Keeping it Zen
June 20, 2016 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Life is stressful right now. Please give me your best stress relief hacks.

My life is unavoidably stressful right now for a few unchangeable reasons. This is semi temporary, but for the next few months I'd like your hacks for reducing stress levels. I'm willing to spend a little time and a little money but nothing crazy. Examples of the current hacks:

Bath and body works aromatherapy body wash instead of soap (love it).
Cheesy inspirational quotes from pinterest posted around.

More things likes this or similar hacks very welcome.

I also try to do the following regularly, as time and reality allow:

Eat healthy
Meditate (headspace)
Work out (hiking/lifting)

Specific ways to make these better/easier to fit in when you're stressed, also welcome.

Basically I am looking for those moments of stress reducing joy when you know you've got a row of stress ahead.
posted by Kalmya to Religion & Philosophy (20 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
If getting up and out the door on schedule is an issue at all, get into the habit of laying out your clothing, keys, wallet, and ID the night before. Not having to scrounge around for a pair of matching socks or make decisions about color coordination when you're barely awake makes the whole morning go so much more smoothly.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:25 PM on June 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Swimming, hands down.

I also really like an (Android) app called Paced Breathing. Because it's true, just a few minutes of deep breathing can help calm you down, it's just finding a hook into it when you're stressed. (I think that's why I like swimming, too. Less gravity working on you is nice, also.)

Ice water on hands for acute stress.

A clean home, and sometimes cleaning.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:25 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

This may sound dumb but I hope it helps. You know the saying "This too shall pass?" I like to apply it not just to my stressful situations, but to my experience of stress when in stressful situations.

At this point, I've experienced enough stressful situations to know my own reaction to them. I'll feel appropriately overwhelmed at first, but after a little while (maybe having slept on it), I'll get past the panic and be able to face the situation relatively dispassionately as a problem that needs solving. So now, when I feel stressed and panicked, I remind myself that the panic will pass, and when it does the situation will be just another problem to solve. I'm able to limit useless mental gear-spinning with this one weird trick.

So when you're feeling overwhelmed, feel free to feel that feeling, but remind yourself that tomorrow you'll have worked past it and you'll be free to take care of business.
posted by ejs at 8:27 PM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Agreeing with cotton dress sock about a clean home. When my life is chaotic it's tempting to think of keeping things neat as low priority. But a chaotic home feeds into feeling that things are out of control. Tidying up is an easy way to feel I've accomplished something positive, too.
posted by ejs at 8:38 PM on June 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

Wow, sorry to hear about it. :-( Here's what's worked for me in the very near past:

- I started going to bed early, around 9 p.m. Then I lay in bed surfing the web or reading books for a half hour or maybe an hour. This made it much easier for me to transition my day to a close.
- I started waking up at 4 a.m. and did a bunch of fun things before the "real" day started. I'd watch obscure movies on Youtube, read books I'd been meaning to get around to, and do some journaling.
- My journaling was no longer just chronicling how things were going. I did visualization exercises, third-person writing ("he knew today would be stressful. Maybe a 9 out of 10. But he had this idea..."), and whatever else would eventually work me around to writing about the problems at hand in a creative, detached, thoughtful way. Less avoidance, more creative approaches to problems.
- Every stressful thing had a reward tacked onto the end of it. Stressful meeting? Mandatory bookstore visit afterward.
- When I couldn't sleep at night because things were really bad, I could almost always turn it around and sleep like a baby if I wrote 700 to 1000 words about the problem, before bed.
- I met with a life coach / business coach. Immensely helpful. First visit is free; narrow it down to someone you can relate to.
- I took the Meyers-Briggs test and figured out activities that would recharge other [my-type-of-people]. I made a list of those, and a list of activities that stole my energy. Then I tried to act correspondingly. This model also suggests that each of us has a "problem solving function" that we can rely on to help us tackle life. When I aligned myself more closely with that and worked to understand it, man did things start to improve fast. Psychology study was rewarding.

Eat healthy
Meditate (headspace)
Work out (hiking/lifting)

> Specific ways to make these better/easier to fit in when you're stressed, also welcome.

Eating healthy: My eating habits were being warped by my stress levels, so it helped me to use the hunger scale to determine where I was before, during, and after eating. I ended up losing 90 pounds...

Meditation: The scripts you can (cheaply) buy on iTunes or listen to on Youtube are great. I also found that journaling was equivalent, for me. Tristine Rainer's "The New Diary" is an absolute treasure on this topic.

