Difficult challenges seem to come in bulk- it’s a real phenomenon of life. These strange time periods in which there is a piling of negative events one on top of another is experienced so universally that we all say, “When it rains, it pours.” How do we outlast the down-pour?
Stress is a fact of life. Thankfully, some of it can be alleviated by honestly evaluating our priorities, relationships, behaviors, etc., and making different and healthier choices. But, some of it just has to be lived through. (Example: last week I was dealing with a horrendous tax audit chore when my car decided to break down, expensively. That was chased with an extended family emergency and a two day migraine… You’ve been there, right?) Stress is part of life, but misery does not have to be! If you choose to, you can navigate the rainy times of life healthfully and resiliently. You can, and should, honor your feelings and acknowledge that things suck sometimes. Write it out, talk it out, and don’t pretend everything is okay. But then give yourself a break and navigate the storm with confidence.
Write down as many pleasurable and relaxing activities that you can think of. Many of them should be free, in case of financially stressful times. Use this list to take care of yourself and wait for the sun to start shining again. Worrying solves nothing. Take a break; enjoy something. Get lost in a book. The problem will still be there when you’re done playing with your dog, trust me. Memorize some mantras that are empowering to you for times of emotional overwhelm. Positive self talk is everything when you feel fatigued from life! I’ll let you peruse some of mine if you need some ideas:
It’ll be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
This, too, shall pass.
I’ve survived a lot of hard things, and I’ll survive this, too.
Anxiety won’t kill me, it just doesn’t feel good.
I’m strong enough for this.
Everything changes. This is only temporary.
Finally, a few basic coping skill reminders: Get enough sleep!! Drink water, eat well. Take walks and breathe deeply. Get enough sleep!! Learn how to say ‘no’ to unwise time commitments. And did I mention, get enough sleep?!
Muscle relaxation has always been a staple in stress reduction, but is often not something we jump to when we recognize stress or other uncomfortable emotions. In fact, we often unnecessarily carry emotional stress in our muscles long after a stressful event or situation has passed. To combat the negative effects stress has on our bodies and minds many researchers and clinicians suggest engaging in activities like yoga or deep breathing. When we hold tension in our muscles we are sending our brain the signal to release cortisol, the stress hormone. This is a good thing if we need to be primed for action, but can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health if we don’t counter act the cortisol after the stressful even has passed. In the fast-paced world we live in, with near constant stressors being thrown our way, it is rare that people can or do take the time needed to fully relieve their muscles of the stress impact, and thus it builds throughout the day.
Maybe you cant skip that stressful work meeting to go to a yoga class, but what if you could de-stress without leaving the office, or even de-stress in the stressful moment itself. You can. Here is a 5-step tip to help you tap into stress reduction throughout the day.
1- Check in with yourself throughout the day to see if you are feeling stress. Even little amounts of stress can have a big impact on your mental and physical health. Being aware of when we are feeling stress is the first step to stress reduction.
2- Rate your stress level on a scale of 0-10 so that after the muscle relaxation you can have a gauge of how it worked and if you need to take a few more seconds to relax and bring yourself further down the scale.
3- Do a body scan to assess how and where your body is holding the stress? Are you feeling tight, tense, pain, aching, fidgeting, or tingling? Are there any more subtle areas are holding tension?
4- Consciously release the tension of this area as you exhale. Imagine the muscle relaxing even if you can’t fully feel it right away. Drop your shoulders away from your ears, let your hips and legs rest heavy on the seat, and soften the muscles in your face and neck.
5- Repeat. Now that you’re more relaxed notice if there are other areas in need of relaxation.
This activity done frequently in short periods of time throughout a day may have a bigger impact on your stress reduction than that yoga class you’ve been meaning to get to. So the next time you get cut off on the freeway, overloaded with another task at work, or frustrated with your child notice how your body responds and let go of the tension in your muscles.