Years ago, I could be a pretty wound up girl. Now that I’ve learned to live simply, I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I’m centered and calm, for the most part, and if you were to ask anyone who’s met me in the past several years, they’d tell you I live a slow, tranquil, happy life. For a very long time, though, I was unable to deal with the everyday. This was a shameful thing for me, and I hid it well. Okay, pretty well. I kept it all inside, flooding my body with anxiety and guilt (oh, the guilt). It spilled out from time to time, but mostly, I kept it all for myself.
I probably would never have de-stressed otherwise, but I found out eight years ago that I had to tone down the constant hum of my anxiety for health reasons. I just couldn’t afford to let myself be stressed for any length of time.
Striving for a stress-free life was difficult. I didn’t know where to begin. So, I started with the obvious. I had a career that was causing me so much stress, it was almost laughable. I was completely unable to shake off that anxiety, even for a moment. The weight of it was crushing. So, I quit. No bells and whistles. No floundering back and forth. No working less or trying to be more efficient. I just quit and then found myself a no-stress retail job. After the guilt that inevitably comes with quitting (and the subsequent drop in income) subsided, I could finally breathe again.
Then, of course, I looked around and saw that, while I had been battling career anxiety, the rest of the world around me had crumbled into little piles of rubble, as well. More stress. Oops.
So, I thought a bit and convinced myself that peace really does begin at home. And when I say at home, I mean within me. Being so anxious and stressed, I really wasn’t peaceful, at all, and I was tainting my little family with my apprehensions. I realized that, even in the midst of turbulence and unease – heck, even in the midst of tragedy – there is peace somewhere. I just had to find it and focus on it, bring it out of the woodwork and give it a prominent place in my life. This was a huge realization for me. If I could find that peace and hang onto it, things would fall into place – or, at least, I’d be able to deal with them.
I started a list of all the things that made me feel peaceful, and any time I felt uneasy, I employed some of the tactics on the list until I was calm again, until my world was righted and I was again that mild, peaceful woman I strive to be. That list has grown quite a bit over the eight years. Just in case you, dearest reader, are where I used to be, here are some of the things that might help you through the rough patches:
There’s no more crucial time to eat well than when you’re ill or under stress. Choose lots of colorful, organic fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Variety helps immensely, so pick out lots of different foods and sample. Find what sorts of foods please you most. Learn how to make your favorite comfort foods more healthy. Search the Internet for simple, fulfilling recipes and lose yourself in the preparation. When you sit down to eat, do so mindfully. Clear away distractions. Know that you’re treating yourself to good health and delicious food. Know that you’re nourishing you. Of course, don’t forget to acknowledge, in whatever way you’d like, the many people who helped to bring this food to your table.
Listening to music.
So many people are affected by music. Choose calming songs that have no real emotional ties, if possible. Some of my favorites for de-stressing are Hem, Nick Drake and Iron & Wine. Soothing. Also consider music from your childhood that brings up pleasant feelings.
Find a nice patch of grass or a comfortable tree. Or, sit outside on the porch with a cup of tea. If it’s raining, all the better. Listen to the sounds. Notice the smells. Feel the sunshine and wind on your face.
Keeping the house – or part of it – clean.
For me, this was hard to do at the height of my stress, but I knew that a messy house just breeds more stress and guilt. It’s hard to function in a chaotic place. If your home is chaotic, start with an area you’d like to make into a tranquil and soothing place to enjoy yourself. You can branch out and clean more later, but for now, just start with this one spot – a chair and a side table, your bed, the kitchen table. Having even one small area clean and comfortable and calm will give you somewhere soothing to go when you’re feeling anxious. And, for those who can’t see anything but what needs to be done, spending time in a space that’s just right, no matter how small, allows their minds to slow down.
Writing in a gratitude journal.
Remembering that there are things in your life for which to be thankful changes the way you see your life. Yes, maybe your job is tenuous, your house is a mess, your bank account is running low – BUT, there are still those things in your life that, just by existing, make the universe a little brighter. Your significant other. Your sleeping child. The hand-thrown vase you adore. The nourishing food in your fridge. The Valentine your grandson sent you. The warmth of your fluffy comforter. The rain tapping against the windows….
If you enjoy it, exercise to your heart’s content. If you don’t, consider giving it a try but starting out slowly. As your body gets more and more used to moving, you’ll feel better and better. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and increases the production of endorphins, which elevate mood. Remember that exercising need not be drudgery. Jump on a trampoline, roller-skate or go for a swim!
