(Originally Published in Biscayne Boulevard Times. January 2005.)
You were supposed to be at an important meeting 10 minutes ago, but you’re stuck in traffic on the Boulevard. Every time your cell phone rings, it sends a stab of anxiety through your chest. On the radio, you hear the news of another violent crime or natural disaster. Your heart is racing and your head is pounding as you finally arrive at your destination.
Life is full of pressure and frustration – in other words, it’s stressful. Sitting in traffic, racing against deadlines, fighting with loved ones – all of these things make you tense and tired. We are all familiar with the traditional ways to relieve stress such as deep-breathing, meditation, exercise and massage but there are also unconventional and fun ways to say goodbye to stress. If you’re feeling stressed, don’t despair — use the following practical tips to help you handle it!
Have fun! Do something you used to do as a kid before you had so many responsibilities. Paint a picture. Play a board game. Ride your bike. Shoot some hoops. Go bowling. It may seem silly at first but recreation is a great way to decompress and reduce or eliminate the effects of stress. An entire therapeutic field called Recreation Therapy has been developed based on these principles. Recreational Therapists use play, pleasure, sports, social activities, arts and crafts to treat patients in all sorts of heath care settings. In addition to reducing stress, play can give you more energy and increase your overall sense of well-being. Go make a play date for yourself and have some fun!
2. Shake a Leg!
Music and dance have long been linked to health and happiness — they can relieve stress, lower blood pressure and help manage pain. In many forms of meditation, dance is used to bring about a peaceful mental state and to generate positive energy. Simply switching on the music and shaking a leg can work some magic. Find your favorite CD. It doesn’t matter if it’s Puff Daddy or Kenny G. Stand in the middle of the room, close your eyes and let the music move you. Let yourself go! Before you know it, your body will start to sway and find its own movement. After 15 minutes, you will forget why you were stressed out. Dancing is a fun, energizing and free way to keep fit and stay tension free.
3. Laugh Yourself Calm!
Laughing is a great strategy and a powerful tool for coping with stress. Looking for the humor in a situation gives us the ability to experience joy and release tension even when faced with difficulties. However, laughing isn’t always easy — especially when you are too stressed out to find anything funny about your problems. It can help to watch a good comedy or seek out people with that special flair for making you laugh. Buy a CD with your favorite comedian doing stand-up and keep it in the car for stressful traffic jams. Humor and laughter can foster a positive and hopeful attitude. We are less likely to succumb to feelings of depression and helplessness if we are able to laugh at what is troubling us.
4. Smell the Sweet Stuff!
Essential oils are an excellent way to help you relax and relieve stress and they can be used in many ways. You can put a few drops into an oil burner and let the scent spread through your home or office. Essential oils can be added to your favorite lotion and massaged into your skin. You can put a few drops on a handkerchief, hold it under your nose and breathe deeply. They can also be added to the water in the tub for a warm aromatherapy bath. Oils such as Chamomile, Jasmine and Lavender create a calming feeling while Rosemary and Peppermint can help your mind become clearer and more focused. Essential oils can help us attain a balanced emotional state and have a positive effect on problems that are stress-related.
5. Write it Down!
If you’re having one of those crazy days when nothing goes right, it’s a good idea to write things down in a journal to get it off of your chest. Writing about stressful life events helps put things in perspective and has a beneficial effect on well-being. It has even been shown to reduce disease symptoms in chronically ill people. There are many ways to keep a journal. You can write about things that happened during the day and how they made you feel — as if you were venting to a friend. Another approach is shifting the focus from unpleasant events to happier things by writing about what you appreciate in your life. There are also many guidebooks to journaling that help you explore your personality, creativity, life story and more.
If you are suffering from severe or chronic stress, you may have difficulty trying to change your thoughts and behavior with these simple methods. Psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to help you break free of those patterns.