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Stress Management Tips by Belleruth Naparstek

27 Jul

Fifteen Fabulous, Fool-Proof De-Stressing Tips

Hello again.

Well, I know summer is supposed to the season of less stress – a time away from over-scheduling and killer routines; a time for vacations and kicking back...

And truly, I hope your summer is going that way.

But from my perch, I'm hearing a lot of stress, worry and agitation. People are worrying over their summer trips; about cobbling together the right combo of week-long sports camps and art camps for their kids; about getting their children ready for school, because in many parts of the country, it starts, weirdly enough, in mid-August; about seeing too much or too little of their grown kids; about having so much company coming and going, they feel like they're running an Airbnb. I've also heard a hefty amount of teeth gnashing about the summer slipping by and all those special projects waiting to be tackled... well, they're still waiting.

Now, I grant you, these are FWP's (First World Problems) of the first order, and can't hold a candle to poverty, war, famine, natural disaster and real human misery.
But often that's the nature of stress. Even when we know we're overreacting to stuff that's ridiculously trivial in the larger scheme of things, there we are - still overreacting.

So I decided it was time to assemble a new, updated list of common sense, stress management tips.

I get that nobody's going to adopt all fifteen. How stressful would that be?? But just a few of these tips can make a big difference. I suggest starting with the easiest ones to take on first – then add another. Success breeds success.

Here they are – my latest and greatest tips to reduce stress:

  1. Track Your Physical Comfort
    Take time to check in and see how your body is feeling. Once you notice, you can make small corrections to relieve discomfort before it takes over. Breathe into tight places; stretch and move when your back or neck feels stiff; look out the window when your eyes are straining at the computer screen; massage your neck and press the acupoints when a headache is lurking. But you have to notice what's amiss first.

  2. Learn to Relax at Will
    Develop a regular practice to ground and relax you. If possible, start and end the day with guided imagery, yoga, meditation for stress, relaxation, deep breathing, petting the cat in a rocking chair or listening to soothing music. Even five minutes, twice a day, will give you some protective ballast against the day's stresses. And if you can't manage this daily, do it whenever you can. The research showing that mind-body techniques mitigate stress is off the charts, people!

  3. Take a Mini-break When You're Getting Crazed
    When you find yourself starting to lose it, or butting up against your own rigidity or circular thinking, take a quick break. Step away. Go outside for a walk, do some guided imagery, snuggle the dog, play some music, call a loving friend or do a couple of yoga stretches. Five minutes of conscious AWOL can clear your mind and give you back your perspective, flexibility and common sense.

  4. Dose Your Day with Humor
    Humor, by its nature, provides instant distance, balance and perspective, if even for a moment. As long as it's not aimed at mocking others, it allows us to step back and take everything, including ourselves, less seriously. So practice the art of finding the ludicrous, paradoxical and nonsensical in daily events. And laughing itself is priceless. A belly laugh changes biochemistry and clears out emotional gunk like little else.

  5. Be Realistic & Know Your Limits
    It's a wonderful thing to know what you can and cannot do. Wrestle your perfectionism to the ground and don't let idealized expectations press you into doing more than you can realistically manage. Say no. Set limits. Work smart. This is especially important around holiday times, when trying too hard to do too much creates the exact opposite of the feeling you're striving for, and you morph into the cranky, resentful, martyred, overworked nightmare you swore you'd never become.

  6. Manage Your Time
    A corollary is to try not to over-commit. If you do, make a list and prioritize. (Just getting these things out of your head and onto a piece of paper will reduce some stress.) If the list is out of control, look it over and assess what has to go - and then cancel, with apologies. Then tackle things you can finish, one at a time, if at all possible. Work mindfully at it, and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with getting it done. Procrastination can be a terrible stressor - we're always aware of what we should be doing while we're not doing it, and it's a real joy-killer and energy-sapper. Do a piece of it and check that sucker off!

  7. When Scheduling, Give Yourself Room To Breathe
    If you find yourself scheduling yourself with back to back meetings, consider the possibility that you're an adrenaline junkie, running from appointment to appointment to feed your addiction. Leave time between things, to catch your breath, reflect on what was and what's next, thus acquainting yourself with a calmer class of neurohormones that return you to equilibrium. Once you get out of the habit of racing, you won't be so eager to go back to it.

  8. Throw Something Out Every Day
    Useless clutter is another low level, subliminal stress-producer. And we all know how quickly a clean surface can attract overwhelming piles of stuff. If you commit to throwing out one or two things a day, it really helps. And if you're one of those people who need to see your papers spread around you as you work, just contain the surface area you allot to this!

  9. Keep Asking Yourself If You'd Rather be Happy or Right
    A lot of stress is generated - for ourselves and others - by our need to be right, show we're right, prove we're right. And really, so what if we establish we're right? We cleanse our psychic palate and de-gunk our day by letting go of an issue and moving on. Mind you, this is not the same as being a chump. It's about taking care of ourselves, and therein lies right relationship, clear focus and, yes, even happiness.

  10. Don't Be Proud - Get Support When the Chips are Down
    Sometimes talking things out with someone you trust will allow you to safely acknowledge your feelings, let off some steam, get you away from circular thinking and rearrange your mislaid perspective. Sometimes friends even have helpful advice to give. Sometimes they actually stop us from doing something really dumb.

  11. Practice Staying in the Moment
    By mindfully going about your day, putting your awareness into what you are doing at the moment, you will be using even mundane, everyday activities as the focus of meditation, and simple as it sounds, you will regain peace and balance. Yes, peeling potatoes can be a route to spiritual attainment and inner peace!

  12. Enjoy Silence
    Give yourself some quiet. Shut off the radio, take a news fast from the TV, let the phone go to voicemail, get away from chattering colleagues and friends (even the really nice ones) and help yourself to some silence. This includes text messages on your phone and emails on your computer. Mini-retreats taken during the day give your brain a chance to rest and your psyche to sort itself out.

  13. Notice Little Moments of Beauty and Sweetness
    This sounds hokey but it works. Notice beauty around you and take a moment to breathe it in ... same with a smile, a gracious act, a loving gesture. Practicing gratitude for these lovely bits and pieces of daily life is a potent way to de-stress, and it's contagious, too. - See more with our holiday stress tips.

  14. Try Some Aromatherapy
    You'd be surprised at the relaxing impact of certain fragrances. Scents like lavender, sandalwood, pine, chamomile, lemongrass and bergamot can be mixed or matched uniquely to suit you – all it takes is a little experimenting with aromatherapy to see what works best. And you can access them through lotions, candles, bath oils, inhalation beads and diffusers – even scented pillow.

  15. Take Care of Your Body
    Try to do all those things you know are good for your physical well being: get regular exercise; take it easy on the caffeine, sugar and alcohol; get enough sleep; eat healthy food - you know this stuff. This is the baseline of stress reduction.

Good luck. You can do this! Remember: start with some of the easier stress management tips and take it from there. (And I will too.)

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.