You’ve had a long day, so you pour a drink. You’re exhausted, skip the gym. Anxiety is creeping up, gorge on junk food. You can’t sleep, pop a pill.
Have you ever noticed that many of our bad habits arise from stress? If you are conditioned to manage stress with toxic substitutes that leave you more exhausted and frustrated than before, it’s time to make a change.
New habits don’t happen overnight; They require consistent practice, but eventually, these stress busters can become your regular tools for inner peace and contentment.
1. GET MOVING
If you only do one thing on this list, this is it: Get your body moving. Even just 30 minutes of exercise can stomp out stress, generate energy, strengthen the mind and body, prevent injury and disease, and manifest confidence.
For most people, exercise is the antidote to depression. During the hardest days of my life, when I wanted to stay in bed all day, I made myself go to the gym, where I literally cried through yoga classes, pounded out frustration on the treadmill and lifted weights until I had some strength to face the day. I didn’t want to exercise, but I knew that I needed to maintain a positive habit or stress would destroy me. And it worked. Over time, I became mentally and physically stronger, yet more relaxed and able to handle stress.
If your reason for skipping physical fitness is that you are tired, remember:
A body in motion stays in motion.
Saying that you are too tired to exercise is like saying you are too dirty to shower, silly. Exercise creates energy. If you have been idle for a long time, start with daily stretching and walking and work your way up to a strength program. It’s never too late to start.
2. GET WET
Let’s talk about WATER. It is one of nature’s most abundant and cleansing elements for the body and soul. Next time you’re tempted to reach for an unhealthy habit, stop yourself and get in a warm bubble bath, a hot tub, a cool pool, a steamy shower, or if you have access to the ocean, by all means, get in it! Give it 20 minutes and ask yourself: how do you feel now? If you’re not used to self-care, then a daily bubble bath (or two!) may sound indulgent, but water is naturally therapeutic, and sure beats a destructive habit any day of the week.
3. CHANGE THE SETTING
Often times, when we spiral into a stressful meltdown, we get stuck in the moment and feel powerless to stop it. When this happens, STOP and change your environment, even for 15 minutes. Get outside and walk around. Lay down and close your eyes. (If you fall asleep, even better.) Excuse yourself from the office and go make a cup of tea or coffee. Go somewhere that is peaceful to you: your patio, a park, a mountain, your bed, prayer garden, the beach, a bookstore, a coffee shop. Remove yourself from the situation and wait for the emotion to change, because it will change.
4. TURN UP THE TUNES
If a song can instantly transport you back to your eighth-grade dance, why not use it right now to shift you into a better state of mind? With constant access to our phones and tiny earbuds, most of us can pop in some music anywhere. And this won’t just work for you, it can have an amazing impact on everyone around you. When my kids are hungry and grumpy, sometimes just turning on music can change the mood for all of us, instantly. Try exploring some different genres, even if they aren’t on your usual radar. Need to unwind? Try spa music. 5 pm chaos? Put on a little smooth jazz. Sad? Crank some 80s music or whatever gets you shaking your thang, and just try not to get happy.
Your breath is a powerful force that you can utilize anytime, anywhere. When you feel the claws of stress closing around you, redirect your focus to your breathing. This is most effective in a quiet space, in a meditative position, but you can take slow, deep breaths in the middle of a Wall Street meeting and nobody will notice.
Next time you are about to lose it, try Dr. Wiel’s 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to four. When your lungs are full, hold your breath at the top, counting slowly to seven. Then, very slowly, let the air out through your mouth, counting to eight. Repeat until you are calm. This regularly helps me sleep, and is an essential tool for people prone to anxiety attacks.
6. EXPLORE ESSENTIAL OILS
Your olfactory receptors (sense of smell) are directly connected to your nervous system. That’s why warm apple pie whisks you back to Thanksgiving and a sweet rose reminds you of your Nana. Our senses are powerful. For thousands of years, humans have used essential oils for medicinal purposes and to impact emotions. Essential oils are the natural essence of plants that can be inhaled, diffused into the air and even ingested, depending on the oil.
