By Tori Dennis, MA Student-Intern with Iowa Family Counseling
When you hear the words “self-care,” what comes to mind? I wouldn’t be surprised if you immediately had a picture of someone getting a deep massage, or in a sauna at a spa. It’s true, these are examples of self-care; but self-care can (and hopefully should!) happen at home in your everyday life.
One way we can all practice every day self-care is recognizing and managing our stress. You’re probably thinking “Well if I could manage my stress, I wouldn’t have any!” Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. We will all experience stress throughout our days; it’s part of being human! We can, however, use little tricks and tools to manage our reactions to this stress. Here are five simple practices anyone can do to manage stress in the moment.
Engage in Quick Physical
Stress can make us feel jittery or like our hearts are going to explode right out of our chests. Doing some sort of quick burst of physical activity can release these feelings and get us back on track. I know, I know; you hear this all the time. But it’s true! Go for a short walk, dance in the living room, do 10 jumping jacks, etc. Think small, quick, and manageable.
Do Something Tactile
Stress can make us feel overwhelmed and inside our head. Doing something tactile can bring us back to the here and now. Things like popping bubble wrap, sorting your change jar, or making homemade slime. Try to engage your other senses. Identify one thing around you that you can touch, smell, hear, taste & see.
Point Your Brain at a Problem
Sometimes stress is our brain's way of telling us there is too much going on and it cannot focus. Pointing your attention to one manageable task can help you refocus and release tension. Do a small crossword puzzle, or organize your shoe closet. Engage your mind in something small but thoughtful, and allow yourself to reap the reward of accomplishing something!
Meditate or Breathe Consciously
I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t know how to meditate!” That’s ok! This tool works best if you simply focus on breathing. Try not to hyperfocus on clearing your mind; just breathe. One of my favorite breathing exercises is called Box Breathing. Imagine or draw a box (or other small shape of your choosing) and use this to count your breathing. Inhale while tracing the box, hold while tracing the box, and exhale while tracing the box (about 4-5 seconds each trace).
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
I don’t know about you, but my stress often manifests physically in my body, making me tense and sore. Years of research have shown progressive muscle relaxation can relieve some of this. Start by lying down and relaxing your body. Then, starting at your toes and moving up to your head, tighten, hold, and release each muscle (i.e. scrunch your toes, hold, release; tighten your calves, hold, release, etc.).
There are so many ways stress can manifest in our body; but there are also so many ways we
can manage that stress. The one key I hope you take away from this post is that we all manage stress differently. The most important aspect of self-care is finding what makes sense for you in your life. Listen to your mind and your body and you’ll be managing your self-care like a pro in no time!