Working out/hiking/lifting: I stop and do journaling as part of my walking/hiking now, because it goes the extra mile to help the exercise time alleviate stress. I carry a little Field Notes-style notebook in my shorts pocket and sit on a park bench halfway through my exercising and write for about 10 minutes. Mind mapping is a technique that works well for short thoughts.

Lifting: I found that switching things up, as in never doing the same workout twice, has been hugely helpful for me. I try to just have fun and try new things out now. Works well. Previously I would do the exact same workout until I was ready to die from boredom, then I'd find someone else's workout and try that, etc. Also I allow myself to drop coin on whatever workout music seems like it will help me feel energetic. And I indulge in some caffeine pre-workout (like a can of diet soda), which seems to help (simple measurements showed it took me from a 5/10 to a 6/10 energy wise).

Hope this helps somehow!
posted by circular at 8:45 PM on June 20, 2016 [18 favorites]

all awesome suggestions so far.

do you have a bathtub? I'm a fan of taking long baths and I really set it up so it's a relaxing ritual. here are the things I include:
-I treat myself to a bath bomb or bath melt from Lush
-make a relaxing playlist (ambient/chillout music, opera, classical, jazz, blues, or acoustic guitar are all awesome here)
-dim the lights and light a few nice smelling candles
-pour myself a nice cold favorite-drink and maybe set out a few chocolates to indulge in
-lay out a bathrobe and/or get my bed all set to just climb into beforehand so I don't lose my "relaxed vibe" afterwards
-sometimes i read in the tub, sometimes i just let my mind wander.
-i also bought a $7 drain extender so my tub is deeper (but be careful because it allows the tub to overflow).
-get coconut oil and sea salt and exfoliate my legs/arms while i'm soaking

I manage this ritual about once a month (it only take a few minutes to set up) and it's a really nice time-out from my busy life.

other ideas: yoga, meditating, cooking a nice meal, outsourcing a chore (e.g. having groceries delivered one week, ordering wash & fold laundry, etc). hope this helps!
posted by carlypennylane at 8:48 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I read that 30 minutes of morning light does wonders for stress reduction. It might be worth getting up earlier to have a cup of tea out on the porch, just to drink in the rays.

Now I have to admit that getting 12 hours of sleep one night every few weeks is great for me.
posted by my-sharona at 9:50 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having fun. I tend to forget when under stress that I need to make sure I am having fun at some time during the week. Trying to have fun everyday just adds to my stress but planning for something fun, whatever that is for you, at least once in the week is very important.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:04 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Singing and dancing to music; prepping the coffee maker the night before; podcasts during chores; napping if possible; seeking parks with greenery and/or water; journaling (but time-limit it if you're prone to ruminating); YouTube yoga videos; lifting; running; the occasional meal/coffee with friends; trying to catch unhelpful thought patterns early (e.g., ruminating, worrying, obsessing, checking and re-checking, etc.) and shift to a more neutral frame of mind.

My workplace also had an event about stress recently where the punchline was perhaps a little counterintuitive. Basically, the speaker argued that stress isn't intrinsically unhealthy or bad for you, and that sometimes trying to fit in all the "healthy" things we're supposed to do to deal with stress can ironically be stressors in themselves (e.g., carving out time and money for healthy diet and sleep and exercise and relaxation). She also talked about harnessing stress as something useful: it can sharpen your senses, for instance, and help you prioritize. And of course it usually connects to important people/things/ideas in your life (though it's also possible you'd find that some stressors may just be things you think you should care about). So trying to be aware of your experience of stress and reframing it as something 1. potentially helpful, 2. that you're experiencing because you genuinely care for something or someone, and 3. that has the potential to help you function better, is maybe another cognitive strategy you can use if you're short on time and feeling off-kilter. I don't know, I thought it was an interesting take, anyway -- I'll see if I can dig up the speaker's name.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:07 AM on June 21, 2016

I find the soundscapes and other noise machines on this website very relaxing.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:42 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get 8 hours of sleep every night. This was HUGE for me.
posted by asavage at 4:39 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

+1 to blocking out time for yourself. When work is crazy and I'm in the office for 11+ hr days, I always make sure to get a run or walk in around lunch time for at least 30mins to ensure that 1. I get some headspace to myself, and 2. fed off the decision fatigue that is inevitable by hr 8.

