In life, there are bound to be ups and downs. There could be losses (of job, loved ones, possessions, health, wellness) or changes that throw us off tangent (hopefully only for a while before we find our way back to ourselves again, with deeper compassion and understanding).
The point here is not to escape stress or avoid stressful events completely which is not possible. It is also not to deny or suppress stressful feelings. It is to resource ourselves to return to spaces and pockets of calm and inner peace as much as possible, even as life throw curve balls at us at times. The more we can remain calm, the clearer is our thinking and the better we can navigate the challenging times and face the reality and situation with confidence.
The unknowns and uncertainties of the future may cause much stress to people. However, if we better use our energies by turning our fear and worries into plan and strategies with an open attitude and flexible mindset to adjust our plans with changes, that would minimise a lot of necessary sufferings. Therefore, if we resource ourselves more, we can become more resilient.
Much of the tools listed below help me regain perspective of the bigger picture. This allows me to stay calm and face the challenge(s) with clarity and objectivity rather than fears, worries and reactivity. You can see it as conserving your energy (leaks) for better use to tackle the issue at hand.
1 Tackling the challenge/ task
- Bite-size. What is the source of stress? It could be a once-off stress like a big project (e.g. wedding, buying a house, or work project) that is coming up or a longer term stress such as a loss of job or change in roles or even relocation. Or it may even be a general feeling of under chronic stress.
Take one step at a time. Just like how we eat, we take one bite at a time, and take the time to chew on it. Break down bigger projects into bite-size, then prioritise the tasks and resources accordingly. There is no need and usually impossible to complete everything in one go, especially for bigger or longer term projects. And remember, things change, so we will need to have the flexibility to adjust our plans accordingly. If you are too stressed to look at the task now, I recommend to go to the self care tools first. Calm your nerves, then return to your challenge(s). Sometimes when you are calm, the thing that was bothering you before may appear much more manageable.
If the source of stress is from daily life, work, family and even worrying about the unknown of the future, you can use the following ways as regular self care to destress and relax so that you can return to meet the demands and challenges of life from a better place. Sometimes, the stress does not appear as daunting after you have shifted your perspective or gained some insights on it through the spaces of calm.
2 Regular Self Care to Release Stress and Relax
Self care routine is like a ritual that you do for yourself regularly, just like brushing teeth, showering, sleeping and eating. It is a gift that we give ourselves. We meet our own needs first so that we can meet others' - just like an emergency in an aircraft, you always tend to yourself first (put on the oxygen mask) before you help others. Otherwise, you run out of steam (or life) pretty quickly.
This is a self care and self exploration journey so do some experimentation for yourself to see what works best under different settings. What works in one situation may not work for others, even for myself so find one(s) that is useful for you...
- Get moving / exercise (when possible). Movements can help to release the stress hormones build up in the body throughout the day. Physical activities such as dancing, walking, jogging, running, hiking, canoeing, skipping, swimming, yoga, taichi, gardening, etc. You can do it alone or with like-minded loving company.
Yoga can be dynamic or relatively still and the different forms appeal to different persons. Sometimes, I like a dynamic flow to focus on the movement to really get the stress hormones flushed out; sometimes, I may like to do the Ashtanga Primary series which is a standard set of poses that also has very therapeutic effects; sometimes, I prefer to explore restorative yoga poses for deeper relaxation; sometimes, I meditate (which can be dynamic or relatively still).
Some good restorative poses include child pose and legs up the wall.
- Do something that you enjoy mindfully. This simply means fully absorbed in the activity that you are doing in the moment. It trains the mind to pay full attention and be fully present. This eliminates rumination of past (usually repetitive and judgmental) events or worrying about future. This lets the mind, and the nervous system relax and rest.
It also works really well when you are doing something you really like and enjoy as you naturally pay attention and become fully absorbed. E.g. painting, gardening, fishing, singing, dancing, playing musical instruments or even listening to your favourite music, paying attention to the instruments involved, or watching your pets or child(ren) play.
- Mindful activities and practices. Mindful practice can be as simple as paying attention to how your body feel in the moment or breathing mindfully. You can find some free and simple mindful practices in the link at the bottom of the page.
- Spend time in/ with nature. Walk in the forest, or city park; or grow some plants. Air is fresher. The greenery relaxes the eyes and grounds our energies. Personally, I find water very rejuvenating so beaches, reservoirs, rivers, streams and lakes are very calming and refreshing for me. Watching wildlife such as birds, squirrels, otters, monitor lizards, skinks and chameleons in their natural habitat is insightful and amazing. Be mindful of animals that are territorial or might be venomous or aggressive when you are out in the nature.
The general rule is not to provoke or feed wild life as that would upset their natural feeding patterns and interaction with human beings. Also bring out your own trash when visiting nature parks to keep the place litter free. Do check out any other rules of the nature parks to help conserve our environment. Some places also disallow bringing in foreign animal or plants or seeds and soil as that would upset the ecosystem.
You may also look out of your window if you are lucky to have a nice view of nature or just watch the clouds in the sky, the trees and the birds flying by. Sometimes, stopping what you are doing and just tune into the sounds of the nature and feel the breeze on your face will help you drop into a more relaxed mood.
- Massages! This stimulates the neuroceptors in a way which primes the body to relax. So give yourself a massage anytime. It can be foot massage, hand massage, facial massage, ear massage, head / scalp massage (or hair oiling), gum massage, etc. You get the idea. And you can also do a massage for a loved one which also improve bonding. A warm foot soak is also very relaxing.
- Breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises can be very refreshing and relaxing for some people. You may check out some breathing exercises here.
However, if you have panic attack or have some trauma related to your body or just find deep breathing too activating, be sure to skip this. There are so many other different ways to release stress.
- Vocalisation. You don't need to know how to sing to do vocalisation as there is no right or wrong way here. It is a sound that you make. It can be chanting of mantra or syllables, or making other intuitive sounds. We are energetic beings, i.e. each live cell in our body vibrates and we carry different frequencies. These frequencies change throughout the day. For example, if we receive a piece of good news, our vibrations increase or if we hear some bad news, our vibrations can be lowered. This is about using vibrations to reset our frequencies. Chanting also regulate the breaths which calms the nervous system.
You can check out the humming bee breath here. You can find a relatively safe and quiet place where you would not be disturbed or disturb others. Sit or lie comfortably, and chant "Mmmmm".
- Music. This is also about vibrations and frequencies. It can be enjoying a piece of your favourite music or it can be creating a new one or just singing along, or drumming and playing musical instruments. You can also dance freely to any music that you like. Let the vibrations do the talking. I find this extremely helpful when I have exam stress or just need to get some 'stuck' energies out of the system. I listen to different tracks and albums for different moods, e.g. to read, to relax, to cook, to do housework. And some days, I just find certain music 'sync' and 'tune' my energies.
There are also voices of certain beings who are really calming and soothing. Just by listening to the voices and words can really soothe the nerves. You can have the recordings of these sacred voices handy and play them whenever you need.
You may like to check out Steven Halpern's Chakra Suite: Music for Meditation, Healing and Inner Peace.
- Sleep. If this comes easily for you at the moment, it could just be as simple as that. This also works wonder for me. A well rested body is a happy and calm one. :)
- Meditation and visualisation. Meditation is the best medication. There are many different forms of meditation. Find one that suits you. It is also recommended to learn from a teacher if you are new.
Personally, meditation helps train my mind and clear the chatter. In the process, I am able to listen more to my inner guide (not the false ego) and also become a better listener to others. As I journey inwards, the stuck past and energies were gradually released and I find increased vitality. The practice of self compassion and self love have been an important foundation for me to be kind and gentle with whatever I uncover in this journey. Unconditional self-love is the basis for loving others unconditionally. It does not mean loving blindly but a deep sense of care for the wellbeing of myself and others, and in the process, doing what is necessary rather than what is easy or popular. More on this on a separate topic.
- Connection and communication. Connecting (cordially and / or meaningfully) with others releases oxytocin (also known as the love hormone) which is associated with empathy, trust, relationship building and psychological stability. Find a supportive circle that nourishes your soul and being. It is different from one that feeds your ego. Connect with your loved ones.
- Hugs. Just holding your loved ones or even your pets in your embrace can do wonders in calming your nervous system. If you are shy, you can also hug yourself by wrapping your arms around opposite sides of you upper arms or shoulder blades or hug your favourite soft toy or pillow or cushion. You can enjoy this safe space for as long as you need.
- Food and nutrition. Nutrition is a key aspect to feeling good. Our belly is our second brain which affects our emotions and feelings. Check out the page on diet here.
- Laugh. Laughing is free and releases feel-good hormones. You can meet friends, watch light-hearted shows, comedies or even check out the laughter yoga to get started on this. :)
- Journal your feelings and emotions. Journaling helps me gain insights into my thought patterns, habitual behaviours and also reveal certain beliefs that no longer served me. In the process, I gain awareness of my own perceptions and can let go of them when they are no longer true or helpful. They also provide a means for me to dwell into the deeper and often repetitive issues. This is also helpful as I can write anytime and not need another person to listen or be around though the latter can be helpful sometimes as well.
It is helpful when I allow myself to write freely without restraints and not judging myself regardless of whatever surfaced. The open and curious attitude sets the stage for deeper healing instead of repressing, criticism and denial. It is not about keeping records of the good and the bad. Rather, it is a process of unfolding and uncovering whatever needs to be seen and heard, or felt in order to heal completely (and let go in the process). Journaling is different from rumination because the former help me to pen down my thoughts, emotions, feelings, and beliefs freely to reveal deeper patterns. And I can rest my mind after journaling freely. Journaling is insightful while rumination is a vicious cycle of repeated thoughts which usually feed a certain set of underlying (false) beliefs.
When we heal the deeper underlying patterns or issues, we are addressing the triggers by looking at the root cause(s). For example, it could be a belief that you are unworthy of love or not good enough. Such undermining beliefs could push one to strive overly hard for everything just to prove that one is worthy, and any situation could be perceived as a threat to one's worthiness. The harsh and judging self critic and inner voice can become a source of stress. When you are aware of such false belief systems, there is less likelihood of becoming distressed by the present situation as we become unconditioned from past events/ wounds.
- Gratitude list is one of the most effective ways to turn the mood around. The bonus here is gratitude starts a virtuous cycle to invite more positivity and love into your life. What is working well now for you? Another way can be to ask yourself how it could have been worse?
- Be kind and gentle to yourself. How would you do or what would you say to a loved one who is feeling stressed? Try to do that for yourself. If you are someone who always take care of the needs of others, regular self care to recharge is very important to avoid burnout and fatigue. Micro time-out throughout the day is helpful. Also know that it is expected to experience up and down in life. Please rest whenever you need to.
If you are undergoing chronic / acute stress that interferes with your daily activities, do seek professional help and support. The above tools are not a substitute for professional care.
You can find free recordings on mindful practices, breathing exercises, stretching, eye care and other self care practices and tools here.