In challenging times like these, so many of us are experiencing significant stress. If life is like a box of chocolates, we can certainly face unforeseen challenges. These challenges – such as losing a job, dealing with an illness, experiencing a traumatic event, or a significant life change – can be stressful, add up, and wear on us over time. This is why stress management activities are essential for your mental health.
Where Does Stress Come From?
Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. During times of acute stress, we experience a biological response, and our bodies release stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. The “fight-or-flight” response is triggered by the release of these hormones, which help to prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to flee to safety.
Short-lived feelings of stress are a regular part of everyday life. Stress symptoms can affect your body, your mood, and your behavior. Common bodily manifestations of acute stress include headache, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal upset. People who are stressed may have alterations in mood, such as irritability, anxiety, sadness, or restlessness. Some individuals can also experience changes in behavior, such as overeating or undereating, angry outbursts, or social withdrawal.
In short, even when we choose to ignore it, stress is almost always disruptive to our day-to-day living. While everyone experiences stress from time-to-time, the body works in constant overdrive when stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress affects the whole body and can have severe physical or psychological effects, such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, and cancer. Therefore, it’s important to find ways to manage your stress so that stress does not manage you!
Here are ten stress management activities that will help you to reduce stress:
Did you know that on average a person takes about 16 breaths per minute? That means that we take about 960 breaths in an hour and 23,040 breaths per day. Despite the regularity and frequency of breathing, most of us don’t pay much attention to our breathing. However, healthy breathing is fundamental to good health and well-being. By consciously managing your breathing, you can manage your stress. Slow, conscious, and deep breathing helps to calm your central nervous system and cardiovascular systems. In addition, deep belly breathing may also improve attention, mood, and levels of cortisol. So try this:
- Assume a comfortable seated position
- Inhale through your nose for five seconds, filling first your belly and then your chest
- Hold for five seconds
- Exhale through your mouth for five seconds
- Repeat 3 – 5 times
Dancing and other forms of exercise raise the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. I recommend doing any type of movement that you enjoy on a daily basis. However, dancing can be particularly exhilarating and fun, as it offers an outlet for people to express who they are through music, movement, or perhaps even costumes. So put on your favorite playlist and let loose!
Take a Warm Bath
When you are stressed, the muscles of your body contract. Taking a warm bath can relieve muscle tension. Actually, submerging yourself in warm water can be both calming and reinvigorating, as it increases blood flow to your skin. Submergence in water can also reduce pain and inflammation. So run a bath, turn on some calming music, and enjoy a sensory slowing down.
When people feel stressed or anxious, they often look for distractions. Baking can be a very positive distraction, as it engages the senses, especially smell, touch, taste, and of course, visualizing the end result. Baking also requires concentration. Following recipes offers a sense of structure and routine, which can help alleviate stress. So can you visualize those chocolate chip cookies or a loaf of fresh baked bread? Make time to bake, and it will!
You don’t need to have any skill at art to just let your pen, pencil, or crayon make its way around a page of paper. Drawing freely helps to get you out of your head. Research suggests that the repetitve and rhythmic motions of free drawing can activate the relaxation response and be a great stress reliever. There are also cognitive and creative benefits of doodling, so burst out your pen and paper and give it a try!
Read a Good Book
Reading a good book is one of the best stress management activities. Reading has been found to decrease blood pressure, lower heart rate, and reduce stress to significant degrees. It also calms the mind and relaxes the body. So pick up a novel you’ve been wanting to read and get started now!
Keep a Stress Diary
Keeping a Stress Diary can help you to become more aware of situations that cause you stress. You will want to record in the diary on a regular basis to get the most benefit. When you are stressed out, make a note in your diary of the time, place, people, and situation. Record the symptoms you experienced, such as nausea, raised pulse rate, or sweaty palms. Finally, report how well you handled the stressful event: did your reaction improve the situation, or did it make things worse?
You can use your Stress Diary to understand your personal stress triggers and gradually learn to better handle or eliminate situations that cause you stress.
Walk in Nature
Research in the scientific field of ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Interacting with natural spaces has several therapeutic benefits. Calming nature sounds can lower the stress hormone, cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response. The visual aspects of nature, such as trees and foliage, help to distract your mind from negative thinking and can also have a calming effect.
Planting a garden outdoors can be a great way to reconnect with nature and to beautify your environment. Key stress relief benefits of gardening include spending time outdoors, being creative, and engaging in some physical activity. Your garden can also serve as place for meditation, contemplation, and relaxation, which may offer significant relief from stress.
Play a Game
There are lots of fun stress-relieving games.
Bubble wrap popping is a favorite game for many people – just press the bubbles with your fingers and make them explode. This helps you reduce stress by reducing destructive emotions.
Do you remember play dough? This popular childhood material provides a wonderful sensory experience but can also be a great stress reliever. Kneading, rolling, flattening, or stretching the play dough can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry.
Board games like Pictionary, Cranium, and Trivial Pursuit, tap into both intellect and creativity and are a good way to reduce stress while enjoying some family time.
In conclusion, while all of us experience stress, there are many healthy ways to manage it. In the words of the great novelist Hermann Hesse, “Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” Let us know which of these stress management activities has worked for you or if there are others you recommend!
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