Banish Stress: Easy Ways to Get Calm Now and Forever

by Kate Luther on 14 January 2014 0 comments

We've all had those moments...

Those times when it feels as if things are spiraling out of control and you're just not sure how much more you can take. Maybe the bills are piling up, maybe your kids are acting out, or maybe it’s just a series of smaller events, coming together to create one seriously chaotic day. (See also: How to Have a Better Day at Work)

You know you shouldn't stress. YBut you can feel yourself reaching that "up-to-here" breaking point that indicates a melt down isn't far away.

What to do?

The most important thing is to take action... action that either attacks the source of your stress head-on or, at the very least, neutralizes the disruption of whatever obstacles currently stand in your way.

Sometimes, identifying that action is easy. Several years ago, I found myself in a bit of a financial bind and while we were making ends meet, I just couldn't stand the idea of spending one more month pinching pennies and barely scraping by.

So, I got a second job. Yes, this created a new stress, but it was the good kind of stress because suddenly, I was back in control. Almost immediately, I had new income to work with. I was able to put more towards my debt and still have enough to buy groceries and gas while tucking some away in savings to boot. (See also: Stress-Free Retirement Investing)

Sometimes, however, identifying the right action isn't quite so simple. So, with that in mind, let's look at some other ways to ease your stress and help restore your inner nirvana.

Do These Things Immediately

When things have actually gotten away from you and you are about to blow a fuse (or already have), here's what to do to settle down now. (See also: How to Manage Powerful Emotions)

Breathe

There are a number of mental and physical changes that occur when we are under stress. Our heart rate speeds up, for example, and our muscles tense. Many have trouble focusing on a particular project and feel irritable, restless, or fatigued. We might clench our jaw, grind our teeth, or suffer from an upset stomach.

But before any of these other things happen, we change the way we breathe, making this the key to calming down before things get out of hand.

When we're stressed, our breathing becomes faster and more shallow, decreasing oxygen in the bloodstream and thereby exacerbating the muscle tension, headaches, and all the other symptoms that follow. The solution, then, is to slow down your breathing and take deep, relaxing breaths. Inhale through your nose and out through your mouth, making sure that you breathe deep enough to cause your abdomen to expand as you inhale.

Fill up those lungs with fresh air, and then blow all that negative energy out as you exhale. This simple deep-breathing exercise can induce instant relief, making you feel calmer and more centered almost immediately.

Get Some Perspective

Humans are consistently good at exaggeration. Now, the reasons we exaggerate are many — our embellishments make the story more interesting, or they do a better job of proving our point of view. And then sometimes, our mind just fills in the blanks to suit its needs... in other words, we're skewing reality even when we don't mean to.

My daughter, for instance, loves the phrase "worst day ever." But is it really? Does the fact that she can't ride her bike because its raining outside really make it the most awful day she's ever experienced? Or is her disappointment clouding her perspective?

Granted, you and I might not see a bike-riding delay as a big deal, but she does, and the stress that results is just as real for her. Forcing her to take a step back and evaluate her emotions allows her to acknowledge the frustration and work on ways to alleviate it, rather than just letting it ruin her day.

Your day may not be going as smoothly as planned. Your boss may be in a mood, you may have been late to the BIG meeting, and your tire may have gone flat in the middle of rush hour traffic, but is it really the day from hell that you're making it out to be? Or is your agitation making it worse than it truly is?

By distinguishing between what's real and what's embellished, you give yourself the perspective needed to move forward. Saying, "this blows, but I can handle it" or "it is what it is... now how do I fix it" puts an end to your mental spiral of exaggeration, allowing you to see the possibility of better things to come. And with a more realistic perspective, you can better deal with whatever ails you. (See also: 7 Ways to Feel Better Now)

Massage Your Hands

The first time I ever treated myself to a day at the spa, I realized immediately what all the fuss was about. I felt absolutely amazing when it was all said and done — refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle anything.

Unfortunately, we can't all run to the spa when stress starts to set in. But we can still tap into its ability to soothe, and the best part is you can do this one anywhere, anytime. (See also: Spa Treatments You Can Do at Home)

Using the thumb and forefinger of one hand, start at the base knuckle of the other hand and massage your way out to each fingertip. Do one finger at a time, using a circular motion, and be sure to massage the sides of the fingers as well as the top and bottom. When you're done with the fingers, start on the hand itself by pressing your thumb into the palm (your other fingers on the "top" of your hand) and massage from the center outward.

The beauty of this is that you can do it immediately, even as you sit in that meeting or wait for traffic to start moving again. It doesn't have to be a big motion and it doesn't require any concentration to do, so you can continue to function and focus on the outside world while you're massaging your stress away.

Do These Things as Soon as You Can

If the above quick fixes didn't settle you down, hang in there until more help arrives.

Walk Away

If you're having trouble finding perspective, it's likely because you're too immersed in the events that are causing you stress. So walk away.

Taking a step back removes you from the situation, at least temporarily, and gives you time to think things through and reclaim your composure before you do or say something you might later regret. It's why time-outs are still a staple of parenting and why those with anxiety disorders feel the need to flee when the tension starts to set in — the stress can't escalate if it's no longer staring you in the face.

So, go to lunch. Take a walk around the block. Go to the garage and sit in your car if nothing else, or lock yourself in the bathroom. Give yourself some quiet time to ponder and postulate, to breathe and count to 10. It's also a great opportunity to practice some positive self-talk and even walk through different scenarios to decide how best to address your problem.

