Stress is ever present in our life. The speed of life itself in a modern society is enough to cause stress. Add any medical, financial, professional or personal challenges into the mix and you've got a recipe for really feeling it. Fortunately, there are easy and quick ways to relief the tension - with simple practices that we can incorporate into our life.
Below are my favorite ways to keep stress under control easily and without much effort. They are also mostly free or very affordable. These are listed in random order:
1 Breathe - by far, breathing is the easiest, most economical and most readily available form of stress relief available to us. Taking as little as 3 belly breaths (deep breaths that engage your diaphragm and belly) can work wonders. There are many breathing techniques out there. My favorites are the simple ones like 1) deeply breathing in on the count of 4, holding your breath for 4 beats and and slowly exhaling on the count of 4 or 2) taking 10 deep breaths and as you inhale, imagine breathing in peace, love and tranquility and as you exhale, imagine stress, tension and worry leaving your body. The key to this simple practice, as it is to many that follow, is being aware of the present moment. In addition to relieving stress and oxygenating our blood and brain, deep breathing also massages our internal organs.
2 Walk/Exercise - I am not a big fan of working out for hours on end and prefer forms of exercise that are easy and enjoyable. Thus, walking is my favorite one. I like it because even a short 10-15 walk feels great and gives me tangible results like clear head, better mood and more energy. Walking doesn't require any special gear - just some walking shoes. What I love about walking is that it can be easily be combined with other practices like breathing, walking meditation, listening to the music and spending time in nature. Not to mention it can be a great family activity. There are other gentle (or more active) forms of exercise like Yoga, Stretching, Pilates, Dance, Swimming, Running, Bicycling, Skying, group and competitive sports..., the list is almost endless. Everyone can find something they can enjoy and look forward to. Any form of exercise is great for our well being - it increases the levels of oxygen in our body, increases circulation and burns calories.
3 Spend Time in Nature - as little as 10 -15 min. during a morning walk or eating your lunch in the park, have amazing calming effect. Spending half a day at the beach, hiking in the mountains, or walking/bicycling/rollerblading on a local trail feels fantastic and charges you with positive energy while whisking away your stress. Tuning into the natural rhythms of nature helps us to calm down, relax and slow down to the more natural pace of life. Nature doesn't hurry - yet it always gets everything done perfectly! We have a lot learn from mother nature...
4 Take Quiet Time/Meditate - I have only recently discovered this wonderful form of stress relief but it has been life-transforming for me. I share more about the benefits and a simple technique in my post "The Magic of Quiet Time". If you have always been curious but it sounds too complicated or strange, I recommend simply sitting quietly and following your breath for 15-20 minutes, as early in the morning as possible. Do this for several days and you will be amazed at the benefits this simple practice can bring. I have found it to help me be more calm, relaxed, focused and creative. It may appear as though we are slowing down our brain during meditation, when in fact, we are allowing it to work at it's optimal speed. When we are not bogging it down with constant thought-loops of worry, anxiety, planning ... and million other things, our brain gets a chance to create new neural connections - which means better problem solving, more creativity, greater focus, amazing clarity and calmness.
5 Take a Relaxing Bath - in our hurried world, the art of bathing has been lost. Yet, bathing is an ancient form of relaxation, cleansing and detoxification that is as much a luxury as it is a necessity. We all have to keep clean, might as well make it a relaxing and enjoyable experience. It doesn't need to take long - 20 minutes is ideal. Add a handful of Epsom Salts, light a favorite scented candle and you are set to go. If you want to make it truly special - play some relaxing music, diffuse your favorite essential oil or add a few drops to the water and you've got a spa experience in the comfort of your home. It is a good idea to buy a simple filter that eliminates chlorine from your water - to ensure that you don't absorb it through your skin.
7 Use Aromatherapy - it may sound complicated, but in fact, it is an easy, simple and effective form of relaxation. It is important to use quality essential oils, because anything you place on your skin gets absorbed into your body. I use Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oils which are tested for purity and effectiveness. Although you can diffuse the oils into the air, my favorite way to them is to put a drop or two in the palm of my hands and inhale them, then to rub some on my forehead and neck area and inside the elbow as perfume. I also rub some on the soles of my feet, which absorb the oils quickly into the bloodstream due to large pores, My favorite oils for relaxation and stress relief are Lavender, Wild Orange, Grapefruit, Roman Chamomile and Serenity Oil blend. Essential oils are a great natural, safe and effective alternative to synthetic perfumes and medications and they don't have any negative side effects. They can quickly change our emotional state - since our sense of smell is directly connected to our nervous system. High quality oils can be used aromatically, topically and even internally (make sure it is labeled as such). They have many healing properties and work very gently yet effectively.
