Seven Steps to De-stress

Flying birds - Freedom in flight 1

Recovery from abuse/pain/grief/depression, you name it, can put a lot of stress on your body. These ideas can help, or at the least, reduce those harmful effects. And the best part is they work for anyone. Try them. Share them. It’s about healing. Bluntly speaking, there are times in life when we all need to move towards healing.

However, It’s important that I point out to you that while all of these ideas can be beneficial, you may need to see a professional to make sure there’s not something more serious going on. Don’t be afraid to see a specialist to get the help you need and deserve. Do it for yourself. And for your loved ones.

Self help ideas (in no particular order):

      1. Positive self talk– maybe you’ve been put down so much it’s hard for you to even think, let alone say, anything positive about yourself. (Read my short story “Broken” where I talk about my inability to say anything positive about myself). You need to be your own champion. Learn to love yourself – no matter what. Tell yourself, I can do this, I am someone, I matter to myself and others, I’m worth something, etc. (and truthfully examine and realize what you are worth – every life has value, you decide how much). It might help to write yourself positive notes and stick them where you’ll see them: the mirror, the refrigerator, in the corner of that picture you often find your eyes drawn to, etc.

      2. Opposite action– when you feel like you want to stay home and nurse the depression/hurt or cave in to the trauma – force yourself to go out instead. It’s all about faking it until you are making it. Granted, there are times when it’s best to just stay home and wait for the storm to pass. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to try. You can always leave if opposite action isn’t working.

      3. Refocus– one suggestion is to make a positive box so that when the pain/trauma hits you can pull out items that make you remember and think of happy moments in your life. Fill it with photographs, keepsakes, cards, whatever brings back a good memory – then pull it out and focus on it. Hold the treasured picture of the lost love one in your hand and remember the day you were at the picnic together, how they ran those aged fingers through your hair and told you they were proud of you. That’s just an example. These are you’re memories, so make your box your own.

      4. Sketch journaling– while I have a lot of sketch journaling ideas, here are two you can try that I use in my sketch journaling classes. No artistic talent required.

        • Write down your anger/hurt/pain/betrayal, etc. Fill the whole page, then turn the page counterclockwise and write on top of it filling the whole page again. Then turn it again so and write again. Keep writing and turning until you can no longer read anything you’ve written and all you have are some beautiful squiggly lines. It’s okay if you write the same thing over and over. And it doesn’t have be positive – feel free to cuss and vent! The idea is to release the emotions in a safe place. It has to go somewhere.

        • Lightly sketch a tree/plant (I had one student do a Venus fly trap). Draw a line for the ground. Draw the tree/plant’s roots. Now write words on the lines. On the ground line, write: “This is me. It’s who I am. I can be whatever I want to be.” On the root system write down your foundations (i.e. zodiac sign, religion, belief system, nationality, character traits, etc.—you know who you are, be proud of it). For this exercise try to focus on the positive. And be truthful. I wrote that I’m stubborn in this section because I am and, you know what, I’m proud of it—bit of the Irish in me I think. On the tree/plant write what you want to become. I’ve had students who’d never thought about where they were going. There’s value in having goals – it can move you forward. Decide where you want to be in life and what have to do to get there. Yes, it can be crafts and hobbies or it can be something more profound, like obtaining your master’s or doctorate degree. One last thing, make your goals reasonable. Don’t say, “I want to be a rock star” when you haven’t the faintest idea how to play an instrument and even the dog runs to hide when you sing.

      5. Play– this works even for everyday stressors. Play in the sandbox (I have a small tabletop sandbox on my bedside table filled with shells and rocks from the beach that bring back happy memories. I even have a small decorative rake and shovel.) Dance in the rain. Swing on a swing. Recently, I went to the playground with my two children. The sky had large puffy white clouds and I tried to touch them with my feet as I swung. This caused my daughter and son to compete with me resulting in giggles and screams of triumph as we each took turns winning. At my age guys, I’m sure glad those swings are made of heavy solid metal.

      6. Volunteer– it takes the focus off of you. It also works as a distraction. But most importantly, it forces you to see outside of your own circumstances allowing you to become a better individual and a more empathetic person. You might just realize your situation is not as bad as you initially thought.

      7. Deep breathing – force yourself to breath. Stress can cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension. This in turn triggers the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) response associated with fight-or-flight. The good news is we can override this respone and force the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to take over by practicing deep breathing. In essence, we trick our brains into thinking we’re okay and don’t need to ‘fight or take flight’. Consequently, we reduce the harmful effects of stress on our bodies. Learn how to breathe deeply here.

Those are just some of the tactics I use and teach. I think they can help. Because really, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?


NOTE: This advice is not intended to replace medical care.

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