and quit reading, give me a chance. There is a specific exercise that I use for stress relief, and it’s a physical and mental release. This is a strategy I use specifically when my stress is caused by a particular person who may be especially hard to deal with or who just annoys the snot out of me and I can’t shake it off without a little assistance. This exercise does not take long. And you need minimal equipment. I slip on my boxing gloves, blast an angry song, visualize whoever is bothering me, and beat my punching bag with everything in me. This is extremely effective.
2. Eat a gigantic bowl of ice cream. Obviously, this one shouldn’t be implemented every time a person experiences stress, but every once in a while, it’s so healthy just to let go of all the rules and restrictions we place on ourselves and enjoy something delicious and sinful. Relish it. Lick the bowl when you’re finished. Lose yourself in that ice cream. The effects may be short-lived, but those twenty minutes of concentrating on nothing but the pure joy of that creamy frozen goodness may be all you need to refocus and let go of some of the day’s stressors.
3. Play. This is a lot harder than it sounds. When I get home from a particularly hard day, often the last thing I want to do is ignore the chores that still need to be done or my recliner or the fact that I have no idea what I’m going to prepare for dinner. I don’t have time to play, and I don’t feel like playing. But, you know what? Without fail, if I make myself have fun with my kids, what starts out forced becomes fun in a matter of minutes. The joy of kids is contagious. They make me laugh. When I play with them, I feel like a kid again. When we’re finished and go inside to figure out what to eat for dinner, I do it with a fresh perspective and attitude.
4. Create something. I’m not a great artist, but sometimes when I’m feeling stressed, I pull out all the art supplies and paint something. And to make this even better, sometimes all of us paint together. Our little family focuses on a task. We channel our inner artist. We don’t worry about the mess. And it doesn’t have to be painting – it could be anything – baking cookies or building with Legos can give the same feelings. I think it’s the pouring yourself into something and seeing a tangible result of your efforts at the end is what relieves stress.
5. Good old-fashioned hard work. The idea here is to do something that will take exertion and absolutely wear you out. I’ve always thought that God created us with the capability to work – I think it keeps us younger, stronger, and healthier. Find a project and go at it. Try to find something that stretches you so that all of your energy is focused on completing the task. There won’t be room in that head of yours for anything else. And when you finish, you’ll be too tired to stress about anything. You’ll sleep well that night. Hard work is good stuff.
6. Be silly. I wrote a post a few weeks ago called Why We Will Always be Okay one evening after Ronnie and I had both had particularly bad days. Instead of talking through everything that made our days so terrible, we went outside, blasted our favorite song, and caught a jar full of lightning bugs while singing, dancing, laughing, and just letting go. Silly? Most adults would think so. But who cares? Being silly is a great thing. Catching fireflies didn’t erase anything bad that happened to us that day, but we finished our day goofing off and letting go so we were able to start the next one refreshed and refocused. It works.
7. Go on an all-expense paid vacation to a tropical paradise for at least ten days. You know, one of those places where you just lounge in a cabana by a pool and someone massages your feet and brings your food and drinks and your whim. One of those places where you swim with dolphins, eat dinner at a lone table right on the beach, and snorkel with tropical species of fish I’ve never even heard of…
I’ve never actually gotten to try this particular idea, but I could see where it would be extremely effective. It is good to get away once in a while, though.
8. Blog. This one can get tricky because blogging can actually be a cause of stress if you allow it. Make a concerted effort not to focus on your stats or whether you’ll ever be Freshly Pressed. Blog because you love writing. Because you love sharing what you write with people who enjoy reading. And, you know, if blogging isn’t your thing, find another outlet, another hobby that you can do in your leisure time to stop you from dwelling on the daily stresses in life. Maybe yours is running, reading, crocheting, or Zumba. It doesn’t matter what it is. It just matters that you enjoy it, that you take time to actually do it, and that you don’t inadvertently allow your hobby to become a source of stress itself. Keep it light and it will be fulfilling.
9. Give. Do something for someone else. No matter how stressed your life may seem to you, there is always someone whose problems are worse. Think of someone going through a hard time, and do something kind for him or her. Did your neighbor’s dog just die? Bake him some cookies. Is someone going through a hard time? Write her a handwritten card of encouragement. Putting yourself aside and focusing on the needs of someone else is almost always an effective method for stress relief.
10. Make a list. This may sound cheesy, but I guarantee it works. Make a list of everything that you are thankful for. If you’re feeling particularly stressed and therefore negative, you may have to start with the fact that you are alive for number one. You have food to eat may be number two. But the more you force yourself to list these things, the more your blessings in life will come to mind. Your list will be long. In fact, you’ll have to stop this exercise before you run out of things to write about. This is about changing your mindset. No matter how bad things may be, we can choose to focus on the positive in life. It just helps to write it down to put things back in perspective.
Like I said in the beginning, your doctor won’t give this advice, and may not even agree with all of it. But, stress is a real thing that almost all of us deal with. In our quest to live a healthy, balanced, fulfilling life, we have to learn to manage this stress that somehow finds a way to infiltrate our lives despite our best efforts to keep it at bay. These are the things that work for me.
What works for you?