It comes in many forms. From eight hours of homework a day, to screaming children tearing up the house, to the constant arguments with your significant other over bills and finances, to those weekend plans ruined when your boss asks you to work overtime that Saturday at the office. STRESS, ladies and gentlemen… it really is a killer.
No, seriously. It really could kill you. Stress can be linked to some of the top causes of death. Stress can send you on those semi-regular junk food binges (if you’re anything like me), which could lead to diabetes, eating disorders, or America’s number six silent killer, obesity. Stress might push you to smoke that cigarette you swore off a year ago, inadvertently shoving you down that slippery slope until you’re back to a pack a day, every day, until your doctor utters those fateful words: “I’m terribly sorry… but you have lung cancer.” These possibilities, while they may sound intense, are all very real and will sneak up on you faster than you realize as you’re wallowing in the pressure of those day-to-day troubles that make you feel like a small amount of butter spread over a gigantic piece of bread. Check out www.apa.org/topics/stress/index.aspx (the American Psychological Association’s website) for facts and statistics on stress.
So how on earth do we go about the seemingly-impossible task of balancing our stress levels? Read on, my friend, because I want to share with you five methods of stress relief that I personally have found incredibly effective, and believe that you will too.
Stay moderately busy. The benefits here are two-fold. First of all, if you keep a regular, well-rounded schedule from day to day, you won’t have a ton of extra time to sit around thinking about everything that is “wrong” in your life (which, of course, is subjective- you may be freaking out over that bad haircut, but who says anyone else even noticed?). Keep a good, solid, eight-to-ten hour block of time each day filled with work, school, extra-curriculars, hobbies, housework, etc. The second benefit here goes hand in hand with the first: you’re going to feel accomplished. Make that checklist, check everything off as you do it, and then look back at it at the end of the day and pat yourself on the back. Look at all that stuff you got done today!
Music, music, music! Seriously, this might sound simple and boring, but music has been one of the biggest stress relievers for me since I can remember. Finish reading this article, go get on your iTunes, and start making yourself some playlists for different days, situations and moods. For example, if I really need to clean my apartment, I put on my classic rock playlist and jam out to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin while I vacuum in my underwear. I find particular joy in dancing like a fool while I’m cleaning, because not only does it distract me from the mundane tasks at hand, but I get a decent workout in at the same time. Turn up the tunes, folks, and let the music fill your soul!
Surround yourself with good people. This can be a difficult one under certain circumstances. If you’re new to a school, town, or workplace, you may not have made a million friends right away. If you’re -let’s face it- socially awkward, you might have trouble making friends in the first place. The best thing you can do, in any situation, is to get out there and get involved in your community. Volunteer for a cause you support. This might sound cliche, but I’ll tell you right now that my time spent volunteering for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo was one of the best times of my life. I made great friends and professional contacts in a wonderful atmosphere doing something that I loved. Almost a year later, I still talk to and spend time with some of those people, and they have played a key part in my search for a job in my field of study. Find some pleasant, productive individuals with similar interests and make friends with them however you can, and you will undoubtedly find that they motivate your own productivity and positivity simply by spending time with you.
Don’t forget about YOU. The best example of this one is working mothers. How many times have you heard about or talked to someone that spends virtually all of their time every day doing things for others? While this is highly commendable and selfless, the cold, hard reality is that as human beings, we are all *required* to be a little bit selfish sometimes. It’s part of survival, in my opinion. So remember that from time to time, you might want to go get that manicure you’ve been thinking about, buy yourself a cool new video game and sit down and play it for a couple hours one night, sink into the backyard jacuzzi with a glass of wine and some Pink Floyd, or lay in bed cuddling with your cat and watching one of your favorite movies. Time to yourself, whether an hour, a day, or that long weekend at the family condo in Florida you wanted to take, is important to keeping yourself sane and centered.
Enjoy the little things. The world can be a hideous place… if you let it. So don’t! Take a look around you and remind yourself of all the small joys in your life. The secret here is to look at everything. If you’re stuck at work in your cubicle, look at your computer. Isn’t it amazing that humanity has come so far as to create these intelligent machines with all these capabilities? We can connect to people on the other side of the world while simultaneously fighting off entire armies in our high-tech video games. If you’re sitting in class, bored with that three-hour lecture, thumb through your textbook. Mankind created languages to communicate and established the written word. If you’re bored at home one night, call your little sister to say hi, and when you hear her voice, remember the day she was born and how you felt to hold that tiny little life in your arms for the first time and say the words, “that’s my baby sister”. Lay outside underneath the stars tonight and look for constellations. Play with your dog and remember that all he needs in the world is for you to love him. Hug your best friend and tell them how much they mean to you. It’s the little things, collectively, that really matter.
I personally have made it an ongoing goal to make use of these five techiques for some time now. I’m willing to bet that if you work these into your routine (or lack thereof) and stick with them, you will not only feel different, but you will look at the world around you differently. There are plenty of other effective stress-relief methods that I have tried as well: exercise, healthy eating, massages, meditation, etc. They are all good methods, but I am a strong advocate for the five listed above because of everything I have tried, these are the ones that I find easiest to incorporate and most effective in the long run. I hope you’ll give them a shot!