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Stress is one of the biggest killers in the modern world. You hear about it almost every day. Parents are stressed, employees are stressed, even young people are stressed. Stress can and does affect all walks of life, but suffer too much and you can put a strain on both your body and mind.
Stress — A Very Modern Disease?
These days, those who suffer minor but constant stress will often conclude that it is because there is always so much to do. Nowadays it really does seem that we have to be some kind of superhero, just to fit everything in and get through the day.
Life is expensive, meaning that in a family with children, both parents work. That can often mean after school childcare is needed so that the whole family doesn’t reunite until after 6 pm each evening. Not only are both you and the kids shattered by then, but there is little time left for family bonding.
Plus, there is dinner to prepare, homework to do, the house to look after – then right at the last minute your daughter tells you she needs to dress up in a crocodile costume for school tomorrow – before you know it, it’s nine o’clock before you have even set foot near the sofa.
Or maybe you are suffering from stress because of some other problem. Overload at work, perhaps. Or maybe you feel you don’t get on with your boss, or your income seems to be stretching further and further each month. The boiler has stopped working, or your house needs re-roofing, and none of these things come cheap.
Perhaps your child is having problems at school, or an elderly parent is declining and you feel you are being pulled in all directions. Perhaps you don’t even know why you’re feeling stressed – you can’t put your finger on it, but you just don’t feel right. You’re not in ill health, but you don’t feel quite like ‘you‘.
Stress Reduction Techniques And Ideas
This article is a short guide to some stress reduction techniques and ideas, which can help to improve your life.
Listening to Music
When you’re feeling stressed, try listening to music. Listen to whatever music makes you feel good, whatever inspires you. Music is a very powerful medium, it can completely change your state of mind.
Put on a CD and let your thoughts and feelings carry you to another place. Even if you’re busy, take ten minutes out and give it a go. Choose music that makes you feel laid back and calm, happy and optimistic. Beautiful music, perhaps, that soothes your nerves.
Some people have particular tracks that really do make them feel as though they can do anything or songs that make them feel relaxed and joyful so that other things seem less important.
As teenagers, we were probably always listening to music, but then, as we grew older and became so much busier, sometimes we forget how the music from our youths made us feel we could do anything.
Sometimes we can’t change the things that make us feel stressed, but if we can change our state of mind, even for a while, we can make tense situations seem less important.
Getting Lost in a Book
If you don’t like the place you’re in, escape to another one. A book is like another place; another world. Not just any old book, mind, but the sort that you can really get lost in; the sort you just can’t put down. If you don’t have a book at home, peruse the local bookstore and choose a new one. Or get one from the library.
Don’t use being busy as an excuse not to read. Even if you only read for a short while, you’ll find your mind has really benefited from a short break to another place. Read on the sofa, when the kids have gone to bed. Read in the garden, with an early evening coffee.
Read in the bath, and add some indulgent bubbles for extra pampering. Read for half an hour before retiring for the night. Reading can expand your mind, even when it’s only fiction, and bring about new perspectives.
Read Inspiring Books
Sometimes you can read a book that just puts everything into context. When you are feeling so stressed and discouraged that it seems as though nothing is worth it, then find some words that really do make a difference. Take these quotes from the book ‘Buddhist Offerings 365 days‘:
“Whether we regard our situation as heaven or hell depends on our own perception” quote: Pema Chodron.
“The key is changing our own habits and, in particular, the habits of our mind.” quote: Pema Chodron
“The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another.” quote: Jack Kornfield
“Do not encumber your mind with useless thoughts. What good does it do to brood on the past or anticipate the future? Remain in the simplicity of the present moment.” quote: Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Though the above quotes may be written from a Buddhist perspective, they in no way require a belief or understanding of Buddhism to make sense but can fit into the context of anybody’s life. Or try these quotes from ‘The Little Book of Calm‘, by Paul Wilson:
“Steal thirty seconds: When you’re tense, go somewhere quiet – even the bathroom will do at a pinch – and take thirty seconds to gather your thoughts, and work out how you’re going to become calm. They could be the most useful thirty seconds in your day.“
“Know when to stop: For most activities in life, there are no prizes for perseverance. When you know your stress levels are rising, stop what you’re doing – either take a break or do something else.“
There are countless books filled with quotes like these to choose from, and reading them can really change the way you are feeling. Some quotes seem to bring about a sense of calm in an instant, and all you need is a moment to flick through and absorb the words.
