Every once in a while I feel the muscle tension in my neck and shoulders go up, slowly I develop a headache and I feel tired throughout the day. I know this has to do with stress and not enough relaxation of my mind and body.
A few years ago, I didn’t know this. I would take pain medication for days and wonder what was wrong. Slowly the headaches would subside only to reappear some weeks or months later.
Gradually I began to see a pattern, when I had a stressful day at my internship, a few long study days with a lot of caffeine and not enough sleep my chances of developing headaches and tiredness were much higher.
But also when I had a few weeks in a row with many social obligations I enjoyed: every day of the week filled with visiting friends, going out for dinner, going to the movies. In the end I would feel drained. Starting work after a long vacation would instantly give me a headache. This was less obvious and not so easy to explain as my tiredness after a study marathon.
I believe that our constant interaction with computers, smartphones, internet and tablets, our interaction with screens, information, movies, pictures and music overstimulates our senses and our brain. I myself love to use these devices, I love to read online articles, learn and read some more. I just notice that too much screen time has a draining effect.
We also have so much on our hands these days. Apart from all the information we have to process we juggle demanding jobs, extended social relationships, hobbies, our family, our relationship with our spouse or significant other, we have to improve ourselves and read, do courses, exercise, prepare healthy elaborate dinners, have a seamless household, our kids have to have many different hobbies and interests, be great at school, get into the best university and excel in every part of their lives.
These expectations alone are tiring and stressful because if we are honest to ourselves we know no one is perfect and something has to give. If we want to live up to all these expectations we will fail and feel disappointed, tired, drained and slowly we will experience what is called chronic stress.
Chronic stress is a dangerous, often unconscious road to disease because it often leads to bad eating habits, less physical exercise, smoking more, drinking more alcohol, mood and anxiety problems.
So what are we forgetting while we are in this constant pursuit of the best? What can we do to jump off the train before we get hurt?
The good news is that research shows that part of the impact stress has on our health has to do with our perception; the impact of stress depends on how we deal with it ourselves. It is therefore also very important that we identify our stressors so we can change them or the way we deal with them.
This is what I find to do wonders to fight stress and relax:
Turing off all you media devices for a few hours a day: a few hours of disconnected time will give you more free time to engage in replenishing activities like the ones listed below.
Take a long walk in a park or countryside: really see the trees and flowers, hear the birds and the wind in the trees. This will reconnect you to nature, refuel your energy and optimism and give you inspiration and sometimes even get you unstuck from a problem you have been thinking about.
Listening to classical or relaxing music without doing something else: classical, joyful and opera music can increase endorphins, lower blood pressure, relieve muscle pain and improve quality of life. It will make you feel relaxed and restores energy.
Get a total body massage or trigger point therapy: this will relax your muscles, relieve tension and may help you to overcome headaches and muscle tension pain and give you an overall relaxed feeling.
Sit in quiet contemplation for a few minutes a day: focusing on your breath and letting your whole body relax will give your mind and body space and time to recuperate.
Set a romantic evening with your significant other: take a bath together, give each other a massage, go for a night swim and reinvent each other like it is the first time you are together.
Play board games with some friends: this can give you social interaction, laughter, distraction and healthy competition.
Choose a sport or physical exercise you enjoy: start with doing this once a week, gradually expanding until you get an average of three times a week. This will alleviate stress, fatigue and many physical aches you might have.
Read a good book in the quiet solitude of your home: there is no greater way to expand your mind than to read good literature. It will broaden your mind, improve your imagination and it will get your mind off the daily stress you might experience.
Don’t be afraid to hire help: to reduce life stress it can be very helpful to hire help for the things you aren’t good at or plainly just don’t like. If you and your partner both have a fulltime job or work and manage a family and you find yourself fighting over cleaning the house, hire a cleaning service, if you aren’t a star at plumbing or gardening just hire a plumber or gardener. You will see this will alleviate a lot of stress and free up time to do the things you do like and that give you energy.
Play with (your) kids: kids don’t know stress, they are open-minded, engage in exploring, playing and laughing without shame, barriers or fear. They live in the moment and don’t worry about the future. We can learn very much from how kids play and we can enjoy it a lot when we join in.
It will give you quality time with them, take your mind off your daily concerns and teach you the beginners mind: to see everything as if for the first time. This will make you familiar with living in the present moment and will allow you to be perceptive to new possibilities and gets you unstuck.
Take a nap: taking a short nap of 20-30 minutes can have some real benefits. It can restore alertness, increase your attention span, cause relaxation, decrease tiredness and improve your mood.
Being mindful: mindfulness is about living in the moment, which is in many ways the exact opposite of how we usually live; thinking about the next thing on our list, running forward all the time. Being mindful is about increasing the conscious awareness of what we are doing now.
Being conscious of life as it happens, instead of letting it pass by. Mindfulness can be practiced through meditation but almost anything you do can be done mindfully. You can be fully aware of what you eat and how it tastes, you can be aware of your surroundings, the warm water while in the shower. By doing so you will enjoy the things you do much more, get more intense experiences and experience less stress.