Whether you’re working full time (at home or in the office), managing a house full of children or just juggling a full plate of responsibilities, stress is unavoidable. According to a 2019 Gallup survey, “55% of Americans are stressed during the day”. With that said, it’s very possible that you are one of those individuals experiencing some type of stress throughout the day or week. With April being Stress Awareness Month, we wanted to provide a list of some effective activities that can help to relieve stress quickly and when used consistently, will produce less stress overall in the long run. As always, for some of these suggestions it may be beneficial to speak with your PCP about implementing them into your daily routine.
Fast-Acting Relief Activities
- Guided Imagery Activities Guided Imagery is like a vacation for your mind. It’s as simple as closing your eyes for a minute and walking yourself through a peaceful scene, like walking on the beach or through a path in the woods. Think about all the sensory experiences you'd engage in (i.e. What would you see? What would you feel? What would you hear?) and allow yourself to feel as though you're really there. After a few minutes, open your eyes and return to the present moment. This is a great exercise to do on a break during work, first thing in the morning, or in a very high stress moment.
- Meditate Meditation can be as simple as developing a mantra that you repeat in your mind as you take deep, slow breaths. The key is to be “present” in the moment, so you want to be in a quiet, distraction free environment. This is a great thing to do early in the morning or before you go to bed at night because it will help you clear your mind. There are so many different types of meditation, some more intricate than others, so you can find a type that works best for you. Check out this resource outlining meditation and the ways to get started implementing it in your daily routine.
- Focus on Breathing Techniques Just a simple change in how you breathe can make a big difference in how your body processes and reacts to stress. It can calm your body and your brain in as quickly as a few minutes. The key is focusing on your breath - breathing in through your nose, watching your belly fill with air. Slow your breaths down by counting to three as your inhale, holding for a second and then breathing out by counting to three again. If you are a more visual person, you can even participate in an exercise called box breathing. Box breathing is where you visualize the four sides of a box being traced by a colored pen you hold with your mind. The best thing about this activity? No one will even know you are doing it.
- Get a Hug from a Loved One Considering many of us have gone a significant amount of time without physical contact with people, let alone our loved ones, this one holds a significant importance in stress relief. Did you know that a hug releases oxytocin? Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone”, is associated with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress. So as long as it is safe for you to get (or give) a hug to those you love, go for it. It will be mutually beneficial.
- Draw or Color There are many research studies that show coloring can have a meditative effect. It has the ability to decrease anxiety levels in people. This is something you could do early in the morning before you start your day, over your lunch or even while you’re winding down at night before bed. So grab yourself an adult coloring book (or just some blank paper and a pencil) and watch the stress melt away.
Long-Term Stress Relief Activities
- Complete a Mindfulness or Relaxation Exercise Each Day. Mindfulness is exercise for your brain and it may not come easy to you at first but it will pay off with practice. There are so many mindfulness videos available on the internet, especially guided exercises. They are typically short (between 5-10 minutes) and provide you an easy way to implement this exercise in your day. Similar to meditation, mindfulness helps you to become more aware of your surroundings by having you focus on things you feel, hear, or smell. Check out this guided mindfulness meditation as an example of what this activity feels like in practice.
- Reduce your Caffeine Intake. Caffeine can increase the body’s levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone) which can lead to other health consequences ranging from weight gain and moodiness to heart disease and diabetes. Although many of us depend on caffeine to get a jolt for the day, it can ultimately lead to a crash later on. People also report increased agitation with an increase in caffeine. The key is to control the amount of caffeine you take in each day. If consumed in moderation and earlier in the day, it can produce more positive effects. If you’re seeking an alternative, things like matcha or chai tea are great!
- Express Gratitude. Studies show that grateful people experience a better quality of life. More than that, it helps people to remember the resources that are available to cope with high stress. Expressing gratitude can become part of a daily habit through journaling, part of a dinner ritual with family, or during the quietness of the morning or evening. Regardless, making it a regular habit can be essential in improving your level of stress.
- Prioritize Exercise. Exercise, in any form, pumps up your endorphins (the “feel good” neurotransmitters). With summer weather upon us, there are so many ways to add exercise into your routine outside of the typical workout at the gym. It could be walking in the park, kayaking, riding a bike, or even swimming. The key is to start out small, see what you can handle and increase your activity level as you gain strength and confidence.
The key is to start small and work in an activity or two when it’s manageable for you. Trying an exercise, building it into your daily routine and then establishing a habit around that exercise will happen over time. The benefit to trying it will be the positive impact it will have on your overall health and stress levels. Feeling like your level of stress may be too much to handle? We have counselors available to help you figure out the best way to manage your stress and implement these activities more effectively.