Let’s face it – life isn’t very easy sometimes. Stress takes its toll on each of us, and the results aren’t pretty. The pressures that we face at work, home, the grocery store, the mall, school, online and in our own heads can build into a mountain of seemingly insurmountable stress if we let them. Stress has been linked to dozens of serious health conditions, but even the threat of a serious health condition isn’t the only reason we need to get stress under control. We also need, and want, to just feel good. We want the tension to go away. And we don’t have any time or energy to do anything about it!
There are usually one or two things that each individual reaches for in times of stress. Sometimes those are healthy things, and sometimes they are not. I used to reach for a glass of Cabernet at the end of a stressful day, but I’ve decided to stop doing that. When I decided to stop turning to alcohol for relief, I found myself with a lot of stressful moments and no trusted tools to help me through them, so I started compiling a list of sanity savers – some very quick, easy things to do when I started to feel stressed out or anxious. These little tools have definitely helped me, and they can help you, too.
Feeling stressed? Try one of these free (or nearly free) sanity savers.
- Complete an annoying task. I’m putting this one first because it’s the most maddening, and the most effective. Need to photocopy and submit an Explanation of Benefits for your health insurance? Is there a difficult personal email you need to send? Are you behind on your thank-you notes? Do you have to schedule an appointment, return an item, call someone in for a repair, change a light bulb, or dial an automated line that you know will take you 20 minutes of aggravation? Do it. Just do it. Chances are, it won’t take you as long as you think it will, and you will feel accomplished when you are done. That feeling is a great feeling.
- Do 50 jumping jacks. Or 20. Or 10. Just get your blood pumping – endorphins make you feel good, and that’s the key here. It also helps combat inertia – “an object in motion” and all that jazz.
- Hug someone or pet your pet for three breaths. If someone is around, hug them and breathe in and out three times. If a furry creature is around, pet them while breathing. Connection with another living being is the surest way to remember that you are not alone.
- Make yourself some tea or coffee. I just learned a cool trick – try adding half a teaspoon of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice into your coffee grounds while you’re brewing to cut the bitterness and add subtle flavor. Get creative. Close your eyes and sip.
- Tennis ball massage. This is my new favorite thing to wake up and relieve my sore muscles, and it costs $3 (or less, if you already have a few tennis balls already lying around). If you’re sitting or driving, just place two tennis balls on the parts of your upper back that are screaming for relief, and gently apply pressure and roll the balls over your sore muscles as you sit. Or, lie on the floor with bent knees and place the tennis balls on your back while you lie there. Or, stand and put a tennis ball on the arch of your foot and then roll it around a little bit. Best, cheapest, quickest massage ever.
- Yoga stretch. You don’t have to be a yogi for this one. Pick one yoga posture and take two minutes to do it. A few classic favorites are Downward Dog, Child’s Pose and Corpse. I like to do a modified stretch by standing about a foot away from a wall, placing one foot close to the wall with my toe facing the sky while reaching both arms over head on the wall and looking down. Then, I switch legs. Instant leg/neck/arm release.
- Alternate nostril breathing. Sitting in a relaxed position (or standing over a sink full of dirty dishes), place one finger over your right nostril so you can only breathe in through the left one. Breathe in. Switch your finger over to your left nostril while you breathe out. Do that five times. Then, do a cycle on the other side (breathing in on the right nostril and out with the left nostril). This does something with connecting different sides of our brain and mystically channeling energy through our centers … or something like that … whatever the reason, it invigorates and calms. Good stuff.
- Reflect on a great quote. Is there a music lyric, poem stanza or general quote that inspires you? Write it down, get it in your head, set a timer for two minutes, and sit and think about that quote until the timer goes off. You don’t even have to call it meditation.
- Clean something. Something bugging you? Scrub, dust, vacuum or polish the object of your choice to your heart’s delight. Cleaning is a great stress reliever and it gives you something concrete to admire when you are done.
- Send a note to someone you love. Firing off a “thinking of you” or “remember when we?” text might take approximately 45 seconds, and it will connect you to a person you care about in a silly or meaningful way.
- Put on perfume or scented lotion. Scents take us places. I usually save perfume for nights out with Lancelot, but every once in a while I’ll spritz some on when I’m feeling down and I instantly get that “something fun is going to happen” feeling.
- Get a haircut. Okay, this one isn’t free, unless you know a hairdresser, but it sure is effective. If you’re feeling truly blue, nothing beats that like a fresh haircut.
- Use a new spice. Have you ever picked up a new spice simply for one new recipe, and then let it sit in the spice rack gathering dust? I have. I tend to make meals based on the main ingredient (read: protein source), but sometimes, it’s fun to plan a whole meal or even just a little snack around one little spice in my spice drawer. Like lavender. A little lavender, basil and garlic stuffed into a pan-seared scallop is a surefire way to life my mood.
- Pay attention to each of your five senses. When stress hits, take a moment to take stock of your five senses. What are you seeing? What are you smelling? What are you tasting? What are you hearing? What do you feel? This little trick instantly brings you to the present moment and encourages mindfulness, which can also get you out of whatever little funk you were in.
- Make eye contact with a stranger. Are you in public? Find a cashier, grocery bagger, fellow patron or stranger on the sidewalk to look at and smile. If you don’t know what color their eyes are when you are done, find someone else and try it again. The people around us are humans, and we humans need other humans.
- Play music. If you’re feeling blue, try putting on an upbeat song. If you’re feeling hyper-crazy and overworked, try putting on a soothing song. Bonus points if you can play the song yourself on an instrument or sing yourself a tune.
- Give yourself a hand massage. I don’t know why we neglect our hands, but our hands have nerve endings and hold our stress just like our feet, backs and other body parts do. When you’re feeling stressed, try rubbing your palms. If your head hurts, place your thumb and forefinger in the meaty part between the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand and rub until the headache subsides. This trigger point is magical.
- List 5 things you are grateful for. The power of gratitude is never-ending. I could write five novels on the benefits of gratitude on daily life. When you are feeling stressed out, taking time to remember 5 things you are grateful for can change your entire outlook on life, or at least dial your stress down a notch.
Stress isn’t completely avoidable, but it doesn’t have to bring us down. We are not victims of life. We are each in charge of our own happiness. So, take a moment for you. Compile your own list of sanity savers. Help yourself feel better. You are worth it.