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4 Proven Tools for Stress Relief

(4.5 minute read) Let’s face it, no matter how positive and level headed we may try to remain, stress is an unavoidable part of life. As moms, we are constantly juggling the various demands of our daily routines. Between work obligations, kids schedules, cooking, cleaning, social lives, community involvement, and anything else you might prioritize, life can easily get pretty hectic. All that chaos, no matter how much we enjoy the individual tasks themselves, can understandably lead to a fair amount of stress.

I used to be the type of person who simply kept busy, constantly moving forward without acknowledging my stress. I didn’t even realize that I did this until a few years ago. And when it was first brought to my attention, I thought it was a positive thing. After all, keeping busy made me productive. It’s not like I necessarily felt unhappy, and I didn’t allow myself to complain about the little things. Isn’t that a good thing?

What I failed to recognize is that not feeling or facing the stress, along with the other emotions that typically come with it, was actually extremely unhealthy. Pretending it doesn’t exist does not make stress magically disappear, like I thought. Instead, it just stayed deep within. Although I believed my stress wasn’t affecting me, it just manifested itself in ways I wasn’t even aware of. Misplaced anger, eating unhealthy foods, sleepless nights. Sound familiar?

I’ve since learned that allowing myself to acknowledge and feel things – to let the stress out-is positive. It doesn’t make me weak, it makes me human. The question became how to let it out effectively. After all, the way we choose to manage stress determines the effect it will have on our overall well-being.  

I spent some time finding and trying out various approaches. Some worked better than others, and some not at all. In the end I’ve learned to cycle between a few methods that work best for me, and even adapted some so that they are a better fit for my lifestyle. For example, I simply couldn’t sit and meditate in the traditional way, guided or unguided. So rather than trying to force myself to fit that traditional approach, I made it work for me in a way that I could genuinely enjoy. Now I walk with my dog at a local preserve (more on that in my later mindfulness blog).

Learning to embrace and manage my stress has been a life changing experience. As such, I figured I would share 4 Proven Ways to Relieve Stress with hopes that you too can find the practices that work best for you, and introduce them to you kids, so you can lead healthy lives.

Breathing

  • Breathing deeply, as simple as it sounds, does wonders when it comes to finding a way to relax. Just a few deep breaths increases oxygen supply to the brain and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (a fancy term for the part of your body that is responsible for keeping you calm). By stopping what you are doing and taking a moment to breathe deeply, you bring awareness of your stress to your body. This allows you to refocus and avoid mental rumination. Starting this practice with your children in their younger years will serve them well throughout their lives.
  • Blowing bubbles is a fun, alternative way to breathe deeply. It serves the same purpose. And for adults it allows us to feel like a child again. which can be soothing. Plus, this super easy activity that promotes relaxation is perfect for families to do together.
  • Meditation is another extremely effective method to reduce stress and anxiety, and one that also focuses on the breath. Along with being a simple and inexpensive way to combat stress, it is also considered “medicine for your mind.” By focusing your attention, you can clear  your mind of negative thoughts and worries. Meditation enables you to restore a sense of calmness and peace to your day so that you can approach it with a more positive and balanced attitude.
  • Yoga is a specific form of physical activity that can REALLY help to reduce stress since it effectively combines the benefits of exercise with the benefits of deep breathing and meditation. Better yet, yoga is a practice that offers various different types, levels, and variations so that virtually everybody can participate. Young, old, beginner, intermediate, advanced, strength, flexibility, gentle, prenatal, geriatric…you name it, there is a type of yoga out there for you.

Exercise

When your body feels good, so does your mind, which is a big reason why exercise, in almost any form,  is such a great way to reduce stress. As we all know, stress originates in the brain (through thoughts and worries) and connects to just about every part of your body.  Exercise increases the number of “feel good” neurotransmitters (aka endorphins) that are circulating throughout the body. So, when the brain tries to bring the body down with negative thoughts or emotions, physical activity can reverse that effect – saying “no” to negativity by fighting back.

Walking Outside

In today’s technology driven world, as you’re probably aware, our devices can cause stress. The constant beeps and/or vibrations serve as a reminder of our busy schedules, tasks, and commitments. We all need time to unplug and forget about the daily grind (even if just momentarily).  Taking a walk outside (preferably without your phone) allows you to take in something much more pure – nature. Observe the landscape. Smell the fragrances of flowers. Feel the air on your skin. Listen to the sound of the wind or the animals. By engaging your senses, you can release and relax. Plus, Vitamin D, which we literally soak up from the sun, has lots of benefits. In terms of stress it actually elevates your mood and relaxes blood vessels (which improves blood flow). So, after a long day of work or school, or being on the run, taking a refreshing walk outside is a great way to relax. Even better, do it together with your child. You can walk in silence, talk about your day, or make it a game (ie: I spy with my little eye….)

Various Art Forms

Multiple studies have proven people get stress relief from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.

  • Art is wonderful and productive tool to release emotions. And the best part of it is that your skill level doesn’t matter.  Whether you grab pencils and a piece of paper to doodle, some paint or a coloring book, the process of drawing, doodling, painting or coloring requires focus and rhythm. This helps synchronize hand, eye, body, and mind which not only slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure, it also forces you to shift your attention to the present moment rather than worrying about things.
  • Dancing, like yoga, is able to combine a few of the most effective de-stressing strategies into one. While it is without a doubt a great way to exercise and get your blood pumping, it is also a form of artistic expression. Through movement and music, dancing helps people connect to their emotions and feelings, often in a fun and carefree way.
  • Music is an escape for many. When you put in your headphones and allow yourself to get lost in the rhythm and/or the lyrics, you are taken to a place far away from your daily hassles, concerns, and stressors. While music can be a wonderful distraction, it can also be used to help you connect with your emotions and feelings.
  • Baking and cooking offer many of the same benefits as other art forms.  It can be used to communicate your feelings. Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, points to the cultural norm of bringing food to someone when a loved one has passed. She says, “Sometimes there are no words, and only food can communicate what you’re trying to say.”  Who wouldn’t want to turn their stress into a yummy plate of cookies or a delicious meal to help heal others (and yourself)? “Baking actually requires a lot of full attention. You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction,” says Associate Professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, Donna Pincus.

 

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Our goal at GAALS is to provide best practices that will aid you in helping your daughter to build character, confidence and life skills. However, we recognize that there is no one size fits all solution for parenting. That’s why we are grateful when we hear questions and comments. It enables us to see new perspectives, and to pass along our learnings to our community.  Please email us at info@GAALSusa.com

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