April is Stress Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about the causes and consequences of living with stress. We all deal with different forms of stress (some more than others) from work, to personal problems, even about our household chores or worrying about our loved ones.
And while stress isn’t a bad thing itself, as it is a mechanism to help us cope through difficult situations, it can become problematic when it’s chronic, causing long-term issues in both physical and mental health.
Something we should keep in mind is that while kind self-talk and self-compassion can prevent us from feeling even more tense than we are already in a situation, it isn’t enough to simply tell ourselves to calm down. Instead, we need to regulate our nervous system first.
We want to take this as a chance to offer you guys some self-care practices that can help you keep your stress levels in check:
We suggest giving breathing exercises a go: they are a quick, and possibly the most effective way of soothing ourselves when we are feeling stressed.
Slow breathing instantly lets your body know that it doesn’t need to be in a fight or flight response: since different breathing patterns are associated with different emotional states (think of how our breath gets faster when we’re anxious), mimicking a calm, slow breathing pattern tells our body and mind that we are safe to let our guard down.
If you think you could get some benefit from breathing work, here are three different techniques you can try:
Physiological sigh: take a double inhale (in the sense of, start inhaling, and before you’re done with the first one, take another one) and follow with a long exhale. Repeat 10-20 times to reset your breathing and calm your mind.
Coherent breathing: breathe in for 6 seconds and out for other 6, taking 5 full breaths per minute for a 2/3 minutes. This helps synchronising your breathing with your heart rate, making us feel a lot calmer.
4/6 breathing: try breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 6, repeating this pattern for 10-20 breaths. This helps us slowing down, promoting a sense of relaxation.
Practicing these techniques regularly can help you manage any anxiety and stress you might be facing in your life, letting you take charge of unpleasant feelings without them getting too overwhelming for you, even past the moment you’re experiencing them.
Incorporating a few minutes of meditation in your routine can make a big difference in how you are able to handle stress.
Through meditation, we can reach a peaceful, calm state, and the best thing is the benefits don’t stop with our practice and last throughout the whole day!
On top of this, meditating really helps you develop skills of self-perception and self-awareness, which can lower stress levels as we learn to see the cause of our stress from a new perspective.
There are so many different guided meditations on YouTube to pick from, I suggest starting from any that’s got a voice you find soothing and seeing how you like it, and if you want anything specific from your meditations you can look for something more specific - for example I (it’s Chiara writing- hi!) tend to look for ones that don’t last too long as I have about 10 minutes meditation time before I get tired and give up! Everyone has different needs and likes and dislikes and I think it’s worth keeping this in mind and not letting yourself be discouraged in the process of finding out.
If you’re someone who can and enjoys working out, that’s a great way to control stress levels!
Physical activity, even low intensity, releases loads of happy chemicals which counteract stress. Even a 15 minutes walk can boost your mood- I love walking in parks and every cute dog I spot is a bonus and a great encouragement to go out even on lazy days.
Yoga is particularly recommended as it helps us focusing on our mind and body and reconnecting with them both. It can be very grounding to do a brief yoga routine a couple of times a week.
It’s important to consider what kind of activity suits you the most- are you very extroverted and would rather something you can do in a team or with some friends or do you prefer something you can do alone? Exercising should be enjoyable and not a chore, so pick whatever is the most fun and exciting to you!
Keeping a journal is a great way to process our thoughts and emotions, which can help with managing stress levels.
Start by writing down what’s causing you stress and then explore any underlying thoughts and feelings. It may be hard to start with, but it should feel more and more natural as you go.
Keeping your entries regular can help you gain clarity, new perspectives, and identifying changes you might want to make in your life.
Create your own lazy but enjoyable unwinding routine
We know how hard it can be to start a task when we feel stressed and overwhelmed, even if we know it would make us feel better. If you can’t push yourself to do any of the things mentioned above, that’s ok! There are other ways to relax that don’t require much effort at all. The following tips are based off sensory stimulation, and you can combine as many of them as you like to create your personal unwinding routine to repeat any time you want to slow down and take a moment to yourself.
We suggest setting up some dimmed or coloured lights- there are sensory lamps made specifically for relaxation, and there’s studies showing how exposure to blue light specifically can get us to relax faster after a stressful situation.
Lighting a candle is a nice act of self-care that can help you relax and create a cosy, homely atmosphere. If you prefer a comforting scent, choose a candle with a fragrance that’s not too overpowering, or try an aromatherapy candle.
Essential oils are also an excellent option for aromatherapy, lavender being the top choice for relaxation and sleep. Citrusy scents like grapefruit, bergamot, tangerine are energising and uplifting and great to boost your mood!
If you have trouble sleeping or suffer from anxiety, a weighted blanket might be the perfect solution. The feeling of being hugged by the blanket releases oxytocin and melatonin, respectively the hormones of love and sleep, while also lover cortisol levels, the hormone of stress. It’s quite difficult to not feel extremely relaxed while using a weighted blanket, to the point of sometimes falling asleep quickly- keep this in mind if you’re planning to use it during the day and have plans ahead!
Adding calming music as background can help us relax and improve our mood. You can create a playlist of your favourite chill music or looking for a pre-made playlist. I find like low-fi and ambient playlists work best for me, but many prefer soothing sounds like white noise, the sound of the rain, etc. to actual music. It’s worth experimenting with different things until you find what works best for you.
In conclusion, managing stress is fundamental for our mental and physical well-being. There are a number of ways we can take action to keep our stress levels in check so that we don’t reach the point of feeling too overwhelmed- but if we do get to that point, it’s important to still make the time for ourselves and slowing down as we can in a way that fits who we are as a person, our lifestyle, and how much we are able to commit to activities at that specific time.
Remember to prioritise your health and always be kind to yourself!