How do you deal with stress? Many of us turn to exercise or talk to a therapist when feelings of anger, anxiety or frustration arise. But did you know that taking a different route to work or sleeping on a new set of sheets can also help alleviate stress? Try some of these unusual techniques the next time you need to clear your mind or calm yourself down.
Focus on Your Breath
When you’re stressed, your heart rate can increase, which can make you feel even more stressed! Try this exercise: Focus your attention on your heart beat for a few seconds. Then put your hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall as you breathe, and say, This is my body breathing. As you inhale and exhale deeply, notice your heart rate slow and the feelings of calmness grow.
Rewrite Your Script...
Sometimes we think the same negative thoughts so frequently that they become a never-ending tape-loop, playing over and over again in our mind. I’ll never get everything done. I know they’re going to fire me. I’m going to get cancer. When you start thinking worst-case scenarios, ask yourself if your concerns are based on facts or emotions? If the latter, imagine that these thoughts are part of a script that you’re writing and you can change the lines. This can help create some distance between you and your worries, and remind you that you are in control of the story of your life.
…or, Channel Your Inner Storyteller…
As an alternative, invent a fairytale ending to your “story.” It's an entertaining distraction and can help you recognize that fantasies—both bad and good—are just that. The reality of your situation probably lies somewhere in between.
…or, Tune into a New Voice
If you can’t turn off the stressful negative talk in your head, try replacing it with talk that’s positive. Music can help, but listening to an audio book or an interesting interview can provide you with actual dialogue to focus on.
Control What You Can Control
Worrying about major life events is one kind of stress, but equally as bothersome are the daily, chronic stressors that make us aggravated and tense. To avoid irksome traffic, take an alternate route to work that might be longer but less crowded. If you find yourself too wound up to sleep after watching the evening news, skip it in favor of a lighthearted sitcom.
Find the Funny!
Speaking of sitcoms, research shows that laughter reduces stress hormones and triggers some of the same mood-boosting effects as exercise. So do whatever tickles your funny bone.
Make Time For Play
When is the last time you spent a few moments observing a very young child playing? Children truly live in the moment, not worrying about the future or the past. Take a cue from them and play at something in which you can become totally engrossed. Start a card game, set aside time to do a craft project or draw a picture. Not an artist? No problem. Pick a simple image, like a tree or a snowman, and spend a few moments doodling in a notebook. Don’t worry about how it turns out, simply focus on the act of drawing—the way your pen or pencil moves across the paper as the image takes shape.
Nurture Another Living Thing
It is easier to limit the time spent focusing on your own stressful thoughts when you are busy attending to something or someone else. Bake cookies for a neighbor, join a volunteer organization or get outside and garden.
Engage the Senses
Our senses play a role in our levels of stress. Gentle music, calming scents like lavender and dim lighting can alleviate stress. And touch is no exception. Wearing something soft, splurging on a cozy set of sheets or even just keeping a piece of your favorite fabric in your pocket to hold or stroke occasionally can make your feel comforted and relaxed.
Try Some Tools
Traditional meditation tools—prayer beads, gongs, chanting—can help you focus and relax. Now it’s easy to experiment with different apps you can download for your smartphone or tablet. There’s even a Zen rock garden app that lets you rake the sand with your fingertips!