The Power of Perspective
There is nothing more powerful than the power of your own mind. That’s why people sometimes say, ‘You make your own reality‘. There is a lot of truth in that statement, because at the end of the day, sometimes it isn’t what actually happens to us but the way we choose to see it that really counts.
Many people strive after this and that – new cars, bigger houses, top job – without even questioning whether or not it really matters. They compare themselves to others, without observing the richness and advantages of the lives they already have.
Yet in the end, does happiness really have anything to do with the status we acquire, or is love and laughter, quality time spent with loved ones and seeing the good in the world we live in, worth so much more?
Take this example — if you are stressing over moving to a bigger house because you think you’ve outgrown the last one, yet the financial strain is weighing you down, think of all the families around the world who live in tiny houses, sometimes little more than tents, yet are often smiling with happiness.
The ability to experience contentment from the simplest of pleasures is one of the biggest achievements a person can make. And living on top of one another can create strong bonds from more time spent together.
The society we live in is, in many ways, responsible for shaping our perceptions about the way life should be – but when we don’t have exactly what we want, we always have the choice over whether to view the glass as half full, or half empty.
Get Some Exercise
When you feel stressed, perhaps exercising is the last thing on your mind. But it can be that initial thought barrier that is the hardest to get over. Exercise can be a good stress reducer because it actually increases the endorphins produced by your brain, which give you a natural high.
People enjoy all different kinds of exercise – what you choose is up to you. Running is a popular activity, as it is cost-free and you can fit it into your day whenever it suits you. If you prefer an indoor environment you could join a gym, or what about the local swimming pool?
Pools have a variety of different sessions to suit all needs – you can choose sessions that are not swarming with kids, early morning sessions, evening sessions, water aerobic classes.
Swimming is an excellent sport for keeping fit because it exercises all parts of your body. Other options include aerobic classes, weight training, tennis, badminton (both great if you like a bit of company), cycling, martial arts, and dancing, but there are many more.
Learn to Say ‘NO’
You can’t do anything. No matter how hard you try, or how much you think you have to be some kind of superhero, sometimes it just isn’t possible. When you know you are just about holding it together, yet anything else will cause you to crack under the strain, don’t be afraid to say ‘No‘. You are only human, after all, and you can only fit so much into one day.
Some people don’t like saying ‘no’ so that in the end they get so much piled upon them that they become more and more stressed. Some people think that others will think badly of them if they say ‘no’, but that probably isn’t the case at all.
In fact, people who speak up for themselves are often better respected than people who do not. And if you don’t say anything, people might not know how you are feeling. Perhaps they think you’re happy with your lot. Don’t put on a smile and say that all is fine when it’s not. Speak your mind. Learn how to say ‘NO‘.
Try Some Yoga
Yoga is a holistic activity which is thought to have been around for at least 5000 years. It originates from the Sanskrit and is now used by people from all over the world. Most of us hold an image of what yoga is – perhaps you have a picture of somebody with great agility, undertaking some challenging stretching exercises. However, Yoga is more than simply stretching – the entire point of it is to align the mind, body, and spirit.
There are several different types of Yoga, but really they work on the same philosophy – to achieve the body and mind connection, through stretching and breathing. Some Yoga postures are aimed at encouraging the energy (prana) to flow quickly throughout the body, causing ‘heat‘.
Some postures promote strength and healthy alignment because it is thought that only a body which is truly aligned can be in optimum health. Yoga focuses heavily on the ‘breath‘ because breathing is a ‘life force‘ – without air, a person will die.
However, Yogis believe that they must breathe in the ‘right‘ way in order to achieve optimum benefit – not from the chest but deeply, from the stomach.
Yoga is a practice which can be closely likened to meditation. It is very much about control and can help to promote good, long-lasting health. A few years ago there was a woman in her nineties on TV who had a poker straight spine, could still stand on her head, and was in excellent health – she could easily have passed for a much younger woman.
