Stress and stress relief have become part of our daily dialogue... We're stressed by our jobs, our daily commute, that perpetual "to do" list, sometimes relationships, parents... even friends... they can all be stressful.
We're also stressed by pent-up emotions. Do you ever actually feel your heart anxious in your chest but you're not sure why? Often it's because we have kept something inside us that really should have been dealt with by either addressing it with the person or even writing it down and letting it out. It stews and builds up in you until you're carrying around this big ball of stress. Sometimes, you can't even remember what got you going in the first place. The weird thing about stress (and about lots of negative feelings) is there's a strange compulsion to them -- it's sometimes easier to wallow and get stuck in a downward spiral than to just let it go.
I was reading Twitter, where I get much of my valuable insight in under 140 characters or less, and this morning Deepak Chopra said, "Research shows that hostility increases risk of sudden death from heart disease and stroke and forgiveness and gratitude heal." I've made forgiveness a personal mantra so that I am mindful not to wallow in those kinds of negative feelings. We often think of forgiveness as something we give to somebody else, but it's also something we do for ourselves. By forgiving, you release yourself from the anger, you give yourself permission to move on from those negative feelings. And when you do that, you're more likely to see the truth of the situation -- the anger and frustration start to dissipate because we see the situation beyond our own feelings and emotions and our reaction will be proportional. Ultimately you will feel those stress levels calming down.
I also believe what goes around comes around. If you're forgiving and honest instead of stressed and angry, you'll have more honest and kind exchanges in your life. You set a different tone for your interactions with people, for who you are in the world. Karma can be a bitch, but it can also be kind if you put more good than bad out into the world. That will all come back to you. It is about the intention that we put out into the universe.
If you're anything like me you know that the last thing you want to think about when you're really stressed is the stuff that would actually help. It seems like the most strange thing about us humans is that we're somehow wired to want things to make us feel worse not better. Of course, bowls of birthday cake, ice cream and Kit Kat bars have their place and time. I wouldn't want to deprive myself completely! But when I'm really stressed, the thing that actually helps isn't necessarily what I want to do. What I want to do is crash on the sofa, watch W Network girly movies a la You've Got Mail and eat anything that is a combination of carbs, fat and calories. What I should do is look for more active forms of relaxation like going for a walk, yoga, put pen to paper and write in a journal or contact a girlfriend and vent. It is key to get the negativity out of your body.
I recently read an article that claimed kissing for at least 10 seconds twice a day relaxes you. Now, this is definitely a form of stress relief I can get behind. Kissing can relieve tension, reduce negative energy and produces a sense of well-being, lowering your cortisol "stress" hormone. Kissing is also good for the heart, as it creates an adrenalin which causes your heart to pump more blood around your body. And frequent kissing has scientifically been proven to decrease blood pressure and cholesterol. Kissing also reduces anxiety and stops the "noise" in your mind. It increases the levels of oxytocin, an extremely calming hormone that produces a feeling of peace. So swoon away!
Another way of blowing off the steam or stress is to get moving. A workout will tire your body and calm your mind. Exercise can decrease "stress hormones" like cortisol, and increase endorphins, your body's "feel-good" chemicals, giving your mood a natural boost. "Runners high" is the same thing... I recently got back into running and noticed the difference it makes to my stress levels right away. I just need to stay motivated to keep going! That size six Sacai Luck lace trench is a good motivator.
But besides these life choices we all make, you can make smaller decisions throughout your day to help calm your soul. For me, the ritual of making a cup of tea is a calming one. When my inbox feels like it's about to blow up and my phone is ringing off the hook, I spend a few minutes sipping a cup of my favourite white tea and instantly feel calmer. Even closing your eyes for a moment and taking two to three deep breaths can help. You don't have to commit to an entire yoga or meditation class (though those are good things too!) -- just breathing properly, adjusting your posture can ground and focus you and you can feel your energy level change.
I mentioned earlier how often those things I want to do when I'm really stressed are not the things I ought to do. But sometimes, in the right measure, the indulgence or distraction of a romantic movie and a slice of cake can be just that thing to relax you -- like a Sunday morning lounging with a stack of magazines (I love my magazines!) and catching up on all those PVR'd Young and the Restless episodes (yes, I said it, it's my thing!). These small things definitely play a role in keeping stress levels down and giving your brain time to unwind and relax.
It's a bit of a cliché, but clichés are nearly always true. The key to stress relief is balance. If you reach for the remote and a slice of cake every time you feel stressed, it will begin to work against you. But if you find a balance of exercise and indulgence, work and laughter and -- most important -- love and friendship, it will create an overall sense of well-being and it's that sense of well-being that keeps stress at bay, or at least more manageable.