I’m no stranger to stress. As a Type-A+ person geared towards anxiety in a fast-paced and often stressful job, I’ve had to get adept at taking my body and brain from “Argh!” to “Ahhh” in the most efficient way possible.
Over the years, I’ve played around with various strategies for downshifting after a long day or a long week. Some (like venting to a spouse or coworker) might feel good in the moment but don’t contribute to a release of stress in the long term. Others (like meditation) are awesome tools, but are ineffective when used at the wrong time.
I became more aware of my stress and intensity level at the end of the workday when Brock and I instituted a new procedure last year. Before driving home, I would text him my “number,” a digit from 1 to 10 where 1 is napping in a hammock and 10 is performing CPR. He then sends me his number. My goal is to try to be no higher than a 4 as soon as possible after the final bell.
This system has motivated me to get more efficient at ramping down my stress. Below is the stress-busting system I have implemented over the last few months. I have found that these steps in this order effectively take me from a higher level of intensity to a lower level. They’re flexible, filling the time you have and adapting to your particular situation. On a really rough day, you may need all five steps. On an easier day, maybe you reach “Ahhh” much sooner.
Take a look. Give it a whirl. And let me know what you think 🙂
One – Move
The first step in releasing stress is getting out of your brain and into your body while starting to let go of any stored and stuck energy. This can be as complex as structured exercise or as simple as a walk down the hallway.
Bonus Points – Exercise Outside
Much of stress comes from a feeling of being confined, boxed into whatever circumstances surround us. So get out. Literally. Feel how small and inconsequential your concerns are against nature’s backdrop.
Two – Escape
Get away from your stress and into another world. Play (and sing along!) to music on your commute. Watch a favorite show (we’re currently bingeing on Game of Thrones). Read a book. Complete a crossword or play some Angry Birds. If you have a tendency to escape too long, set a timer and give yourself a limit. The escape is a break, not continual avoidance.
Bonus Points – Write
Writing not only acts as an escape, it also allows you to purge and process. This is especially important if your source of stress is ongoing or requires that you change something.
Three – Release
Let it go. Massage your shoulders and roll them back down into place. Stretch your arms and work out the knots. Do some yoga, whether it be a full class or just holding a pose for a few moments. Try some version of a backbend; they’re delicious when you’re stressed.
Bonus Points – Sex
Whatever sex means for you. It not only serves as a physical release, it also releases hormones that relaxes the body and it is great at resetting the mind.
Four – Breathe
Focus on your breath and work to both slow it down and deepen it. If you’re still holding on, inhale through your nose and exhale loudly through your mouth. Aim to complete at least 10 focused breaths.
Bonus Points – Meditate
I often find that when I’m stressed, it can be difficult to do my usual meditation and that guided ones seem to be more effective. I especially like short ones that include body scanning as it helps to release any residual tension.
Five – Play
Play simply mean allowing yourself some unstructured time. Follow your instincts. Ideally, this play should be disconnected from technology, as too much stimulation and information keeps the stress going. If you have kids, play with them.
Bonus Points – Create
Allow your creative side to flow. It taps in to your core self and reconnects you with you as you let go of the day. If you have kids, create with them. It’s a gift for all of you.
I know this might sound overwhelming (which is the last thing you need when you’re stressed!), but it can really be quite streamlined on typical days. Here’s how it might look on a normal day for me:
Move – I usually do a bigger workout later in the evening, but I’ll do a few squats before I leave my classroom (during rough years, I’ve even kept a kettlebell in my room) and then I’m mindful of taking advantage of my walk to my car, paying special attention to the feel of the sun (unless it’s the winter!) and fresh air once I leave the building.
Escape – I listen to something either engaging (NPR or a digital book) or funny on the way home.
Release – Once home, I lay on my back with my legs up a wall for a few minutes and let the aches of the day start to fade.
Breathe – While my legs are up the wall, I focus on slowing my breathing. I often will turn on a chant on my meditation app that gives me a cadence to aim for.
Play – I pick up the tennis ball and throw it around for Tiger for a few minutes.
Total time invested? 40 minutes, 30 of which is my commute.
Value to quality of life? Priceless.