I learned early on to accept stress as a part of life. Whether I was in high school, studying for the ACT, in college, trying to balance my newfound, independent social life with actually earning my degree, or now in post-grad life, struggling with adjusting to adulthood, stress never goes away. It ebbs and flows in different forms. But what I’ve found is that no matter how much stress I’m dealing with, the real question is how do I handle it?
In my early twenties, I wasn’t great at handling stress. I’d eat too much, take it out on my family, or try to “just forget about things” (which doesn’t work), and bury the stress deeper until eventually I’d get to a breaking point. As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried a few different things to help me relax so stress doesn’t keep me from being happy. Here are a few:
I was a bit hesitant when I first decided to try mediation. I had an image in my head of a bunch of monks sitting cross-legged and chanting in a dark room for hours on end…that didn’t seem relaxing at all. But after a little reading and research, I found there were different types of mediation and finding one that fit my lifestyle just required some tweaking. My first experience was actually through a beginner class I signed up for. It was a one-time thing, and when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the instructor was a regular guy wearing street clothes, who was extremely cheerful. Honestly, he may have been one of the happiest people I’ve ever met – probably because he meditates every day. He took us through a guided meditation and gave us tips on doing it ourselves. And while I didn’t love everything about the class, I will say I felt decidedly less stressed after, almost like I had a little spring-cleaning of the mind.
Since then, I don’t meditate regularly, but I have found avenues of meditation that work for me. For example, did you know there are meditation apps? Of course there are! I love one called “Stop, Breathe, Think,” which allows you to enter how you’re feeling that day, then suggests some guided meditations. Sometimes I don’t even actually do the “mediation” part of sitting up straight, closing my eyes, etc. I just listen. Find what works best for you.
Adult Coloring Books
I feel like adult coloring books are all the rage these days, and while I like to be trendy (or basic, whatever), I really do find that they help me unwind. There are lots of different ones – mine is an enchanted forest coloring book – with some pictures that are more intricate than others. When anxiety is running high, there’s just something about rebelling against boring brown and coloring that majestic deer with all shades of the rainbow. I have, however, had a few friends tell me that these coloring books actually stress them out more because they don’t want to repeat colors and there are too many lines and what if they go outside of them. If that’s the case, this may not be the stress-relief option for you.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, so sometimes I journal for enjoyment, but I think it might also be my most effective stress reliever. It doesn’t really matter how you journal, just as long as you do it. Some days I’ll write anything that might be on my mind, something I’m worrying about, or maybe just a few words, whereas other days I may need to get a bit more specific. For example, in certain situations where other people are causing me stress, writing a “fake letter” has seriously reduced my anxiety. I know it sounds a little strange, but I’m telling you, it works. Got roommate problems? Coworkers that make you want to pull your hair out? Maybe you’re just in one of those moods where everything seems to annoy you? Write that person (or thing) a letter. Obviously, don’t actually send it, but getting your feelings out as if you were saying exactly what you want to that person can help immensely.
Another specific type of journaling I’ve tried is gratitude journaling, which again, felt a little strange to me when I started. This is where, no matter what happened that day, you write what you’re thankful for. And look past the basics. We’re all thankful for being alive – dig a little deeper. Maybe it’s that you had an awesome hair day or your favorite kind of cheese was on sale at Publix or you found a quarter in the bottom of your purse to make 75 cents so you could buy a Diet Coke.* If your day sucked, maybe you’re thankful it’s over and tomorrow is a fresh start. After a while, things you used to find stressful will pale in comparison to all the good things in your life.
*I’ve written all of these things in my gratitude journal.
Take Yourself on a Date
Lastly, when you’ve got a lot weighing on your shoulders, try taking yourself out on a well-deserved date. Do whatever you want to. Treat yourself to your favorite things and take a break from people. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – just focus on you. A couple weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly on edge, I woke up early Sunday morning, went for a long walk, colored in my adult coloring book (see above), took a blanket and book to the park for a few hours, vegged for the rest of the night and talked to no one. I’m pretty sure I also journaled that day (stress relief trifecta!) I can’t tell you how recharged I felt the next morning. This may be tough for super social butterflies who feel more comfortable around people, but I encourage you to give it a try. If you hate it, you never have to do it again!
All of these suggestions have helped me, some more than others, but it’s important to find what works best for you.
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