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Handling Stress with Two “Toolboxes”

Stressing much? Yes, we have had a stressful past year. This summer is a great time to reset and leave stress behind. But what if you just can’t? What if you are still stressed, even now when things are finally easing up? Or maybe things aren’t really easing up for you and your family. Whether you have “good reason” to be stressed out, or are find you are highly stressed even the little things, take some time every day to practice some strategies to release that stress.

If you’re ready for some ideas about how to do that, I’d like to introduce you to the idea that we all have two toolboxes for handling our stress: Relaxation and Distraction. Each toolbox has more than a dozen helpful tools inside!

Tool Box #1 Relaxation:

Slow deep breaths have been shown to calm the vagus nerve at the center of our sympathetic nervous system, triggering the relaxation response (which is the opposite of the Fight/Flight/Freeze stress response. You might try Box Breathing, adding in the images of Candles & Flowers, or Buddy Breathing. The key is to focus on the breath, and slow it down, gradually making each exhale a bit longer.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation This helps when we are holding tension and it is hard to relax. Starting with our hands, make fists and hold for a count of five. Release it for a few moments, then repeat. Notice any sensations as you tense, then release, each area. Then progress to your arms, then your shoulders and neck, giving each body part its own turn. Remember to be gentle with yourself, and don’t tense up so much that you cause discomfort.

Mindfulness Meditations Did you know there are nine different kinds of mindfulness meditations? You can practice these not only in the lotus position, but even while walking, eating, or just enjoying our five senses. Body Scan meditations have many beneficial effects for sleep, anxiety and even pain. Visualization meditations & guided imagery can be a lovely way to take a 20 minute vacation to help you feel refreshed and ready for your day.

Drink some water Warm summer days increase risk of dehydration, stressing our bodies. Try it very cold with ice on a hot afternoon, adding a few pieces of fruit for flavor, or warm and comforting green or herbal tea on a crisp morning.

Take a nap Most of us simply do not get enough sleep. Think 5-6 hours is enough? According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need 7-9 hours nightly. Adults who do not get enough sleep experience problems with fatigue, moodiness, sexual dysfunction, obesity, even memory problems at higher rates than those who do. But won’t a nap make it harder to fall asleep at night? The optimal length of a nap for adults is only 10-20 minutes to wake up refreshed, not groggy.

Toolbox #2 Distraction:

Play with your pets Run your fingers through their fur from their sleek little heads to their fluffy little tails! Toss a ball or a toy for them. It is good for them, and good for you!

Feeling stuck? Make a list of things you need to do, and a list of what you want to do. Just get started with a small task. The momentum can grow from there. Still feeling stuck? Get out of the house, even for 10-15 minutes. A break can give you fresh perspective.

Change the channel-This exercise, where you recognize that your thoughts are not helping, and purposely choose to change them, like clicking a remote control does take practice, but the effort will pay off!

Clean something until you are happy with it. Try even one shelf or one drawer. Take everything out. Use rags and the hand vac to really clean it out. Put everything back and take satisfaction in a job well done!

Play At any age play can be fun. Put a puzzle together. Play a game.

Try some art Color, doodle or draw. Try collage, Modge Podge or Model Magic. It doesn’t have to be pretty. When you’re in a bad mood, give yourself permission to make something yucky on purpose. It’s liberating!

Exercise Find the kind of movement and exercise that brings you joy, whether is it yoga, a walk with a friend, a family bike ride, or a run while you listen to your favorite music. Mix it up and enjoy it.

Journal It doesn’t have to fill pages of a lovely hard bound book with a lock. It’s okay to use regular paper, to jot down bullet points instead of whole sentences, and just put your thoughts down on paper. After you do, you can decide if you want to keep it, recycle the paper or even shred the whole thing!

Read a magazine just for fun Taking a break like this can be energizing and refreshing.

Spend time in nature Take time to enjoy the colors, observe textures, listen to the birds chirping at your local or regional park. Not enough time right now to go far? What can you do to create a little green around you? Plant something in your garden or on your balcony.

Talk with a friend Who can you call or text to say “I’m feeling anxious. Can you call me and talk to me about anything but how I’m feeling right now?”

Use idea from one toolbox, then try an idea from the other, or try several ideas in one toolbox. We all have our favorites, and that is OK-even if your favorites are different from your best friend or your spouse, even if your child has a favorite that is different from yours! Embrace the differences and try out a new idea. You just might discover you like it!

Are you ready to learn more about stress management? Child & Family Counseling Group has therapists who see children, teens, young adults, parents and families to help with stress-management, problem-solving, and improving relationships.

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