Our outlook and perspective are so powerful. As Kate Hanley writes in her activity-packed book Stress Less: Stop Stressing and Start Living, “everyone has stress, but it is how you choose to cope with it that can make all the difference in your daily life.”
Part of caring compassionately for ourselves is turning to healthy tools and techniques when times are tough. Because stress—some kind of stress—is inevitable. But it doesn’t have to break us.
Of course, stress comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, we need to make a big change. That is, the stressor is too big. It’s a toxic job. Or a toxic partner. Or a toxic living situation. And while relaxation tools can minimize our pain, the best approach is to address your stress at the root.
But other times, the smallest, simplest tools can help us. Tremendously. Below are six of my favorite stress-relieving activities from Stress Less, which you might want to add to your coping collection or your daily routine. (This week I’m also sharing six more favorites from Hanley’s book, so please stay tuned for that.)
Explore your own early warning signs. For starters, it’s important to spot the early signs that you’re getting stressed out so you can take healthy measures “before your stress level is at eleven,” writes Hanley, a mindset coach and yoga teacher.
Explore where you hold stress in your body. For instance, maybe you hold stress in your shoulders or stomach. Explore, too, how you cope with stress. Maybe you find yourself checking your phone every few minutes; eating cookies, which you don’t even taste anymore; or snapping at your kids. Whatever you learn, remember to be kind and gentle with yourself. Whatever you learn is actually very helpful information—knowing the shifts you need to make.
Use your breath to foster sleep. As you’re lying in bed, breathe in for a count of three. Then breathe out for a count of six. Do this for 10 rounds. You also can breathe in for four, and then breathe out for 8. Or breathe in for five and breathe out for 10. Hanley stresses the importance of sticking to what feels best for you.
Soothe your spine. According to Hanley, “The curves of your spine are your body’s shock absorbers.” And because of sitting and sleeping, our spines get distorted and stiff and probably achy.
To reset your spine, she suggests: “Lie on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and the back of your head resting on a book or two (so your forehead is slightly higher than your chin). Put a pillow between your thighs and let the knees fall into each other.” Stay here for 10 minutes.
Engage in your environment—with a partner. Find a spot with a great view, like a picture window or park bench. Along with your spouse, friend, mom, dad, colleague or child, take turns saying out loud what you observe. A poodle. A bluebird. A row of red tulips. A jogger. Squirrels searching for food. Trees blooming. Kids playing. Marvel at your seemingly mundane and yet magical surroundings.
Watch the clouds. Focus on their shapes for 5 minutes. Clouds, like our thoughts, are always changing. “Just as a massive bank of gray clouds will inevitably clear into the blue sky, or a cloud shaped like a rabbit will morph into an ice cream cone, your current thought pattern will also transform,” Hanley writes.
Connect to tranquility with tangible reminders. A hike or walk on the beach tends to ground you and help you feel calm and content, writes Hanley. To reconnect to these rejuvenating places, she suggests everything from keeping a rock in your pocket to using a red leaf as a bookmark to turning a seashell into a paperweight.
“Then you’ll always have a reminder that there’s a great big beautiful world right outside—a helpful thought whenever your problems are feeling too big.” Because stress has a way of narrowing our vision, our lives. It has a way of making us feel tiny and powerless. Return to the above exercises, and remind yourself that you are anything but.
What is your favorite way to stress less?