Clean

If you've read any of my previous posts on Wise Bread, then you know that organization isn't my thing. Unless I'm angry, that is. And then everything gets cleaned. (See also: 5 Best All-Purpose Cleaners)

Cleaning gives me time to clear my head. It allows me to work out my frustrations in a healthy, physical way that won't result in jail time or a restraining order. It's therapeutic and gives me the sense of being back in control — as in, I'll show you, bad neighbor; I'll clean out my closet and there's nothing you can do to stop me.

Yes, that might sound silly, but it works, and when you're done, you can marvel at your sparkling counters and freshly scrubbed floors before collapsing on the couch for a well-earned nap.

Make a List

I love lists. Lists help identify what needs to be done, steps that need to be taken, the path you must walk to get from here to there. And when you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, this is an easy way to get back some of that perspective we talked about earlier.

The key to making your list-therapy work is to get specific. Don't just jot down vague to-dos — list items that you can accomplish quickly to bring order back into your life. When I go on a cleaning-binge for example, I do the dishes first. It's a small job that doesn't take long to complete, and I get an immediate sense of accomplishment. I don't necessarily make a list of things to clean, but the logic is still the same. (See also: How to Make Your Lists More Effective)

Likewise, if its my workload that's causing me stress, I tackle some of the smallest jobs first, because I can then cross them off my list. I may still have the bigger projects looming over me, but hey, look at how much I got done today! And in those instances where there's nothing you can actually do to conquer the stressor itself, list out some things that would make you feel better instead.

If you hate your job, then formulate a plan to update your resume to find a new one. If your car is a hunk of junk, then work out a plan for making necessary repairs or replacing it with something better. And if all else fails, make a list of the things you'd like to learn, have and do within the next year. This, by the way, is my favorite list to make because it puts me in a much more optimistic frame of mind.

And when you have a positive mindset, there's nothing you can't handle.

Take a Bath

Obviously, if you're at work, this will have to wait, but if you can — as soon as you can — jump in the tub. Add lots of bubbles or some soothing bath oils if you have them on hand and then sink down into that warm water until your face is the only thing that shows.

While you're there, imagine all your worries just washing away. Close your eyes and listen to the "nothing" under water and simply allow yourself a moment to just be. Breathe deeply (you've been practicing, haven't you?) and let the scents and the silence permeate every inch of your body, even that last, frayed nerve.

Call in Support

There is nothing that will improve your disposition faster than surrounding yourself with people who make no demands and love you unconditionally. This could be your family or a close circle of friends — as long as they're supportive and loving, they'll do just fine.

You need people who will listen while you vent, people who will help you find that perspective, figure out solutions, and most importantly, pull you up when you've been wallowing in your own drama for too long. These are the people who keep you honest, but have your back even in the darkest of alleys.

Keep them close and lean on them when you need to. Their support will make you stronger. (See also: Why Cultivating Relationships Is Good for You)

Do These Things For Long-Term Stress Management

While you won't be able to avoid stress altogether, you can make it manageable by attacking it at its source and being sure to take care of you. (See also: How to Solve Your Problem)

Under Promise, Over Deliver

Is part of your stress caused by too many obligations? Sometimes it's hard to set realistic expectations and even harder to say "No" altogether, but it's an ability you need to acquire if you want to reduce your stress. (See also: 5 Ways to Say “No”)

Life is hectic enough without committing every free moment to an outside obligation, and this kind of over-extending doesn't allow for all those things that can and will eventually go wrong. The result is that your Internet goes down right when you should be uploading that report or paying that bill and since you waited until the last minute, you don't have time to deal with the obstacle.

You would have done it sooner of course, but you were busy with other things on your to-do list and just couldn't "get to it" until now.

This forces you to continuously work against the clock. There are just not enough hours in the day to get done all the things that need to be done, and this creates one frustrating experience after another. Working this way, it's no wonder that you're stressed.

So, stop doing it.

Give yourself the time you need to complete your projects the way you want them completed. Practice under-promising your abilities and then over-deliver when you finish earlier than expected. You'll feel better about what you've accomplished and your schedule will become much more manageable, both of which will do wonders for your stress-level.

Meditate

You don't have to follow the New Age movement to benefit from this easy yet highly effective stress-management tool.

Simply sit comfortably in a quiet place. Close your eyes and count backwards from twenty, visualizing the numbers appearing in your mind as you count. If a random thought interrupts your progress, let that thought float right on by, but start over again at twenty.

You'll be surprised at how many "random thoughts" interrupt your progress before you finally make it all the way to one. That's because your brain is used to a barrage of stimuli all the time and with this kind of constant input, its no wonder we feel a little frayed. Forcing your mind to be quiet takes time and practice, but you'll be calmer and more centered for your efforts, and that's always a good thing. (See also: 25 Ways to Take 5 Minutes for Yourself)

Indulge

There is certainly something admirable about those with unwavering willpower, and I applaud your ability to stick to your schedules and stay on the straight and narrow.

But once in a while — in fact, on a pretty regular basis — you need to indulge.

Let your hair down, have that second drink or that extra piece of chocolate, buy that jacket that calls your name but is definitely overpriced. You deserve a treat now and then — a treat that makes you feel special, the kind that you don't do often, but when you do, it makes you swoon.

Get a Hobby

And speaking of fun...

I've said this numerous times before, but it's worth repeating again here. You were not meant to spend your life just "getting through the day." Work is important, chores are necessary as well, but if you're not having fun, at least some of the time, then you're doing it wrong.

Life is supposed to be an adventure and that means trying new things, exploring new talents, and doing things that bring joy and happiness to your life. I don't care if this translates into baking cupcakes, playing baseball with your co-workers, or collecting comic books that feature members of the Justice League. As long as it turns you on, it counts, and you should make time to do it.

Now, the pressure's on you — how do you deal with stress? Please share in comments!

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