Yoga promotes a peaceful existence, and so is an excellent stress-buster. Hatha Yoga may be good for beginners looking for stress relief, as many people seem to find it the easiest.
Yoga classes can be found in most towns and cities, and there are also many useful DVDs and books available.
Visualisation and Meditation
Visualisation is an excellent tool for combating stress because it can be done anywhere. When you feel stressed, visualise a calm place in your mind — really see it, feel it, be there in it.
Visualise whatever brings you a sense of serenity and peace — a beautiful place, perhaps; natural running water, like a waterfall; or maybe a vision of your own happiness, how you would like your life to be. Remember, every dream starts off as a small seed in somebody’s mind.
Meditation is a technique that can bring about wonderful calm. Meditation is all about stilling the mind; existing only in the present moment without allowing external thoughts which may cause stress, tension, and chaos. There are many guidebooks and classes that can teach you the fundamentals of meditation.
Remember Who You Really Are
Think back to when you were younger — what dreams did you have? What were your passions? What really lies inside you, entrenched within your very soul? Do you love singing? Painting? Growing flowers or vegetables? Playing tennis? Do you love animals, or sewing your own clothes? Or maybe taking photos, of wildlife or blood-red sunsets. Perhaps you like writing – after all, they say everyone has a book inside them somewhere.
The point is that sometimes, even though you think you do too much, perhaps you don’t do enough. Perhaps you’re feeling stressed because you are not doing the right things, the things that make you feel whole.
Remember, even if you are a parent, husband, wife, manager, teacher, business owner, whatever….you are still an individual as well. If you have unfulfilled passions hiding somewhere inside you, then try to find a small amount to time to realize those dreams. Even if it is just a couple of hours a week, you will come away feeling that you have really achieved something…which you will have, because you have done it for you.
And don’t use the excuse that you don’t have time…squeeze it in somewhere, let something else go. Get your other half to put the kids to bed, or call on a friend or relative if you’re a single parent. Just do it, it’s good for the soul!
Visit Somewhere Beautiful
Sometimes, just being somewhere else can alleviate feelings of stress. When you feel wound up, try to find some time to escape to a beautiful or calm place, a tranquil oasis, and let the power of nature absorb your negativity.
Getting away from things can really help you to recharge those batteries — that’s probably why we like vacations so much! Even if you can’t go right away, try to plan a time when you are able to get away — lunch break, after work, tomorrow, even at the weekend. If you work all week, then the weekend is a really important time and you should grab it with both hands.
Even children enjoy beautiful places —think parks; woods; beaches. Go with your partner, take the whole family, contact a friend or even go alone.
The beauty of the great outdoors can dust the cobwebs off your eyes and really help you to ‘see‘ — and even when you come back to the same old chaos, you will be starting off from the point of feeling ‘brand new’. Not only that but being outside in natural light or sunlight really can lift your mood.
Learn to Live in the Moment
The past is behind you and the future has yet to happen. All we really have in life is the very moment that we are existing in, right now. Everything else is only thoughts, memories, or speculation, held inside our own minds. The past has already happened and cannot be changed, so wasting mental energy revisiting it cannot help us to achieve a thing.
Even the future is hidden from us — we can take steps to strive towards, yet we can never really know what is going to happen. Being ambitious for the future is one thing if we hold it in a positive light and put our hearts into enjoying the journey.
But as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy doing other things“.
Worrying about the future can be draining and stressful, and also means we are missing out on the here and now. Many times, worrying serves no purpose — we have to take our lives into both hands and focus on the ‘now‘. For when all is said and done, all we really do have is ‘right now‘.
Voice Your Problems and Concerns
Don’t be a doormat. Speaking up and voicing any problems and concerns you have need not be confrontational. If you have a concern that you would like to air, be it at work, home, or your child’s school, then wait for the opportunity to bring it up and find your voice.
Some people put off discussing their problems because they feel that either they are not problems that can be rectified easily (perhaps staff shortages at work), or that speaking out will be looked down upon by a senior member. If you have consistent problems at work, then try to fix an appointment to discuss them with the correct person — just bad mouthing around the office never really helps.
Don’t be angry or confrontational – voicing concerns is best done in a friendly and approachable manner. Be confident, though, and make sure you get all your points across. Even if the problem cannot be sorted right away, you will probably feel better for bringing it to the forecourt, and at least someone else now knows how you feel.
