Are you drowning in oceans of to-do lists, frustrating interruptions, and low energy? Look no further. Research shows that creative activities—like spiralling inward, digging a little dirt, and cutting bait—can relieve stress, increase feelings of happiness, and boost your immune system.
Are you feeling a familiar tension around your shoulders? Finding it hard to concentrate on one thing for long? Not sleeping well? Biting your nails to the quick? These might all be signs that you’re under stress. And, if you are, it only makes sense to understand and learn how to manage stress—both short- and long-term stress—before it manages you.
What causes stress for you?
Everyone experiences stress differently. If you learn how to recognize when your stress level is too high or lasting too long, you might be more likely to administer yourself some TLC.
One way to increase your self-awareness is to ask, “On a scale from one to 10, where is my stress level?” A number between one and five is a manageable amount of stress, because you can still function well and feel good. Anything above that is too much stress if it’s sustained for long periods.
Keep a stress journal
If you know yourself and what causes you stress, you’ll be well armed to reduce the symptoms, because you can develop strategies to manage them.
Try making a list of the situations, concerns, or challenges that trigger your stress response—either positive or negative. Some of these might be external (a promotion at work or an impossible workload) and some might be internal (uncertainty or fear of flying).
Find a stress reliever that works for you
Once you’ve learned to recognize the things that cause you stress, the next step is to learn how to manage it—because you can’t always eliminate it.
Here are some more unique ways to find some relaxation in your stress-filled life.
Some people swear by ear massages—simply massaging the tips of your ears. Others suggest neck massages, like petrissage (kneading, rolling, and picking up the skin and muscles) to relieve stress and headaches:
Start by cupping your neck in your hands, letting your fingers gently touch and knead the soft tissue along your cervical spine.
Using gently increasing pressure, squeeze and release in milking fashion from the tops of your trapezius muscle to the base of your skull.
Dig a little dirt
Ever wonder why you feel good when you garden, weed, or toil out in the yard? Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK think the answer is bacteria. Soil contains the friendly bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, which increases the metabolism of serotonin in the brain.
Since a lack of serotonin is connected to depression, scientists hypothesize that this bacterium may improve mood, ease stress, and maintain a strong immune system. Landscaping, sowing seeds, and nurturing flowers or homegrown veggies are creative ways to unwind and improve your mood.
Make some art—even if you’re bad at it
You don’t have to be a Michelangelo to enjoy the benefits of art therapy. It’s the process of making art that’s important, since it can alleviate emotional stress and anxiety by creating a physiological response of relaxation, according to research from Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Creative activity increases serotonin in your brain, which improves mood. When you’re not attached to the end result (like a perfect replica of David), arts and crafts can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and trigger feelings of calm and peace.
Follow an ancient path
Labyrinths, which date back at least 4,000 years, are single circular paths that you follow in to a centre point, and then out again. Following a labyrinth can decrease tension, help physical healing, and strengthen the mind-body connection.
You can buy already-painted, fold-up canvas labyrinths in many sizes. Or you can paint your own. Finger labyrinths on paper or computer screens can have the same effect as full-size labyrinths.
Declutter—because mess causes stress
Clutter can actually cause feelings of stress, fatigue, and depression, according to research from the University of California. Researchers found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in mothers who lived in homes they described as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects.”
To declutter, evaluate your space and eliminate what doesn’t bring pleasure. Donate clothing, decorations, or household items to charity. Rework your space until you feel happy and relaxed.
Go for a walk—go natural
Taking a break to stretch your legs, even if it’s just around the block, is a simple and very effective way to clear your head and boost endorphins, which then reduce stress hormones.
Better yet, turn off the technology and head for the park or another natural space to give your brain a chance to reconnect with more basic stimulations. Recent research suggests that the positive effects (feeling happier and in good spirits) of a single exposure to nature can last for seven hours after an individual has experienced it.
Fish or cut bait
Deep down, most of us know what we need to do about stressful situations. But we procrastinate. We ignore our stressors, which can lead to paralysis. This creates even more stress.
This is where the “fish or cut bait” advice comes in: deal with the cause of your stress or eliminate it altogether. But don’t get caught up in finding the perfect solution to your problems. Simply moving forward puts the ball in motion, leading to more action, which, hopefully, will ultimately solve the problem.
Visualize—or daydream—your stress away
Daydreaming, or taking a minute to think about something pleasurable, has a profound effect on our state of mind. Research has found that, with guided imagery, stress levels can be significantly reduced while also quickly relaxing the body.
If chilling out involves dreaming about warm tropical breezes while snuggled in your favourite comfy chair in front of a warm crackling fireplace, dream on!
Symptoms of stress
- upset stomach
- low productivity
- appetite changes
- emotional outbursts
- difficulty concentrating
- poor judgment
Other physical symptoms of stress—which may be causing those trips to the doctor’s office—include chest pain, loss of sexual desire or ability, ringing in the ear, sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth, jaw clenching, grinding teeth, difficulty swallowing, shallow breathing, and low energy.
Quick stress release tips
- Take a deep breath, and tell yourself you have enough time, energy, patience, and resources.
- Rejuvenate by placing ice or heat packs on your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes.
- Focus on something in nature for two to five minutes.
- Remind yourself of what really matters.
- Play loud music and bop around your home or office.
- Express gratitude often.
- Exercise to increase endorphins, release cortisol, boost the immune system, and process your emotions.
- Connect with a friend or loved one.
Try these supplements to relieve stress
The most effective supplements to relieve stress depend on the cause and symptoms of stress. Get some advice from a health care practitioner to find the best possible remedies for your symptoms and lifestyle.
- Magnesium catalyzes many chemical reactions, synthesizes protein, transmits nerve signals, relaxes muscles, and produces and transports adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy.
- L-tyrosine is involved with the synthesis of brain neurotransmitters, and is used for depression, stress, and to help improve athletic performance.
- Theanine, in studies, relaxes the brain, improves sleep quality, and increases memory and learning.
- Thiamine (vitamin B1) metabolizes carbohydrates. It may help treat depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) can help manage high cholesterol levels. Low levels of niacin are associated with digestive upsets and poor mental health.
- Camomile can help to induce sleep and calm the nervous system.
Try adaptogens for stress relief
Botanical medicines categorized as adaptogens have been shown to improve the body’s response to and recovery from stress.
Evidence points to its ability to help the body accommodate adverse physical conditions and improve mental performance.
In tests on animals, it has been shown to counteract changes in blood sugar levels and improve depressive behaviour associated with extreme stress.
It has shown an ability to protect the heart from arrhythmias and other damage caused by elevated stress hormones and has also shown improvements in sleep disturbances, fatigue, and general well-being.