8 Drink Herbal Tea - drinking tea is another art form that is lost in our society. Many cultures have elaborate tea ceremonies that are so much more then just drinking tea. Smelling, tasting, seeing and experiencing the wonderful aromas and tantalizing taste of this magical drink involves all of our senses. My preference is to use herbal teas (called tisanes), which are high in antioxidants and healing properties and low in caffeine and tannin. My favorite is African Rooibos (or red tea) because of it's great taste and aroma, deep red/orange color and great health benefits that include relaxing properties. My other favorites are Chamomile tea made from the flowers of of chamomile (herb) and Rosehip Tea made from the dried pods of roses. Another favorite is Hibiscus tea made from hibiscus flowers. All are high in vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. Lately, my favorite drink (although not tea but nevertheless is warm and tasty) has been a squeeze of lemon in some warm water with a spoon of some raw honey. Tisanes are a great alternative to sodas and caffeinated drinks and are refreshingly tasty and healing.
9 Laugh - we have all heard that laughter is the best medicine. Some studies claim that children laugh around 300 times per day and adults around 20 (or less) - I'm not sure how correct this statistic is... However, from experience I can tell that my children do laugh a lot more then I. I have recently read that primary reason for laughter is interaction with others, which I also have found to be true. There are a lot more giggles when other kids are around. I realize that It's kind of hard to laugh when you are alone - but that can be helped by calling a good friend who always cheers you up, watching a funny movie or a cartoon, reading some jokes online and seeing the world through the child's eyes. Jumping on trampoline, sliding down the slide, playing catch or hide-and-seek with your children, grand kids or even other adults are also fantastic ways to add laughter into your life. Laughter not only relaxes and uplifts us but it is also used as a healing modality for serious and life-threatening illness.
10 Write/Journal/Draw/Doodle - this one may surprise you but it is can be very meditative to express your feelings on paper either with words, symbols or images...Our mind is constantly absorbed in thought and sometimes putting down those thoughts can help to clear our mind of worry, stress and even anger. Writing/Drawing is great form of self-help therapy that engages both the left and right side of our brain and can give us unexpected answers and solutions to our problems. If you don't know what to write about, you can try the following method: free writing can be a great form of stress relief - you simply write down everything that is on your mind, however insignificant or boring, until you feel like you are done or additional feelings and thoughts emerge. Keeping a dairy is a great way to keep track of the small details that will be otherwise forgotten - it's always interesting to read our old journals and remember those details. If you are short on time, you can keep a log book - just like they kept on the ships in the old days (I'm sure they do it now) - where you write down the basic information that you choose to record. There are also gratitude, pregnancy, baby, food, wine, restaurant, book, travel, art and creativity journals - the options are endless. One way to keep your journal positive and uplifting is to write down the best thing that happened to you every day and at least one thing you are grateful for.
11 Get a Massage - massage sounds like an expansive luxury that not many of us can afford. However, it doesn't have to be... Exchanging quick shoulder rub with your loved one or a friend is free and feels so good. Or you could exchange services with a massage therapist (i.e. you can do her accounting for free in exchange for a massage). Self massage is a great alternative to the expansive in-spa or medical massage. Rubbing your feet with a few drops of essential oil or some lotion feels amazing - and because there are reflexology points that correspond to other organs and areas of your body it can feel like you gave yourself a whole-body massage. Rubbing your own shoulders or hands with the opposite hand is easy, simple, quick and very effective. Touch can be very healing and relaxing.
12 Use Hot Sauna - this one is the only practice that is not free, unless you own a hot sauna in your home. However, it is oh, so relaxing! Your entire body melts on the bench as all the muscles relax in a warm heated room. Although, not for everyone and you should start with very short periods of time (as short as a few seconds or a minute) - sauna has great health benefits as it helps our body to rid itself of toxins through the skin. It also helps with insomnia, arthritis, respiratory problems and many other health conditions. I love to use Hot Sauna at least once a month - I feel so relaxed and light afterwards. It's a fantastic way to detoxify and relax your body and can be combined with Aromatherapy, Bathing and Massage for a great spa experience.
13.Take a Nap - as I was finishing my list, I realized there's one very simple, easy and enjoyable practice that I haven't included - and at is taking a nap! Babies, cats and other furry friends, as well as busy moms know the value of a quick nap. It can give you an instant energy lift, relieve stress and clear your head - all in quick 15 minutes on the couch, in your car (not while driving!) or even at your desk (make sure your boss is not watching)! So, instead of reaching for the coffee, which will only add to your stress - reach for your pillow and get some much needed Z-z-z-z-s. This is essential if you have been driving for a long periods of time and feel drifting off or are operating machinery that require concentration or didn't get much sleep last night. It is much needed in our busy culture that is chronically short on sleep Go head, take that catnap - you are worth it!
After completing my list, I realized that I do at least 4-5 of these simple practices daily - and I have noticed immediate results in my ability to handle stress. I feel more centered, relaxed and calm - which is what I wish for you!
I hope you have already incorporated many of them into your daily routine and will give some new ones a try.