Stress Awareness Month
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Did you know April is Stress Awareness Month? Stress levels are increasing across generations, genders, and borders. We are all increasingly stressed out. It's something I try and stay mindful of when I come up with recipes and tips; what can help people have more time for themselves?
Before you scramble to apply a face mask, rush order that beginner's kit of essential oils and try to fit more tasks into your schedule in the name of self care, I'm here to tell you to take a deep breath.
Not all of our stressors are the same. Face masks can look like a fun way to de-stress with all those cute, and sometimes scary (see left) Instagram posts. But how you manage stress will vary from how those around you do it.
Depending on what the stressors are, some stressors, the cause of tension in your life, can't just be removed from your life. Those deadlines at work, might not be very flexible. This post isn't about what you can remove from your life, but about how you can set yourself up to best manage that stress.
Don't think of this post as a to do list. Don't feel like you have to implement all the tips here. You are a unique individual with a unique mix of stress that is personal. There will be some trial and error as you figure out what does and doesn't work for you. If something doesn't feel right, don't feel the need to keep trying it. The last thing you want is to stress yourself out more, while trying to stress yourself out less.
Sometimes we need a quick fix to just help us unwind, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand there is no one size fits all solution. If you can, I would highly recommend a workbook to help you recognize what your individual stressors are, and better gauge what your stress level is.
I have used 'the stress less workbook,' and it's a great way to understand how stress affects us and start to work through recognizing your own sources of stress. There are many variations of this available, but this is one I got from Barnes and Noble and you can get it here.
Quick fixes can be great, but you deserve a solution that gets to the source of the problem. By working through what your particular sources of stress are, you can then start to tailor solutions to your situation.
Managing stress can be all the more difficult when we're drained. I say it all the time, 'we're working more and more while our paychecks stretch less and less.' It's no wonder that so many of us aren't well rested. Our bodies and minds need time to rest and recharge, otherwise we're just not functioning at our best, things start to fall through the cracks, and we're more stressed again. Leading to more sleepless nights, and a vicious cycle of stress compounding into this massive weight on our shoulders.
Create a space where you can recharge
Getting a good night's sleep starts with having a comfortable place, where you can put aside the mental load you are carrying and give your body and mind what it needs. Some shut eye.
I have been raving about these linens from Pure Parima because they are soft and silky and I feel like I'm landing on a cloud when I fall into bed. It's a relatively small change you can make compared to buying a whole new mattress. But if you find your current mattress isn't giving you the right support, maybe that's the change you need to make in order to get better sleep.
Other changes you might need to make in your bedroom in order to get your best sleep: minimize the amount of light. If you're like me, it's difficult to go to sleep when there's light coming in from street lamps or cars passing by. Try using a sleeping eye mask to help block out that extra light, like the sleep mask from Slip, below. This sleep mask is made of silk which is more delicate on your skin than other materials, and it won't pull at the skin around your eyes, helping to minimize the effect of wrinkles. You can order it in your favorite color, here. The great thing about sleeping eye masks is you can even get ones that are infused with essential oils like lavender to help you sleep.
Don't want something on your face as you sleep? An eye mask may not be comfortable for everyone, regardless of the quality or material. You can also try changing up your curtains to help block out any light that may be sneaking into your room all night. Walmart has black out curtains available in a range of colors to go with any room, you can get them here. These curtains will help make any room darker through the night.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You've got this amazing place to rest and recharge. But now what? You have this comfortable space to rest, and what happens? For a lot of people, their stress follows them into that room. It's important to set up some boundaries, so that your place to de-stress truly feels like your place to breath.
My biggest recommendation is to keep screens out of the bedroom. I know TV's can be one thing, since we like to curl up in bed and watch movies, but it's really important to keep stressors out of your space as much as possible. News and updates, keep it outside of your bedroom. Laptops and work, keep it outside of your bedroom. You hear a lot about how long before bed we should stop screentime, but sometimes it's just not possible. At the least, we can try and put a physical wall between our work and screen time, and our time to sleep.
Think about how parents try to sleep train their kids. They try to put together a routine for kids so that they can mentally and physically prepare their bodies for rest. Why would we as adults be so different? If you work away on your laptop, in the same place you sleep, how does your body know whether being there means it can shut off or needs to crank out more work?
This is why I recommend keeping everything related to work outside of the bedroom. If you're living in a dorm, avoid lounging in bed while working. If you can minimize scrolling in bed, that's great too! For many people scrolling through social media is their downtime. But you don't know what you're going to scroll past. Before bed, try to minimize the chances of coming across something that is stressful.
In addition to keeping those things separate, figure out a routine that works for you to unwind. I think about how my nephews get a bed time story, some warm milk, they get to turn on their sound machine and listen to the waves and they crawl into their beds. What would that routine look like for you? It could be a simple skin care routine that you do every night before going to bed; wash your face and moisturize. It could be a cup of tea and reading a chapter of that book that you've been interested in but haven't been able to make time for. It could be doing some stretches to loosen up those tight muscles from being at your laptop, or opening up Headspace on your phone to try some guided meditation.
My routine usually involves lists. I've found that if I can just write down all the things that are on my mind, then my brain will stop trying to cycle through them all. I would even recommend making a list at work of work things before leaving, in an attempt to leave work concerns at work.
If you're working a flexible schedule or from home those lines might be blurred. Try keeping a spiral notebook by your bed, and before you turn the lights out, quickly write down all the things that you think you need to remember, the things that are on your mind, that you're worried about, that your brain is going to try and remind you of throughout the night. I would even date each night that you do it, and don't be afraid to write down things that aren't relevant until the end of the week, the weekend, or next week or next month! Your brain can rest at ease knowing that these things can't be forgotten because you've acknowledged it and you've written it down. You've minimized the chances that you will forgot.