Often, the very worst thing you can do is to bottle things up – remember, things that are bottled up, like fizzy pop, for instance, sometimes explode!
If you are happy at work, but feeling stressed at home, explain to your partner (if you have one) how you feel. Try not to turn it into an argument, by accusing your other half of adding to your stress by not helping out, doing the dishes, playing with the kids, etc. etc. Just explain how you feel, then take it from there. Together, you can try to find solutions and hopefully, you will feel less stressed by airing your feelings.
Shiatsu Massage and Acupuncture
Stress can make you feel tense, leading to knots in the neck and upper back. In a stressed person, the natural energy of the body does not flow as freely as it should. As the old saying goes, ‘carrying a lot of weight on your shoulders/back’, stress literally does put a heavy load upon you.
If your stress is caused by lots of everyday, minor factors that you don’t feel are going to go away any time soon, then how about relieving some of the tension with a message. A good therapist can release built-up, stagnant energy and help you feel brand new again.
Make a regular appointment, maybe once a week or once every two weeks — whatever you feel you need. Even attending the appointment will mean some time just for you, and hopefully, you will come out feeling as though you are stepping back into the land of the living! Sometimes you don’t even realize how tight and restricted your muscles have become until you begin to rectify it.
There are many different types of massage, but Shiatsu has been a popular choice for many, of late. Shiatsu is an ancient Japanese method, which involves releasing points of tension through acupressure, i.e. the therapist stimulating the area with his or her fingers until the area is relieved.
Shiatsu massage works on realigning the meridian centres of the body, thus allowing energy to flow freely and restoring the patient to full health.
Acupuncture is, in many ways, quite similar to Shiatsu, in that it also focuses on releasing tension by relieving blocked meridians. The main difference is that, while Shiatsu uses only pressure, acupuncture uses actual needles (very fine ones). Acupuncture has long been seen as a successful therapy for relieving many problems and is even recommended by conventional medical practitioners for some conditions.
Both shiatsu and acupuncture can, if used regularly, prevent the buildup of tension and the symptoms of stress-related problems.
Neglecting the Housework Won’t Kill You
If you’re finding yourself overloaded and you feel you’re living in a crazy world of non-stop chaos, something has to give a little. And that something shouldn’t be you. After all, you might be rushing about here, there and everywhere for everyone else, but that does not mean that you don’t have a right to exist yourself.
Don’t feel that you have to cater to everyone else all the time — nobody has to be perfect. And ‘perfect‘ is a difficult word to define anyhow. If you’re on the go all day long and then come home to clean the house well into the evening, then you haven’t got any time to indulge yourself. And if you don’t have any time to indulge yourself, then you might find it harder to put across positive vibes for the other people who matter most.
Let me let you into a little secret — you won’t die if you don’t vacuum every day. In fact, you won’t die if you don’t vacuum all week, or even for two weeks. Washing up or loading the dishwasher might be a necessity, as is wearing clean clothes — but a bit of dust on the surfaces isn’t going to spoil your day, and neither is a messy bedroom or a cobweb in the corner.
Anyway, dust just comes back almost before you can blink again, so don’t waste your time and enjoy your life!
Sometimes, you just have to let things go, for your own sake and for the rest of your family. Decide what is actually important in the day, and deal with those things first. Decide that you are not going to be doing chores after 7 pm at night, or whatever, and stick to it. Leave the things that you don’t have time for until a day when you have.
You need time for yourself, more than you need a spotless showhouse. You need time to pamper yourself, to develop your interests, to unwind or watch a comedy. Remember – it’s your life too, and you are more important than a house.
Try to Forget the Trivial
So much of our lives in the modern world are filled with trivial clutter that has no place in the broader landscape. Most of us spent far too much time worrying or complaining about things that just really don’t matter.
We get wound up over small things, but when there are too many ‘small‘ things, then we become stressed and tense. Old habits can be hard to break, but if we can learn to overlook some of these trivial things – someone annoying you at work, perhaps, or the kids playing up, or somebody denting the side of your car — then we can live our lives in a calmer, more contented manner. And that can only be a good thing.