I was writing a post about perimenopause and stress, and how it'd be lovely if we could find a way to convince our bodies that no, we're not being chased by a tiger, that chronic stress is kind of the norm these days, so just deal with it. The norm. But not right. So, can we lower the amount of stress in our lives? Obviously there is a lot we can't control. But ...
Are there perhaps chores we don't actually have to complete? Self-imposed deadlines that aren't truly necessary? Things that we can learn to say no to? Without the associated guilt.
I bet there are. But in the meantime, assuming our days are still pretty full, what we can do is this - find little pockets of time during the day to enjoy a stress-relieving strategy or two. Of course, you mustn't feel pressured into adding these to you 'do list', cos that just = more stress!
If you like, set an alarm to go off a couple of times a day as a prompt. Or, my favourite, keep a big glass of water at your work space. And actually drink it! The physical need to pee will remind you to get up and do something that serves you rather than answering 'just one more' email. Though not all of these would go down well in, say, an open plan office, or if you were a police officer directing traffic at an intersection where the lights have failed!
I'm sure you'll know most of these. But it's always good to have a reminder. In no particular order:
1. Breathe. Deeply. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Place your hands gently on your belly to feel it rising and falling. Become aware of your breath. It can be helpful to count the pace of your breathing and try to breathe out for slightly longer than your in breath. This really helps the brain know that we're relaxed and in control of things (even if we're faking it).
Often throughout the day we'll have fallen back into a shallow way of breathing without realising. That can lead to physical tension which, in a vicious circle, can lead to feeling more stress. So this is a one-minute stress relieving hack that you can revisit several times a day.
Time taken - 1 minute
2. Lift your legs. Up the wall that is. A yoga pose that is restful and restorative. A nice one to try towards the end of the day to help you relax into sleep. When the legs are stretched up the wall and are higher than the heart, gravity can help the circulation of both blood and lymphatic fluid. So you get some physical benefits as well as stress and anxiety relief.
If you've never tried it, you might be best to search for a video on how to get into the pose easily. It basically involves sitting sideways on to the wall, with your hip touching it, then lying back while swinging your legs straight up the wall. Once you've got it sussed it's a really nice way to relax.
Time taken - 5 minutes (or as long as you like)
3. Lift your legs. By walking backwards! It's a challenge to your brain that is sure to snap you out of a funk. And you might help brighten up other people's day by making them chuckle if they see you!
Obviously find a safe place to do it. Like your drive or hallway. Then just walk backwards. It keeps your mind guessing and helps sharpen your senses and thinking skills. It can improve your coordination and body awareness. And it's said to improve mood, as well as the obvious physical benefits like challenging different muscles, helping your balance, and increasing energy levels.
Time taken - 1 - 5 minutes
4. Use a free meditation app. Insight Timer, for example, is fab. You can choose what type of track you'd like, guided or simply relaxing music; choose what you'd like it for eg sleep, gratitude; and choose how long you'd like it to be. I've listened to some in the mornings before the school rush that are under 2 minutes long. I love listening to the soothing tones of someone letting me know that everything is going to be just fine! Combine listening to this with a bit of relaxed belly breathing. Another great time to do it is when you're waiting in the car to pick up kids from school or sport. That way, if you nod off, your kids will definitely make sure you don't snooze for too long!
Time taken - 2 minutes to up to an hour if you feel like it
5. Get your head below your heart. When did you last do a handstand? Don't worry, you don't have to go to that extreme (though it would probably be fun). You could try simply folding forward at the waist, aiming your hands towards your toes (you'll know if any back issues etc will let you do this), downward dog pose or child pose like above, so relaxing.
A bit like walking backwards, these poses give us a different outlook on life, and can be enough to shift your mind and thinking to a happier place. You'll get your blood moving to the brain for a bit of physical and mental invigoration.
Time taken - 1 - 2 minutes
6. Have a massage. Or rather, give yourself a massage. A quick foot massage. You can simply rub your feet with your hands, or use a spiky ball or tennis ball. It helps to relieve the tension in your feet, and is thought to help reduce fatigue and lift your mood, as well as getting your circulation going. Our feet don't often get much attention, considering all they do for us, so this is a really nice, easy way to treat yourself. What I like to do every morning before I head out for the day is:
Take a full minute per foot to roll a softish spiky ball from the tips of my toes to the back of my heel. I do this standing on the ball, to loosen off my feet for the day.
