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The Journey to Reduced Stress and Better Relaxation
Sometimes life makes us feel like we are spinning wildly, aimlessly, and without the ability to stop. Stress takes over and it feels like we are carrying the weight of the world. You may feel heavy in mind, body, and soul. Sometimes life makes it feel like it was something we did, or that we wouldn’t be having this specific problem if we were only somehow better. Does any of that sound like you right now? Do you feel like things are out of control? Then this letter is for you, dear heart. You are not alone.
I have often been told I have a very dominant personality. I am often the “mom” in my friend group, or as my friends and I say “the adultier adult” (the more adult minded or responsible adult). My personality means that I am usually under a lot of stress, and I’m not going to lie, much of it is self-induced. I’d like to say I function pretty well under stress but I am not always good at paying attention to the warning signs my body sends me when I begin to overwork myself. Part of this journey I am on is to better understand myself and how to take care of every aspect of my being: body, heart, mind, and soul.
I want to share with you some of the things that I have learned that have helped me or helped people I care about, feel a little bit lighter. Things that help the weight lessen, the fears recede, and the heart heal. You don’t have to carry all that weight, pain, and stress anymore.
TIP: I know this sounds so obvious and you are probably thinking something along the lines of “I do this all day every day!” but hear me out. Breathing has been proven to help reduce stress, calm anxiety, and help you feel lighter and more at peace. This is because it signals to the brain and the body to relax. Ugh I know, relaxing is hard! But breathing… that’s something you do all day every day right? This is something I use for everything from mild frustration to anxiety or even to help keep myself calm when scared, which makes it especially helpful in hospital rooms or before procedures.
HOW: My personal favorite way to practice deep breathing is to do something called belly breaths. This means when you inhale, you are expanding your diaphragm (your belly) and really filling your lungs with air. I start by closing my eyes which is something I learned really helps me to focus on my breathing and the process. Inhaling slowly through my nose, filling my lungs and letting my belly expand with the air. Then exhale (I use my nose, but you can also exhale through the mouth) just as slowly, and count one. I repeat a minimum of five more deep breaths, for a total of six. Once I have finished my sixth breath, if I am still a bit stressed I take a few more. But often by the sixth, I feel much calmer and in control.
TIP: Music has been used for hundreds of years for healing and reducing stress. My personal library has thousands of songs in it and I am always changing and updating my playlists. When I’m really stressed, I have some go to songs that always help me feel better. Specifically, my favorite is an instrumental piece called Spectrum of the Sky by Break of Reality. When I first heard it years ago, I was in a really rough place and it really helped calm me and help me relax. Another song that I love to listen to is Now We Are Free by Lisa Gerrard. If you’ve seen the film Gladiator, you probably recognize it. It’s a beautiful song that has always helped to bring me peace. My go-to song changes depending on whatever style of music I listened to most recently, so you might even have a few! Piano music, slow EDM, or even rock may help you, choose whatever music brings you peace and clarity.
TIP: This is something my sister does often, and I am just really getting started doing. Journaling is a great way to calm yourself because it helps you to organize your thoughts, which I find very helpful in clearing my mind and finding patterns I might have missed without it.
HOW: Many people journal using the traditional pen and paper, but recently with the influx of technology, digital journals are becoming more popular. I personally use two journaling apps. Additionally, I have been interested in trying Bullet Journaling, but have yet to leap into that adventure!
The first app I use is called Question Diary, and it works by asking you one question a day which you write a response to. In a year, you will get that same question again and you are able to look back at your past responses and see what has changed. I only recently downloaded this app, so I can’t yet speak for that feature but I really enjoy the questions it asks. Some are nice and lighthearted with easy answers. Some require more thought and are a bit more personal and serious. I am curious to see what changes in a year! What I don’t like is there is no way to remove the adds. While I bounce between them really bothering me and not caring, I know that you may find that a deal breaker. I am not sure if there is a better app that does the 365 questions, so I might update this in the future.
The second app I use is called Write a Day and is a simple journaling app where each day has its own color, and over the week your posts create a gradient rainbow. The more posts you have in a day, the smoother your gradient. What I like about this app is that there is a setting that pops an easy open bar in my notifications, enabling me to jot something down as soon as I think about it. What I don’t like about it is there are limited options in the free version. The full version is subscription based instead of a one time buy which is not something I like, as I don’t see myself getting that kind of value out of it.
Take a Bath
TIP: Baths are my favorite thing. If you are a bath person (my mother is not, Hi Mom!) and have yourself a bathtub, then set some time aside to make your bath special. Light some candles, put some bubble bath in or even use a funky bath bomb! Stick your favorite face mask on and just relax in the hot water. Put a few drops of Lavender oil in your bath which can help you unwind and may also help reduce your stress and anxiety. Sore muscles? Toss some Epsom Salts in the water and let that magic magnesium release the tension.
HOW: Make your own bath salts by combining 1 cup Epsom salt, ½ cup baking soda, and 10 drops of your favorite essential oils. I personally love to use Lavender, Chamomile, Geranium, and Vetiver; all oils that are amazing for relaxing, destressing, and calming your mind and body.
Read a Book
TIP: A good book is more than just entertaining to read! Studies have shown that reading can lower your heart rate and reduce stress. I absolutely love to stick my nose in a good book and know that whenever I need a break my book is right there to whisk me away to some far away place. My current book obsession is the writing of Sarah J. Maas. I have read her series A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass, both of which are incredible and life changing. I recommend them to everyone, which as a former librarian, I believe is high praise. Both series are still in progress, which means there new books to look forward to! Another personal favorite is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. A book I first read in middle school, I have read my personal copy to death. Book one in a four installment series, it captured my heart for adventure and never let go. A non-fantasy suggestion is the classic The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which has delighted audiences since its first publication 100 years ago!
Drink a Cup of Tea
TIP: Tea is incredibly antioxidant rich, and has been the focus of hundreds of studies proving sits beneficial use in aiding the whole body. Some of my favorites include Peppermint for headaches, Chamomile for Anxiety, and Lemon Balm for those days where you still have a lot to do and can’t take anything with sedative like effects. One of my favorite tea brands, Yogi Tea, even makes a blend called Honey Lavender Stress Relief which is delicious.
How: Brew yourself a cup of your favorite tea. Add some honey or lemon, and settle into a comfy chair for a while. Sip your tea slowly, savoring its flavor and taking a quick break to just live in the moment. Breathe in the aroma rising out of your cup. Feel your body relax with every sip.
I hope that you are able to find some of these tips useful to you, or other tools, methods, or tricks to help you on your journey to relaxation. Remember that taking time for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s an investment. You might have a million things to do, but it will be far easier if you are calm and relaxed. I wish you luck and peace.