I am a classic stress-case in many ways. I appear as a calm ocean on the outside (or at least I hope I do), but inside my mind runs a lightening speed creating lists of all I have to do at work or at home, phone calls I feel guilty for not making (sorry, Dad!), birthday presents which are late and still not mailed out.. etc etc etc. I can work myself into a pretty tightly wound ball of stress quickly and especially as I get older, I am noticing more physical and mental symptoms associate with my stress. Bad stomach aches, indigestion, jaw popping (from clenching without noticing), headaches, heart racing, general dissatisfaction, and I am really started to develop worry lines:
Why am I telling you all this? Today is National Stress Awareness Day and I thought I’d share some of my tips and strategies for managing my own. I am not a trained expert per se (no LMHC here), but my through my education and profession I am steeped in the concept of self-care and as a seasoned stresser I have developed some pretty decent awareness and reduction practices.
5 Strategies for Stress Awareness & Reduction
1. Say No…sometimes
I love to say YES! This can be problematic because I want to do all the things all the time.When I was younger, this resulted in too many double-bookings and I found that I was not giving myself enough down-time to be alone and quiet my mind. I still enjoy being busy but have learned to look not only at if I am booked for that moment but also the larger pattern of busy-ness, I now take into consideration the recent past and nearing future before saying yes. In fact, if you ask MT, she’ll tell you I’m the queen of non-commitment these days.Learning to say no really comes from listening to multiple needs and not letting my loud extrovert voice take over. I find I need more alone time as I grow older so I am tuning in to my introverted side and saying “No” to more things these days.
The other piece of this is be choosy. Say yes to things, people, and activities that add joy and love to your life. Say no to things that don’t. Mind blowing, I know. But seriously – that person you don’t really like but keeps inviting you to do stuff? You can totally say “no, thank you”. I give you permission to say it over and over again. Fill you life, your hours, and your minutes with less things that feel obligatory and more things that fill you with happiness.
Well, it is how I try to roll, anyway. Despite what we all answer in interview questions, multitasking has been proven to be inefficient and not helpful. Why do we still think that is the correct answer to “How do you juggle competing priorities?” is “I do it all at once!”?! I don’t know. Single-tasking is the way to go. This is not my default, but especially when I am most stressed out, I am extra careful to focus on one task until it is complete. If I remember other things I need to do, I take a brief moment to jot it down so I don’t have to worry about forgetting it, then I go back to my ONE task. With single-tasking I get more done in less time while feeling less scattered and worried.
When I start to feel my heart race or thump loudly I stop what I am doing, take a deep breath, and pause. 15-30 seconds of self check-in does wonders for the body and mind. Sometimes I close my eyes, sometimes I don’t. I do a little inventory/scan of my physical body: where am I holding tension, what muscles are clenched, am I sitting up straight, when was the last time I ate, did I sleep enough last night etc., then do a mental inventory: what am I most worried about, what thoughts or stressors are unnecessary and/or unhelpful that I can let go of, etc. I work to just notice and try not to judge. Listening to yourself and checking in even briefly can tell you do much about what is going on. And when I stop to pause, I begin again better aware and prepared to handle or reduce the stress.
I suppose this is just a longer version of the pause. Particularly in the middle of a work day I set aside longer periods of time to not be on my phone, or tablet, or computer. I take a walk around campus or even just explore and walk around buildings if it is crappy out. Sometimes I listen to podcasts but in general I try to keep this time electronics free and use the opportunity to tune it to the people and nature around me. I let my mind wander and my body loosen. Without fail I come back to my desk more relaxed and positive. While the pause addresses acute stress and symptoms, this disconnect practice addresses overall reduction and stress management.
Really, any kind of exercise will do. It is so valuable to find something that can be a regular destressor and with the wide variety of exercises out there (zumba, yoga, weight lifting, running, biking, swimming) there really is something for everyone. For me, it isn’t about doing the most, or being the best, or going the fastest – it is about taking care of this body and mind and getting the most out of everyday. It is about shedding the day’s challenges and creating a mental and physical break in the day. When I spend the time and energy to exercise all sorts of other things seem to come easier, too: I eat healthier, I drink more water, I sleep better. No surprise – those things all help reduce stress.
These 5 stress awareness and reduction strategies help me appreciate and notice myself. Getting reconnected and in-tune with my body and mind helps me make better choices all around and is the best way to honor all the gifts they give me. We are all amazing and a little self-love goes a long way.
What are you favorite stress awareness and reduction strategies? When you get most stressed, what is your go-to for relief?
Also, isn’t Amy Poehler the greatest? I just adore her acting and her admire her commitment to helping young girls develop emotional intelligence, resiliency, courage, and confidence. She is a class act. Check out Amy’s Smart Girls if you haven’t. I bet she has some good times on stress reduction…
What it feels like to run with my ipod:
What I fear it will be like to run without my ipod:
What I feel like after I’m done running without my ipod:
My February race was the Two for the Road 5k at Whatcom Falls Park on Valentines Day. This is a race put on by the Greater Bellingham Running Club (GBRC) and is free to members. I am a sucker for a free race and the GBRC does a great job with set up, course marking, volunteers, and the trough. Also, what a lovely way to celebrate the heart and love by exercising and engaging in some self-care! It was muddy from a few days of rain, but not actively raining and not too cold.
I was sorta dreading the hills since this race goes through some decent ups and downs, but I was looking forward to a run with my best running buddy – MT – and my Mr. I left the ipod at home expecting some lovely company but instead both MT and Mr. ditched me (how rude!) to run their speedier paces. While I was a bit bummed to slog solo and without my necessary aural distraction (always podcasts or audio books – never music), I instead took it as a challenge to listen to my body, my breathing, and take in the sights and sounds of the first glimpses of spring. And, truly, there were no hard feelings!
Anytime I run without listening to my ipod it is an accident: I didn’t charge my ipod. I left it at home when on vacation. I broke my headphones and haven’t gotten new ones yet… or some other version of those circumstances. It happens occasionally but not often and I always grumble about it as I get started. It typically takes me about 1 block to totally forget I was upset about not having my podcasts and to become absorbed in everything else going on around me.
In particular, I find that when I run without listening to my ipod I pay much more attention to my breath – counting the ins and outs, intentionally regulating the number of strides I take on each breath in and out (rhythmic breathing method), and ensuring I get a good exhale to clear the CO2 out of my lungs which makes room for more oxygen and decreases the risk of side stitches. When I do this, the time and the miles seem to fly by – well, maybe not fly by – but it certainly isn’t the death march i always fear it will be. One-two-three (IN), one-two (OUT). Repeat.
But, I digress, back to the race. Despite stopping to help a fellow runner who may have misplaced her young son in the forest, the hills didn’t slow me down too much and I finished in a respectable time (for myself). I tacked on an extra .5mi while backtracking to help the woman look for her son and still managed to rival some of my slowest 5k times – and this was with hills!
Overall, a great race. I still prefer to run with my ipod and I still have to check the disgust that boils inside as I approach a hill… but it is a race I intend to do again next year and I’m happy to know there will be many more hilly, sans-ipod runs in the future.