You don’t need me to tell you stress sucks. It’s bad for your health, it’s not good for people around you, and unlike pain, it serves no useful purpose. Pain lets you know something is wrong with your body; stress was designed to let you know tigers with big fangs are chasing you, but now in our minds we’ve replaced deadly threats with stuff like deadlines, the need to impress, the need to be approved of, the fear of saying no, etc.
Usually when you talk about stress, people advise you to just do less. That’s fine advice if the only reason you’re stressed is that you’re taking on a lot of stuff you could just as easily say “no” to. But it doesn’t work if your primary stressor is, say, your job, and without it you can’t make ends meet, and there’s not a less stressful job to be had for now. Or maybe you know taking up yoga would help, but your schedule’s already jam-packed with commutes and overtime.
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce stress without making lifestyle changes that aren’t practical for you right now. Most of these activities can be done in under 10 minutes, pretty much anytime, any place.
Stress relief without editing your life
- Watch a relaxing video on YouTube. Not just any video: they have anti-stress videos, with relaxing nature scenes and music. I like this aquarium video.
- Put on some music and dance around the room. Any kind of exercise can be a big stress reliever, but dancing to music you love in your own home (where no one can see you trip over the couch as you fail at that cool move from that movie) is not just exercise – it’s also fun! And sometimes hilarious. Even just a few minutes can make a significant difference to your day. Which leads to the next tip…
- Laugh until you’re rolling on the floor. I know, it’s not easy to make yourself laugh. Look for funny commercials and videos online to help you get started. Convulsive laughter relieves muscular tension and pushes everything unfunny out of your mind for a few minutes. If you just can’t get started laughing, then try…
- Stretching. You know those mornings when you wake up stretching in all directions like a cat? You can make yourself do that. Just decide to yawn and stretch, and you will. Then consciously decide to stretch your legs, twist your back, etc., and before you know it your entire body will get in on the act and you’ll have squeezed out loads of tension.
- Say a mantra. Take a minute out – even if you’re in the thick of dealing with an irrational person on a deadline – and recite a mantra in your head or out loud. It could be “this too shall pass”, the classic Buddhist “om mani padme hum,” a favorite line from a song, the name of someone you love, the date of a future event you’re looking forward to, something affirmative about yourself, or a prayer. Repeat it a few times, letting yourself get into the rhythm, and remembering that this frustrating moment you’re caught up in is just one moment.
- Take a few deep breaths. This one rarely helps me much, but some people swear by it. I find it works better if I pair it with…
- Reminiscing about other times you’ve felt this stressed. If you survived other stressful times, then you will survive this one. Sometimes remembering the lass time you felt this stressed and how it all just went away eventually reminds you of that fact.
- Massage. I know it’s expensive to pay for a full-body massage, but it really should be considered a basic health requirement. If you can’t afford to get massages as often as you like, check out the tennis ball massage technique, which is seriously awesome. (In some ways, it’s better than a full body massage, especially when you just have a few minutes to work on an aching muscle.)
- If someone’s making you miserable and you can’t confront them, write down what you’re feeling. If you’re worried about them finding it, promise yourself you’ll burn it as soon as you’re done. Or save it electronically with a password. Whatever it takes to free yourself up so you can really vent what you need to vent. Alternately, you can shout what you’d like to tell them while you’re alone somewhere that no one can hear you.
- Pet your pet! If you have a pet, there’s nothing more therapeutic than holding, cuddling or stroking an appreciative animal. They have a way of reminding us of what’s important – food, shelter and affection. If you don’t have a pet, see if you can borrow someone else’s once in a while. But – no kidding – a stuffed animal will do in a pinch. The feeling of comforting something else can help us comfort ourselves.
- Stress balls are great for squeezing out frustration. You can make your own super cheap and easy.
- Take a bath or swim. Relaxing in a pool of water isn’t quite like any other sensation. You don’t need any scents or bubbles or anything other than warm water, but if you want to add scent, try using one of these essential oils, which are supposed to have de-stressing properties: chamomile, lavender, sandalwood or cardamon.
- Go for a walk. I’m not talking about an aerobic power walk, but a nice slow stroll. If your immediate neighborhood isn’t pretty or relaxing, find a park or nearby school campus (or something) that is. Take time to stop and small the roses, or at least notice the flowers and trees and wildlife.
- Hang out at a lake or pond. If you’re fortunate enough to have a body of still water nearby, however small, just sitting beside it and watching the water and grass get ruffled in the breeze can put things in perspective. I love duck ponds for this – bring bread, and you get the added bonus of making another living creature happy.
- Do something nice for someone. Watch for opportunities to do a little something that will bring a smile to someone else. The little something won’t stress you out further, and the joy it brings the other person will relax you for at least a little while.