Light on Theory
This post is light on theory and heavy on simple Stress Relief Exercises. If what you find here is of little or no help, don’t hesitate to leave a comment outlining your challenges.
In his Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “A change of work is the best rest”.
I remember my parents and grandparents using a popular version of Conan-Doyle’s original,
“A Change is As Good as A Rest”.
This is absolutely true in stress reduction.
One of the common comments I receive from clients is that they often have trouble sleeping due to stressful or anxious thoughts.
Here’s an exercise that helps and it doesn’t involve sleeping on the floor.
If you can’t get to sleep at bedtime or wake up during the night worrying about things, get out of bed and go to a different room.
Once there, write down what’s going on in your mind. Don’t analyze or judge, just write.
Don’t use a screen to write. Old fashioned pen and paper is the best.
Screens stimulate the part of the brain that suppresses production of melatonin. This makes sleep difficult for many people. Added to stress and anxieties keeping you awake; screens increase the load.
When you have finished writing or you feel sleepy; go back to bed.
If you wake up again with similar thoughts; repeat the exercise.
It may take several nights of repetition to remind your brain that your bed is for sleep and relaxation, not stress or anxiety.
Put stressful thoughts or anxiety on a schedule.
There is a process in psychology referred to as “cognitive defusion”.
It’s about letting thoughts come and go rather than holding onto them.
The following exercise can help to defuse stressful and anxious thoughts.
Choose a time during your day when you know you will be able to spend approximately 15-minutes alone. Aim for the same time every day.
During this time, allow any stressful or anxious thoughts to come and go through your mind as they please.
Don’t analyze or judge, just allow the thoughts to come and go until the time is up.
It’s important to know that these are thoughts, just thoughts.
You are having stressful thoughts. Recognize that.
If these thoughts arise outside the scheduled time, tell them, “I’m willing to hear you, at the scheduled time. Book an appointment”.
There are many similar exercises that can help. If you feel that there are none that help you, please don’t suffer in silence.
Change The Channel
There is plenty of research and practical examples of how as adults staying in-touch with our inner-child has many well-being benefits.
Now think for a few moments about the small children of today and how sensory play is encouraged. This post isn’t about children except to say that sensory play is an essential element of their learning and development with huge benefits.
In adults, sensory play is still great for learning, and it has been shown to help regulate emotions and reduce stress and anxiety.
Here’s a simple sensory exercise:
When you feel anxious or stressed, change your position.
If you are sat at a desk, get up and walk, dance, jog on the spot . . .
Do the opposite of whatever you were doing.
Changing the sensory experience can change the emotional channel.
Calm it by accepting it.
Mindful acceptance means that we notice our thoughts and feelings without judgment. There is no right or wrong way to think or feel in any given moment.
Talking about how we feel, I was recently asked to highlight the differences between stress and anxiety.
Although stress and anxiety share many of the same emotional and physical symptoms they don’t share the same roots. They are not the same.
People suffering from stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping. Generally, stress is a response to external events and except in chronic cases, will subside or go away once the stressful event has passed.
Challenges develop when the stressors frequently repeat.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even when the original stressors are gone.
How can we reduce stress or anxiety?
Think for a moment about how you feel when life feels like a constant uphill struggle. The more you fight it, the more difficult it seems to become. It’s tiring at best.
This may come as a surprise that one of the most effective ways to ease stress or anxiety is to accept it. Take away the fight because in doing so, you lessen the impact.
If you constantly think about resisting it, it will usually persist.
Acceptance doesn’t make room for distraction or avoiding the things that cause stress or anxiety. Avoidance doesn’t fix anything, and the stressors will always haunt you.
The answer lies in learning how to deal with them.
Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or direct message if you would like to learn more about managing stress or anxiety.
Can We Stop Anxiety?
Distraction or avoidance of the things that cause stress or anxiety doesn’t work.
Avoidance doesn’t fix anything.
When your anxiety feels overwhelming there are some simple exercises that can bring some relief.
Ask yourself some questions:
On scale of 1 to 10, is the thing I am anxious about true and likely to happen?
Would your reasons for thinking that something will go wrong stand up in court?
Try role-playing defense and prosecution with your reasons.
Is there a chance you are excessively worried?
Share your anxiety:
Avoidance doesn’t work. Who do you know that you could talk to?
Avoiding anxious thoughts can intensify them.
A helpful goal is to put your anxious thoughts into perspective.
Is there any real danger that is likely to bring harm?
Although anxiety might make you feel out of control, try focusing on breathing gently and repeating a simple mantra.
“I am safe, I am not out of control”.
All in a days’ Stress Relief
I’m often asked for stress relieving tips that can be applied during a regular day.
Here’s an example of my typical day with the theory left out.
My first thoughts of the day are not about work. This has not always been easy. It takes practice.
I start with quiet, aka being with self.
Everything starts with breathing, so I focus on my breath for a few moments and recall something positive from the previous day.
Today was easy. Yesterday I skied for 7-hours in magnificent weather.
On the high of those thoughts, I go to my office and prepare to start work. My work is confined to one location and specific times.
I don’t switch on any devices until I am ready to respond to messages.
Although I am a solopreneur, I have an excellent support network made up of people who work in psychology and mental health and some people who work in completely different industries. I will check in with at least one of these people daily.
I drive my work; it does not drive me. If I feel that I am being driven, I STOP. Breathe and Ground.
Breaks are essential and they range from 20-second time-out breaks to the more traditional coffee and healthy snack breaks to the substantial middle of the day 90-minute mountain bike ride break.
Where I have mentioned breathing, grounding, and time-out, I use a variety of evidence-based mindfulness tools. Most of the time nobody would notice what I am doing, they are equally effective in busy environments.
At the end of the day, I practice gratitude for the things that have taken place and particularly for being able to do what I do in the way that I do it.
When work is finished, I do not return to it until the next day. I am completely present with my family.
While this may sound like some sort of workday utopia, it is essential to note that getting here involved burnout, disability, and loss of career.
Following that came the decision that I would not allow the past to repeat. The price is too great.
Being With Self
Most simple stress reduction tips can be applied during the workday with virtually no interference on the flow of the day.
One of the challenges of a busy workday is that we often push to keep going regardless; projects to complete, deadlines to meet . . .
Stress comes and goes, sometimes it doesn’t leave and becomes chronic. Chronic stress affects our health, performance, and relationships.
If we don’t manage stress, stressful thoughts repeat.
A few posts in my network talked about self-love on St Valentine’s Day. One in particular pointed out the importance of self-love in terms of a reminder that whatever happens, we are together with self forever.
Therefore, we owe it to our self to take time out occasionally and “Be With Self” as opposed to constantly doing. We are after all, Human Beings.
So rather than doing the same things and getting the same results, when you feel stressed or need a break, try some of the following, albeit a little “wacky”, stress-busters.
- In a place where people can see you, spend a couple of minutes standing on one leg.
- Take off your shoes and go for a short walk. Particularly effective if you can walk on grass, sand . . .
- Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Just for a chat, not for a moan.
- Swap hands. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand to normal.
- Hang by the hands from a door frame, tree branch . . . just for a minute.
- Climb a tree.
- Follow a bird in flight. Put yourself in its place. Imagine.
- Move things around at your desk / workstation. Change perspective
If we keep doing the same things, we will always get the same results.
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I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy
Peace & Light
Steve Costello is a British Community & Youth Studies and Psychology honors graduate with over 30-years theoretical and practical experience coaching in the Personal Development public and private sectors. He founded ExGro in 2018 with business partner, and friend, Leo Faerberg.