You can even splurge on a notebook that makes you happy! Certain colors, like orange, can increase anxiety; think of the warning meters that range from green to red with shades of yellow and orange in between. So treat yourself to a pretty journal or notepad! It can be your favorite color, or floral, or you can use one of the many notepads you have laying around the house, since you might toss out some of the lists anyways. Keep it on your night stand and use it each night to clear your head. Think of it as moving these items from your brain onto a page that you can consult in the morning, or even on the weekend. Set aside some time at the end of the week to take a look at what you've been writing down each night. Are there things that you can add to your calendar? Can you place reminders in your phone to help you manage the items on your list? Are some of the items things you need to add to your grocery list?
It can be a great way to start to identify some of your stressors. What is taking up most of your mental energy? Is it the kids' schedule, or work, or tasks around the house that you feel like you can't ever get to? The few minutes you take each night to jot down what's on your mind and clear your head can be a useful tool in figuring out where you can make changes that will have the most impact in how you minimize and manage stress.
The Day to Night Look
When we think of a day time to night time look, we're usually talking about setting yourself up in the morning with a cute outfit, that with just a few small changes, can have you ready for a night out. When it comes to managing stress, why not try and set that same strong foundation during the day to be able to stay calm and be able to relax when we get to bed?
A lot of people will tell you to cut out caffeine by a certain time. The thing with caffeine is that we all react to it differently. I have an aunt who will have a cup of chai every night to unwind, and that's just what gets her sleepy. It wasn't until I finished college that I realized how sensitive I was to caffeine and how much it made me feel anxious and jittery. I no longer needed to pull all nighters but my brain would not shut off no matter how much I tried. I would lay awake trying to sleep and the insomnia seemed unbearable. It's when I realized that maybe I should cut out caffeine. So I started to cut back and I would switch to decaf whenever I wanted to enjoy a latte.
Sometimes you can't avoid caffeine. Things are hectic and you need the energy. To the left is just one pile of Wawa coffee cups collected the day after my wedding. We were all running on very little sleep, and some of us on no sleep, and I don't think we would have made it to the ceremony without some coffee. I also can't imagine that Wawa wouldn't have worked it's way into such a big day for me and my family.
If you want to try and cut back but not sure where to start, you could switch to decaf, to try and trick your body. I know some people are religiously against decaf. But there are other options!
What's next? Try and engage your other senses! Feeling energized doesn't just have to come from the things we put into our body. Think about how you can feel energized and buzzed after a good workout. I'm not suggesting you get all sweaty during the work day in place of having a coffee. But I want to encourage you to think outside of the box!
I recommend herbal teas. They can give you the feeling of a warm beverage, but also energize you without the caffeine. Think of scents like mint which can help you remain calm, or ginger which can be energizing. Both of these teas are caffeine free but have scents that stimulate productivity and focus. Both are also great for any tummy troubles you might be having. These teas can be enjoyed any time of day without concerns about how it might keep you up at night. Citrus scents, think orange or lemon, can also be energizing. Try The Glow from David's Tea, an organic loose leaf blend with citrus notes and cinnamon. It's aroma therapy and a warm fuzzy feeling all in one. Pair it with their Scoop'n'Slide Infuser for quick, no mess, tea preparation!
If tea isn't your thing, and you're still thinking about how unstoppable you feel after a workout, try and a set aside some time during the day to walk for five minutes. It'll get you away from your work so you can come back with some fresh eyes, and it's get your body moving. If you have a Fitbit you can set hourly reminders to get you on your feet and walking for a minute or two. Most Fitbits also come with options to relax with some deep breathing exercises. Stress can kick in at any time, you don't have to wait until the day is over to relax.
Think about how great you feel when something is tailored to you. If it fits like a glove, you feel a little extra confident and a little extra comfortable. How you manage stress should be tailored to you as well. You deserve a plan that works best for you. I can't stress enough how important it is to do what's right for you instead of what's trendy. For the last year or so it's been all about meditation and being mindful.
I cannot meditate. It actually makes me really uncomfortable. I have always been a Type A personality, whose mind is always racing and sometimes I think I have too many thoughts. But completely clearing my mind and just being is not what I need. In fact, what I need is time to process all those thoughts, rather than just ignore them and think about my breathing.
Guided meditations can be helpful. They can help you relax and focus on your breathing, especially if you find that you're already very worried. When you feel overwhelmed, shutting off or putting things aside can be really difficult and frustrating; leaving you more drained and still farther from finding any solution to what has you overwhelmed in the first place. Personally, I love guided journals. They are opportunities for me to think about things in my life that I don't always make the time for. It's a break from everything on my plate, but in a way that is comfortable for me. Remember, how introverts and extroverts are comfortable in different environments? Why wouldn't we need different ways to ground ourselves? I'm currently enjoying The Mindful Gardener journal, available here. It gets me dreaming about the outdoors, and helps me decompress.
Tailoring it also goes for how often we need to do these things. You might not need to meditate every day. You might need to do it weekly, or maybe there is a thresh hold you recognize where you start to feel like you want to implement some things to deal with stress; a temporary commitment. When I first started journaling, I used a weekly prompt to help make it a habit. I also used prompts that I thought were very low pressure. With this current journal, I can pick it up and put it down whenever I need. There isn't any guilt with doing it or not doing it, because it is only for me; when I need it and when I want it. Do the things that feel right for you, and do them as often as feels right for you.
As you work through your stress and figure out your stress management plan, I'd love to hear what you do to manage stress! Share your tailored plan in the comments!
NOTE: The first week that this post is live, you can enter a giveaway over on Twitter or Instagram to win some of the cool products listed in this post!