The media in recent weeks has been filled with alarming, stressful stories. Since having had breast cancer, I always find this even more troubling because I fought hard to stay alive, and I fully appreciate just how important it is to keep stress at bay. I shake my head when I see the actions of individuals who don’t seem to place the same value on the incredible beauty of simply being alive. Understanding all of this is way above my pay level, but I do realize it can bring incredible stress into my life. And, I’m assuming if I feel stress, many of you do as well.
With that thought in mind, I felt like this would be a good time to look at some innovative ways we can relieve some of the stress and get back to what is more important – honoring the time we’ve been given here on Earth.
Stress is known to suppress our immune system; raise our blood pressure; elevate the risk of stomach acid and ulcers; contribute to headaches, backaches, and neck-aches; colds; and even cancer. Stress is also linked to shortening of the telomeres, protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten each time a cell dies. Research suggests that we want our telomeres to be as long as possible, because length is associated with a lower risk of developing cancer and heart disease, as well as a longer life. So, if you ask me, I will take the extra-long version – PLEASE!
Here are just a few innovative ideas to bust that stress and come out the other side feeling, if not worry-free, at least a bit less burdened.
Blow up a balloon. Since our bodies need oxygen to relax, this is a simple tool you can use. When we are stressed we tend to take short, shallow breaths. Blowing up a balloon forces us to breathe more slowly and deeply, since we’re using our diaphragm. It also activates our parasympathetic nervous system, reducing our heart rate and relaxing our muscles. No balloons handy? Then remind yourself to take a deep, calming breath each time you walk through a doorway. You know the old saying, when one door closes another one opens – well, you can now add when one door opens I let go of some stress!
Try laughter yoga. Did you know that children laugh about 140 times a day? Adults, not so much. Actually, the average adult only laughs about 12 to 14 times a day. Every time we laugh, we release an endorphin, and those are 200 times stronger than morphine. Laughter yoga, which is becoming more and more popular nationwide, blends attempts to provoke laughter via eye contact and childlike playfulness with breathing exercises. If you can find a local class, try it. The child in you will be very thankful!
Play the drums. Drumming allows you to have fun, stay very much in the present moment, and release stress both consciously and unconsciously. So grab those bongos, snares or tom toms and let the good times roll! Heck, even a tambourine will do the trick. Just remember to choose your drum playing time wisely, or you may be adding to someone else’s stress levels!
If you are still young enough (and lucky enough) to be able to call your mom, do it! Researchers have found that in stressful situations, hearing the sound of your mom’s voice reduces stress hormones while boosting levels of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.
Take a break from the news. It’s time to turn off your TV, shut down the laptop, and stack those newspapers and magazines in the corner. A temporary vacation from world events give us time to clear our head, reduce our worries, and put our life in perspective. Give it a week – and don’t feel guilty. Unfortunately, the major stories will still be around in a week, and just think how nice it would be to escape from worrying about something you can’t control for a few days.
Climb a tree. If you are healthy enough (and fortunate enough to live in a place where there are full-grown trees in your neighborhood), now’s the time to revert to some childish behavior! Give yourself a lift. Climbing a tree is active, playful – and fun! Again, don’t add to someone else’s stress level by being too much of a monkey and climbing to a dangerous level. Just high enough to get a new perspective. When you get back to ground level you’ll be surprised at just how much stress you’ve relinquished!
Learn to play again. Try something like jumping on a trampoline. Go rollerblading. Blow bubbles. Spend some time hula-hooping. You have no goal other than to simply cut loose and enjoy yourself.
Create a “life is a banquet” collage. This world we live in does have its stresses, but it is also a place filled with humor, humanity and hope. When you are feeling overwhelmed, look for stories, cartoons, pictures, articles, song lyrics, ads, and quotes that bring these emotions to the forefront. If possible, add to your collection every day. Then, the next time the news is grim, bring out your collage and spend some time immersed in things that make you feel good.
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Got a great stress buster? If so, please share!