Managing stress effectively when you already feel like you need 48 hrs in a day is certainly a challenge. When all the advice we are given is to slow down, take time off, meditate, exercise or do something creative, many of us feel like it is a mission impossible and don’t even bother trying.
What if I told you, that there is a way of managing your stress better by doing all the above without devoting hours of your day to it? However, some discipline, commitment and time will still be required of you.
You see, slowing down can simply mean focusing on one thing at the time. Stop multi tasking or at least reduce it. Research shows that it is actually faster and more effective to do one thing at the time, than doing few things at once, where the quality of all those tasks suffers and often no time is actually saved bu the end of the day. You are also more likely to feel exhausted from multitasking than from single focused actions.
When we hear we should take time off we often think of holidays, rest days or at least few hours off work one afternoon. Although that can be helpful, it rarely effective long term. What is effective, however, is taking short mini breaks throughout the day, when you truly stop and do nothing, just be. Even as little as one minute every hour can make a lot of difference to the stress levels in your body and mind.
Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and it is most effective when practiced daily. You don’t need to sit cross-legged in a tranquil space chanting ohm to achieve the benefits of meditation. You can meditate while walking, exercising, washing up, eating, making love, enjoying nature or sitting on a public transport. You can literally do it anywhere any time. You can take a minute or ten or hundred. Do whatever works, but do it daily. At the very least, stop and breath into a square (breathe in on the count of four, hold for four, breathe out on four, hold for four and repeat) for a minute. If you breathe slowly and into your belly, it’ll help to switch off your sympathetic system and bring your cortisol levels down. By the way, long hugs are great de-stressors. Hold on for at least 20s (with consent obviously) to get and give all the benefits. Smiling at people helps too.
Exercise is great for despatching with accumulated tensions, excess stress hormones and pent up emotions. Whether you are into yoga, kick-boxing or running, whether your thing is dance, weight lifting or cycling, you don’t have to do it for hours on end to reduce your stress. Especially, if you have a sedentary job, moving your body at regular intervals is essential for your physical and mental health. Depending on your circumstances, you can choose to take the stairs instead of the lift when walking between offices, you can do few squats or jumping jacks by your desk, go for a ‘smoke’ break but instead of smoking, walk around the block once at a fast pace. Again, just a minute at the time can make a lot of difference. If you have a physical job, make sure you do exercise that moves your body in a different way. If you are laying bricks all day, dance or yoga can be really helpful, if you are a delivery cyclist, then perhaps some weight training or climbing session might be better than a spin class. To get the most out of your exercise, find something you enjoy.
And finally, creative activity can be great in lowering stress as long as it is done for the activity itself and not for a particular end result. Many people took to colouring in, drawing and painting, pottery and other arts and crafts. It can be as simple as doodling for a few minutes before a stressful meeting or singing with your kids when they are driving you over the edge. No need to start art classes, just sitting down with a pen and paper and seeing where it takes you is cool. You could nit or crochet, just few eyes at the time. You can do some DIY or gardening (potted plants can bring lots of joy in the absence of a garden). Maybe your thing is cooking or baking cakes, whatever makes you feel good, relaxed and in the flow, is the way to go. The great thing about this is that your kids are likely to love this too and perhaps even inspire your choice of creative activities.
As you can see, none of the above needs massive investment of time nor money. You can do these things with a baby in a sling, with a toddler playing at your feet or even let the children join in with you. These are great life skills to take into their teenage years and adulthood. If you catch yourself coming up with excuses why you cannot do any of those things, let me ask you why is your health not your priority? What is more important than your wellbeing and why? The answers to these questions might be best discussed with your therapist or coach, but if you are honest with your self, you are likely to touch on the root cause of your stress - you don’t consider yourself important enough to put your well being first. This is the case for many people and if it is you, remember that whoever you are prioritising over you cannot continue to benefit from your kind efforts if you are gravely ill or worse. Take care of you, so you are in a position to take care of those who matter to you. Looking after your self is the ultimate act of love that everyone around you will benefit from. Your children especially, will benefit in two ways, having a rested peaceful parent, who can be present for them and having an example of effective stress management for themselves.