If you need to chill out, rub pure lavender, rose or chamomile oil on your wrist and inhale. Add a few drops to a warm bath, spray on a pillow or rub on your temples. Need to be energized? Try lemon or eucalyptus oil. If you have a problem, there is likely an oil designed by nature just for you.
7. LET IT ALL OUT
A wise woman once told me that “Pent-up negative feelings don’t go away, they turn into depression.” That’s why you need to get your feelings out verbally or in writing. For years I was the “Queen of Fine.” Anytime someone asked me how I was doing I answered, “Fine.” One of my girlfriends threatened to get me a t-shirt that said: “I’m Fine.” But the problem was, I wasn’t fine. I was miserable, barely functioning robot, but I thought if I pretended to be okay, I would be okay. But it didn’t work. As promised, the feelings didn’t go away.
Regardless of your situation, you probably have feelings you shoved into a deep place that turned into anxiety, anger or sadness -and you turn to a bad habit to deal with those feelings. If so, it’s time to let it all out. Start a journaling habit, talk to a professional, record your feelings in private videos, reach out to a person in your life who can lend an ear. Whatever avenue you choose, be sure to make it a habit. I’ve worked with clients who reported that regular journaling alone changed their entire outlook on life.
If you told me five years ago that I would eventually blog about the saddest days of my life, I would have said you are out of your mind. But here I am, pouring out my guts for the world to see, and feeling amazing. You deserve it too. Just be honest. Be vulnerable. And let it all out.
8. DO A NEGATIVE WIPEOUT
When you scroll through social media do you feel inspired or disgusted? Do you feel good about or dread your commitments? With the barrage of stimuli coming at you every day, you need to regularly assess what is occupying your time and mind. Of course, life is filled with little annoyances and commitments that cannot be avoided. But isn’t it time to ask yourself if it’s all necessary? Do the people you follow on social bring you down? Delete them. I used to think that once I hit the “friend” button I was in a committed relationship with that person forever. I laugh at that now! If you follow someone who conjures up bad feelings every time you see their name, then block them. If you say YES to commitments that you dread, stop. Just because you have “time” to do something doesn’t mean you need to say yes. And if you loathe your job every day, explore new options.
You are not a leaf aflutter in autumn; You are the wind. You are in charge of your life! Write down the top things that deserve your time, energy and commitment. If you are devoting yourself to things that don’t serve your list, they probably need to go away.
9. GET NOURISHED
Your body is a delicate yet strong machine that requires nourishment to function properly. If you treat your system like a dumping ground, then you can’t expect to be in a mental and physical state that allows you to handle the drama that life throws at you.
You can better assess what you are consuming by starting with a nutrition diary for one week. Food awareness will allow you to ask: “Is this making me healthier, or filling some other need?” Are you eating dairy or gluten even though you have a sensitivity? Are you drinking excessive caffeine even though it makes you irritable? Are you eating foods that keep your blood sugar on a rollercoaster? Your diet directly effects your overall health, including mood and stress management. Consuming nutritious fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and beneficial fats, as well as pure water and calming teas, can bring your body and mind into homeostasis. And as a bonus: You’ll look amazing too.
10. GO TO BED
If you have children (of any age) or are juggling some serious life drama, sleepless nights are bound to happen. But if you struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep on a regular basis, you need to make a change. According to the American Psychological Association, adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress.
If sleep isn’t working for you, stop and reassess your nighttime routine. Is your bedtime routine healthful? Do you spend evenings staring at screens, catching up on work and pounding alcohol, then pass-out only to wake up at 2 am with your mind racing? Do you stay up late even though you know the 5 am alarm is looming, then drag through each day? If so, it’s time to assess your nighttime routine.
If you like to watch TV or peruse Pinterest in the evening, go for it, but stop at least an hour before bed and begin a routine that triggers the brain to shut down. Your routine depends on what relaxes you. For me, it’s early dinner because I do not like to sleep on a full stomach. Later, I take a bath of essential oil and Epsom salt for my sore muscles, plus hot chamomile tea and some quiet time with my kids and husband. At the same time every night, repeat your routine so your body knows that it’s time to shut down. In time, you will probably find that you are getting some much-needed sleep.
Positive habits are not always easy to establish, but with some consistency, you will reap the rewards of better health and wellness.