Experiencing distress? Then you need to de-stress!
Stress is a serious problem and something that can affect us negatively in many ways; often without us even realizing it. If you find your stress levels increasing, then it is highly important that you know how to take some time out and how to de-stress effectively. In this post, we’ll look at the steps you need to take to effectively get yourself back to performing optimally and feeling calm.
Follow this strategy and you can go from a bundle of anxious nerves to a state of complete calm and relaxation…
Take a Time-Out
First and most importantly, you need to take some time out. This means taking a step back from whatever it is you’re doing – and especially if that thing is what’s causing you stress.
If you want to know how to de-stress then this is the single most important step. Stress is your body being ‘fired up’ in response to challenge or perceived threat. In other words, you need to take the time out in order to let yourself return to your baseline.
The problem is that when we’re stressed, we tend to feel motivated to work harder so as to address the stress. If you’re stressed because you need to finish a project in a short amount of time, the last thing you’ll often want to do is to take a breather to have a nice bath for half an hour.
This then is where you need to realize that actually, taking time out is probably better for your performance overall. Stress impairs your memory, it negatively affects decision making and it eventually leads to burnout. Taking the time to actively look into how to de-stress will lead to you working better and for longer. Don’t be a hero – play the long game.
Set a Timer
It’s no good to just take time out of whatever it is you’re doing physically. What’s actually even more important is that you take the time out mentally meaning that you stop thinking about whatever it is that’s causing you stress and instead be present and in the moment to allow yourself to relax.
If you find you lack the discipline to do this, or you’re worried about taking time out of whatever it is you’re doing, then setting yourself a timer or a time limit can be a very effective way to overcome this issue. For instance, if you’re currently studying for an exam, then you might decide that you can only afford to take 20 minutes out. That’s fine – as long as you make sure that during those 20 minutes you completely switch off.
The timer allows you to do this because you know that in 20 minutes, you’ll be able to go back to what you’re doing. In the meantime though, you won’t be constantly checking the clock or worrying that you should get back to what you’re doing.
This guide to how to de-stress is open to interpretation and is flexible to meet your specific preferences. That is to say, the precise way you de-stress is up to you as long as what you’re doing ticks all the right boxes.
For instance, it can be very helpful to do something that will help to physically relax and calm you. When you’re stressed, this causes a flood of hormones and neurotransmitters that trigger changes in the body. Among other things, this can lead to you becoming more tense as your muscles contract slightly. Your breathing will meanwhile become shallower and you might even find yourself shaking slightly as your blood sugar level is sent into disarray.
There are various ways you can help your body to relax itself then and thus to counteract some of these physical symptoms. At the same time, this can then also send further feedback to the body as you are essentially communicating that it’s ‘okay’ to relax. Help the muscles to relax and you will calm down your whole body.
Some examples of things that are physically relaxing include:
- Taking a warm bath which is fantastic for relaxing the muscles (a scented bubble bath can also help a great deal)
- Getting a massage (either professionally or from a loved one)
- Hitting a sauna, hot tub or steam room
- Sun bathing
- Simply lying back and closing your eyes
- Going for a relaxing walk somewhere scenic
- Practicing yoga which incorporates relaxed breathing and stretching
- Sitting in a massage chair
Be Present and Breathe
Simply taking a warm bath isn’t enough though if you really want to know how to de-stress. At the same time, you need to let yourself really feel the full benefit of that relaxing bath by being present in the moment and controlling your breathing.
Breathing slowly and deeply will instantly engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which is there to help us completely relax when we are going into our ‘rest and digest mode’ (the opposite of fight or flight). This will counteract many of the effects of fight or flight helping your muscles to relax and your mind to feel calmer.
At the same time, remember that you have set that timer and that for at least these 20 minutes or so there is nothing to worry about. Feel the warm water relax your muscles as you bath, or the sun and cool air on your face as you go for your walk and enjoy the scenery. Banish all stressful thoughts from your mind and just let the relaxing setting replenish you.
Activities for Relaxing Mentally
If you struggle to relax mentally on your own, then it may help to use something that can force you into a more relaxed state. This is one of the most useful secrets for how to de-stress.
A good example would be to read a book. Reading books is fantastic for calming yourself mentally because it requires your full attention and your inner monologue. In other words, when you’re reading a novel it’s actually impossible to be simultaneously worrying about work.
In this way, reading a good book can almost be ‘hypnotic’ and often when we finish reading we will find ourselves almost feeling as though we’ve woken up from a dream.
Other activities can be similarly all-encompassing. Drawing or painting is a fantastic tool if you want to know how to de-stress and you’ll find that while your hands do the drawing your mind is often free to wonder absently – hours can easily pass while you’re drawing without you even being aware.
Some people will prefer to read a magazine, to do some knitting or even to practice a dance routine. As long as it requires focus, you’ll find it’s an effective way to take your mind off of things that are causing you anxiety.
Note: things that should be avoided when you’re trying to de-stress include the television and computer games. Screens emit an unnatural light that the brain can mistake for bright sunlight and which actually triggers the release of stress hormone. Likewise, the loud noises and constantly changing colors make it very hard to unwind. Computer games and TV are not inherently bad for you but if you’re looking at how to de-stress, they are not the solution.
Set the Scene
So now you’re relaxing in the bath with a good book and you’ve given yourself 20 minutes off. To make the absolute most of this time, make sure that you also prevent anyone from disturbing you (that means turning off the phone and telling family/friends not to knock) and that you set the scene to be relaxing in other ways for instance by setting the lighting correctly.
Candles are often associated with relaxation and that’s because of both the smell and the flickering light that can be almost hypnotic at times. Candles are also very effective because they produce a low-level light that’s similar to ‘evening’ light and which suppresses the release of stress-causing cortisol.
Listening to relaxing music can also help you to unwind as it gives you something external to concentrate on and often helps to ‘entrain’ your body to feel more at ease.
Finally, getting yourself something to eat or drink that you would consider comfort food can also help. Eating food we enjoy triggers the release of ‘feel good’ hormones which act as natural antidepressants and it improves our mood. Try to avoid caffeine which will only excite you further but otherwise the sky is the limit – something like a warm milk or a yogurt can be particularly effective though.
Knowing When to De-Stress
There are other ways to de-stress but if you want to feel ‘recharged’ then following this strategy is one of the very most effective methods. Exercise and socializing both help to reduce stress hormones and neurochemicals but sometimes you just can’t beat taking some time out to indulge yourself and to force yourself to forget about all your worries.
Once you know how to de-stress this way, it’s important to make sure that you do it regularly. Bear in mind that many of these methods can be used even at work – setting a timer for ten minutes and going for a walk while breathing calmly and snacking on something comforting is something you can do anywhere.
Knowing that you can take a time out like this whenever life seems to be getting on top of you can be a great way to better handle your stress and to ensure that you are putting your health first and ultimately managing your mental and physical energy levels for better overall productivity.