Time taken - 2 minutes
7. Splash your face with cold water. Humans have a reflex that is triggered when cold water hits our face and goes up our noses. Our brain believes we are going to have to hold our breath for a period of time underwater, so it causes our heart rate to slow and other oxygen-preserving mechanisms which turn out to be very calming for our mind and body.
So fill a sink with really cold water and splash your face a few times for some instant stress relief.
Time taken - 2 minutes
8. Boogie! Dance, wiggle, jiggle, let it all hang out! Pick one of your favourite songs, play it loud and just go for it. It's an activity that releases endorphins, as well as all the other physical good things like working your muscles and getting your heart rate up. Listening to music you love also releases dopamine - our pleasure chemical. Our favourite songs are often connected to good times and good memories. So upbeat 80s and 90s tunes are more beneficial for me than mellow tunes that are designed to relax! I'm sure the singing along part is a great stress-buster too.
Time taken - 4 minutes (6 minutes if your song of choice is Bohemian Rhapsody. Which is a splendid choice by the way).
9. Give yourself a hug. Cross your arms, place your palms on your shoulders, then stroke your arms down towards your elbows several times. While doing this, you can recite a simple mantra like “calm and relaxed”. This helps shift your brain into its sympathetic (rest and relax) mode. If you'd like to find out more about it, search for 'havening'. It's the perfect calming trick if someone's really annoyed you at work - nip to the bathroom and do this instead of screaming or punching a wall!
Time taken - 2 minutes
10. Tidy. I know, I know, this one sounds dull but it can be really helpful. Set a timer for 10 minutes and see how much mess and clutter you can tidy up from one small area of the house, your office or even just your desk. The over-full and over-stimulating environments around us can add to our tension rising without us realising.
When our to do lists are never-ending, knowing that you've achieved something in just 10 minutes can be very positive. If your children/partner/work colleagues come along and mess it all up again, please refer to numbers 1 -9 for assistance!
Time taken - 10 minutes
11. Take a hot bath. This one snuck in even though it doesn't truly fit the Free and Quick parts of the brief. But it really is the answer to washing away a day of stress. Hot baths are known to release endorphins, increase blood flow to your skin, relax tense muscles. The sensation of our muscles relaxing soothes us mentally as well as physically.
Time taken - 15 - 20 minutes
OR - If you don't have time for a bath, fill a tub with hot water and soak just your feet. You'll still stimulate your circulation and reduce tension through your whole body. Try to use this time to be present, or at least listen to some relaxing music or watch a TV show that makes you laugh. Stay away from the work emails!
Time taken - 10 minutes
For both options you can supercharge your stress relief by adding a Salt & Oil natural soak to the water. I know, it's a bit rude to bang on about our own products when you just wanted to relax so, really, any magnesium-based bath soak will do the trick. Just check the ingredients to make sure it doesn't have chemicals like man-made scents in it (mass produced bath bombs can be particularly bad for this).
And if the instructions say 'add a spoonful' please know that a small amount of magnesium like that really isn't going to do anything for you. At least a cupful is ideal for a bath. Which is one of the reasons we don't add all the petals and faff to our products - to help keep the cost down so you can use a decent, useful, amount of it in your bath. Also - no soggy mess to clean up afterwards!
We've got an even quicker, easier way for you to top up your magnesium levels and get some stress relief - a 10 second Magnesium Oil massage.
Among its many benefits, magnesium helps with:
Easing tight muscles and cramps
So, I know, it's not free, but it is most definitely quick and easy. You can keep a bottle on your bedside table, in your gym bag (it's SO helpful for muscles after a workout) or in your desk at work. I know of a school staffroom that kept a communal bottle!
If you'd like to try some for yourself, please use code TRYMAG to get 20% off a 150ml glass bottle of Magnesium Oil. You can choose unscented or lavender, which is lovely to use to help you relax at bedtime.
I hope this list was helpful. I've been doing number 9 whilst typing it, and I'm off to boogie in the kitchen before the teens get home from school - what used to be fun when they were 6 is now utterly mortifying!!
PS - If you sign up to our Weekly Soak emails, you're in the monthly draw to win a bath soak for you and a friend, so you can experience their stress-relieving qualities for yourself.