Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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Have you ever felt like your stress meter was on full and one more thing would push that needle over the top?
Yeah, I thought so.
And if you're lucky enough to say no, I'll raise my hand. July has been one of my most stressful times ever. Without going into detail, many emotional events and challenges were topped off by one of the most stressful events for anyone: moving.
Although it's a move I've looked forward to for a very long time (one year to find the "right" house, within walking distance to the beach—yay!), it's hard to argue that moving involves a LOT of physical work and a LOT of emotional upheaval, too.
I'll save my thoughts on possessions and packing and those moments of horror when I discover yet another box to unpack (and the ensuing feeling of why-in-the-world-did-I-not-throw-that-away???) for another time—because that will only cause me more stress right now.
It's so imperative to manage stress, because stress can rob you of sleep and your health, as well as the enjoyment of everyday life.
Hence, these oh-so-simple, free and easy ways to instantly de-stress—and yes, in case you're wondering, after I write this, I plan on taking my own advice!
- Take a time-out. There may be a zillion things to accomplish, but working nonstop will only burn you out and create inefficiency and mistakes. Walk away from what you're doing, even if it's for just five minutes. You'll come back stronger.
- Smile. All that stress is undoubtedly making you clench your teeth and tighten your jaw muscles, setting you up for a fierce headache or jaw and face pain (known as TMJ, or temperomandibular joint disorder). Remember to smile—not only can it relax those muscles, but studies show that when you're stressed, smiling actually helps with anxiety and can even lower your heart rate.
- Laugh. While you're at it, do this too. Experts at the Mayo Clinic point to the fact that laughing activates and relieves your stress response. Not only that, when you laugh, you take in more oxygen-rich air, which helps stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles. Plus, your endorphins—chemicals that trigger a good feeling in your body—get a boost.
- Get moving. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you probably already know I'm a big fan of exercise, for so many reasons. Yes, for your overall health, but for stress and your mood, exercise can't be beat. It pumps up your endorphins and is meditation in motion, says the Mayo Clinic. Any sort of exercise counts; you don't need to go to a gym. Just. Move.
- Sniff. Light a scented candle. Or inhale the fragrance of a plant. Any scent will do, but you might want to consider lavender, lemon or mango, in particular. Japanese researchers have found that these contain a naturally occurring fragrance called linalool, which can reduce the activity of genes that become elevated during times of stress.
- Spend time with a friend. (As long as it's not the kind of high-maintenance friend who stresses you out!) Spending time socializing is a well-known stress buster. Better yet, exercise with that friend and you'll do even better in the stress department: A University of Minnesota study of young adults found that those who exercise and socialize regularly reported better mental health than those who didn't.
- Let go. In his lovely new book, A Mindful Morning, David Dillard-Wright, PhD, writes: "As long as you think you can control your thoughts, you will have no rest. As soon as you just let them do their thing, you will begin to have peace." He suggests starting your day by setting a timer for five to 10 minutes and spend that time sitting in silence. No matter what the thoughts are—angry, passionate, trivial, profound—just let them come and go.