Thursday 13: Battling stress

Thump, thump…THUMP…………..Thump……….thump, thump…THUMP………….thump………thump, thump.

That would be what my stress sounded like during the months I finished up my master’s thesis. After a few weeks of heart palps, chest tightening, indigestion and a weirdo heartbeat, I visited my doctor. Guess what? A 25-year-old with chest pains* gets taken VERY seriously! (Well, seriously after the ECG showed a weird rhythm anyway.) Although my doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety med, the thought of taking prescriptions freaked me out. So I started to look at other alternatives to relieving stress. For this Thursday 13, here is a compilation of stress relievers.

1. Cooking.

Sunday stew from earlier this year. There is something satisfying about mirepoix on the stove!

Something about the repetitive chop, chop, chopping and the creation of delicious meals helps to put me at ease. I presume this is because cooking is a favorite past time and connecting with something that makes me happy, well, makes me happy. If you hate cooking, substitute something you actually enjoy like listening to music, watching a movie or taking a nap.

2. Relaxation techniques.

North Shore on Oahu, definitely one of the prettiest places I’ve set my eyes upon.

I swear by the “Five Finger Meditation technique,” a SUPER short guided imagery exercise. It combines meditation and positive thinking, and by doing the exercise, I get to re-live some of my favorite memories. I find that thinking of the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen (Hawaii, by the way), helps relax me and I often do the exercise before I go to sleep.

3. Breaking a sweat. Although I was in the best shape of my life during my major anxiety moments, I find that during normal bouts of stress, hitting the gym really helps take the edge off. I can free my mind and escape from what’s troubling me most of the time. (It helps to concentrate aggression on burning muscles, I swear!)

4. Biofeedback and deep breathing. Pre-heart palps, I tried to find a solution for my first year of grad school-induced fluttery anxiety bubbles, and I researched a reasonably priced biofeedback device. Basically, it measures your heart rate and helps you to regulate breathing and breathe more deeply. I tell you what, it actually helped! I remember feeling better and also sleeping incredibly well.

5. Hello, my name is Betty Crocker.

Yep, that’d be yellow cake with chocolate frosting. And SPRINKLES. Woot.

I joke that people can identify when I’m stressed by the amount of goodies that I bake. I remember during my first couple years of grad school, I would make cookies, banana bread, brownies, cupcakes, you name it. The practice is soothing and let’s face it, I’m an emotional eater. Cookies make the stress go away. (For awhile)

6. Walka walka. For me, stress can show up as MONSTER heart burn. Like have acid stuck in my throat, feel nauseous, medicine-don’t-work heart burn. The easiest cure (for me)? Walking! Somehow a leisurely walk around the block (usually with Goliath) helps the heart burn to subside. Not only that, I get some of my best ideas while toodling along. You should try it!

7. Getting words on the damn page. A lot of my negative feelers are school-induced and usually have something to do with procrastination. You may have no idea how hard it is to crack a paper sometimes. For me, it helps to just get words on a page. Even simply writing my name and the title helps to start. Following that, if I’m really stuck, I let myself free-write for awhile. Although your stress may not be writing induced, the point is to just start something. Stressed about exercising? Go for a walk. Stressed about your messy house (umm, yes), clean one section. Have a big project to accomplish? Break it into little pieces and do the first one. It feels SO good to get started!

8. Having a good cry. This may be the romantic in me talking, but every so often, I need to have a good cry. I put on a sad movie and bawl my little eyes out. And then I feel better. Refreshed. Cleansed even. If you’re super stressed, the emotional release might do some good. (Maybe the next post will be on 13 movies that make me cry buckets. Hmm.)

9. Yoga. I don’t practice yoga on a consistent basis, but I find that the stretching and mindful practices really help to keep me centered.

10. Focus on the bright side. More than anything, I find stress to be moderated by my mood/emotion/thought processes at the time. Encounter a stressful situation when I’m PMSing? I might expect less positive or easy resolution than when I’m feeling happy about life. Thanks to my officemate, Doug, I’ve considered the role of self-thought and the interpretation of stress, and he’s right, it helps to focus on the bright side of things. Putting a stressful situation into perspective and thinking through the possible positives can go a long way to containing or diffusing stress.

11. Plant a garden/commune with nature.

Project Green Thumbs, Season II, aka the season-o-failure. More on that later.

Post-thesis, all I wanted to do was play with dirt. Clean up the back 40, pull weeds, plant vegetables, be OUTSIDE. Why? Not only because I have this weird obsession with fresh produce all of a sudden, but because it feels gooood. Being out in nature (limited though it may be in my suburban sprawl) and watching things grow helps me feel connected to something quite outside of myself… God, the universe, mother nature, etc.

12. Play with pets.

Poor Goliath is a flea-bag right now!

 

It’s hard to resist this face!

Research suggests that cats and dogs help to lower our stress levels, case in point: therapy animals. Hospitals actually have programs where cats and dogs can visit patients, and by stroking and playing with the animals, stress levels are lowered. How nice that Goliath is therapeutic!

13. Do some love stuff.

I know, I can’t help it. More wedding pics by the fabulous Beth of True Love Photo. Expect these for at least the next decade or so.

I’ve already mentioned it once I think, but communication researchers in my department are examining the effects of affection exchange and guess what? Being affectionate has positive health benefits for both you and your partner! Demonstrating affection, verbally and nonverbally (including on paper!), has been shown to lower blood pressure and lower the stress hormone cortisol. I say pucker up and visit your local Hallmark already!

xoxo,
shawna

* Yes, I’m one of the youngest (healthy) people I know with a cardiologist. Want to talk weirdness? Try being the youngest person in a waiting room by 60+ years! Happily, my heart problems are electrical and benign in nature. My doctor says that the only reason they manifested was because I was in such good cardiovascular shape (thank you very much Jared Elarmo). Don’t ask me to explain, but you can google “Wenckebach block” for more info. According to T, whatever version I have will not preclude me from getting my pilot’s license. Good to know.

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