Sleep, good tea/coffee, and regular exercise are the best things you can do. I'm an insomniac, so I usually rely on good caffeine and regular exercise.
posted by larthegreat at 6:09 AM on June 21, 2016

I've never understood the "get exercise in at lunch!" recommendations, because when work is busy and stressful, I need that time for eating lunch. My alternative short burst exercise to relieve stress during the work day is to go run up and down the stairs during brief periods of downtime, or when I hit a frustrating wall and need to walk away for a few minutes to clear my head.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:26 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking a lot lately about how small tasks that are low-priority often sit on my to-do list for a long time and take up a lot of mental energy that is way out of proportion to the actual task. So I've started trying to take 10 minutes a day and do one of those things (find the envelope and stamp so the letter can be mailed, give the sink a quick scrub-down, call the dentist and make the appointment, etc) instead of just letting them linger for days or weeks, which always makes me feel progressively worse about not having done them yet. And if I've been putting it off for a while, finally crossing that sort of stuff off the list feels so good. I feel lighter all afternoon.
posted by colfax at 6:59 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've done Tai Chi for a few years for just this. Nothing fancy, just a cheap night course with the city. Nothing on the religious/spiritual side, just slow, repetitive movements and a lot of breathing exercises. Bit of a different crowd than for yoga.

It helps with stress a lot. Very easy-going. Suits all types. It's amazing how quickly Tai Chi can clear out your headspace if you let it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:04 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also try to do the following regularly, as time and reality allow

I agree with others, deciding to schedule this stuff was what worked for me. I've talked about this a lot on AskMe but one of the things that helped me with my stresses was counterintuitive: spending some time at the beginning and the end of each day offscreen. So I sat my phone for 30 minutes (working up to 45) and then I do not mess with anything with a screen during that time. I can make coffee, make food, clean up my place, get dressed, shower and, yes, meditate but no screens. By the time I dive into my inbox (which has not gotten worse in 30 minutes for the most part) I have gained some useful perspective.

I also loved Headspace but I found sometimes I didn't have 20 minutes. Buddhify (which was suggested to me in this thread) has some shorter meditations including a few walking meditations which can be good if you want to stack some of the things you need to do.

And then at the end of the day, same thing, reading something offscreen before bed. The thing meditation practice really helped me with, was being able to be in the moment, not borrowing stress from the future and also trying to be present and set up Future Me for success (so if I had some downtime, prepare some meals or do some cleaning or send emails to friends who would email me back at a later time). It gave me just a bit more time to plan and not feel like I was cast out of a rodeo chute into my day every day. Deep breaths, this will pass.
posted by jessamyn at 7:12 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I commute in a car, alone, so when things are very stressful, I turn up the stereo as loud as it can get -- like, until my pants legs next to the speakers flap -- and then sing my heart out. (Usually to Frank Turner, sometimes also show tunes.)

Coming home hoarse gets me some weird looks from my wife, but at least I am calm -- or calmer than I would have been if I spent thirty minutes in traffic, seething and stewing.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:16 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've never understood the "get exercise in at lunch!" recommendations, because when work is busy and stressful, I need that time for eating lunch.

I argue for the lunch run (in my case, 10-15mins of all out sprint, then shower), because otherwise I end up working through lunch (not even internet browsing). Working out forces me to give my brain an electronics & people free break; which quite frankly even looking at personal stuff on my phone doesn't do. In theory even the limited working out is supposedly good for me.
posted by larthegreat at 8:00 AM on June 21, 2016

Some of us (and I would suspect most of us) aren't so lucky as to have shower facilities at work or within easy walking distance of the same. I like to get my exercise out of the way first thing in the morning by getting up an hour earlier than I need to for my getting-ready-for-work routine, doing a nice leisurely jog around the neighborhood, and then coming back to shower, dress, and get breakfast. It basically clears my head for the whole day, and also encourages me to get to bed earlier as well.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:45 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lie down on grass. Face down, palms down, arms and legs spread out. Don't try to hold yourself up from the ground - just let yourself fall into it. Feel the grass - run your hands over it, press your check against it, smoosh your face in it. Smell the grass, smell the earth, then zoom out in your mind and picture yourself resting, draped, spread-eagled on top of something gigantic, quiet, slow, peaceful, drifting. Just lie there, eyes closed. You're so heavy. You're not going anywhere. Sigh. Breathe.

It's very, very hard to get up.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:44 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

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