Taking a walk by yourself around the block.
The many benefits of more vigorous exercise aside, sometimes, I’ll admit, it feels like a chore. Walking, however (as long as it’s not too fast), is sometimes just the thing. Stop to look at the weeds growing through the sidewalk cracks or to listen to a mockingbird sing. If it’s nighttime and you live with a dog or three, bring them along.
Thrift store browsing.
Don’t ask my why, but something about thrift stores calms me, so I go with it. Maybe it’s all those cast-off items huddling together on a shelf just waiting for the right person to discover them. It’s like a thousand little fairy tales. Maybe thrift stores and yard sales are calming for you, too.
Using Rescue Remedy.
Even if it’s only a placebo effect, it helps.
Getting enough – but not too much – sleep.
When stressed, many people have a tendency to oversleep, rather than get up and deal with their stressors, and this is just as bad as not sleeping long enough. It causes them to feel groggy and to be less able to deal with, not only what’s causing the acute stress, but with everyday, run-of-the-mill frustrations. Try going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. Sleeping when it’s dark is just what your body craves, and early morning is a peaceful, magical time of day. Brew a mug of tea, wrap yourself in a comfy blanket and watch the day come alive.
Cheesy, I know, but something about candles is very peaceful to a lot of folks, including me. I would set a candle on top of my piano (probably the most beautiful spot in the house), turn down the lights, lie back on the couch, and watch the flame – sometimes for hours if that was what it took.
Talking to yourself.
Really. Especially while driving alone or taking a shower. For many people, this helps tremendously – whether it’s talking about whatever’s stressful at the moment or talking about something completely different. Just getting those tangled thoughts out of your head can unravel a solution in the process.
Petting the pets.
If you live with companion animals, try loving on them and focusing on their sheer bliss. It’s hard not to smile when you’re rubbing on a rollypolly cat or a waggly pup.
If you’re not too stressed, this may work wonderfully. Enter another world, just for a bit, and come back to your struggles with a clearer, calmer mind. Be careful, however; if you’re too stressed, you might simply gloss over the words without really taking them in.
Just breathe in and out slowly, and try to focus on the sensation of breathing –nothing else. It only takes a few breaths (though more is even better), and you’ll feel more peaceful and able.
Watching the boob tube.
No, not mindlessly watching endless programming to numb your brain, but thoughtfully selecting programs that will help to ease the burden of your stress. Do you have a favorite movie that feels like an old friend? Something you can quote along with? What about a television show that makes you feel like you’re wrapped up in a warm blanket? Perhaps something from your childhood? For me, there are certain movies that can calm me down just about any time: Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey, Harold and Maude, Broadcast News, Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina….
Reminding yourself that at X time, this will all be just a memory.
This works well for those stresses that are leading up to something and will then be over.
Focus completely on the scent, the flavor and the texture of what you’re eating. An orange. A square of chocolate. Even if it’s only a few bites, this tends to reset your thoughts.
Drinking tea or coffee.
Herbal tea is luxurious. Coffee drinks are a decadent treat. Sit down with a steaming cup of chamomile or cinnamon tea, or with a creamy latte or a cinnamon mocha, and feel the tension slide out of your body.
Engaging in a favorite hobby.
I collect antique candid photographs of people and can spend hours (literally) sitting on the floor of an antique mall (obviously staffed by extremely tolerant people), smile on my face, staring intently into the faces of people I’ll never know, forgetting completely the world around me. Whether your hobby is gardening, reading, collecting coins, playing basketball, knitting or writing, spend some time engrossed in something you truly love. For the musically inclined, focusing on singing or playing along with recorded music can be extremely calming and centering. If this is one of your talents, work to form each word or tone exactly the way the singer or player does. Concentrate on mimicking them exactly.
Sometimes, you just need to feel the grass between your toes or the earth beneath your feet.
Keeping a home management binder.
Do you feel more organized when everything is in one place? Feeling organized helps you to be organized. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Just as a feeling of disorder tends to breed chaos, a feeling of order breeds organization. The parts of my binder that I use daily are the planner, the cleaning checklist (homemade), the food log, the homeschooling log, my to-do lists, and the budget. There are other parts too, but those are the biggies in terms of feeling at peace with my life. Writing in those each day helps me feel caught up. Just search up the phrase “Home Management Binder” to see what sorts of things people have included and to find out how to create your own.
This is one for the long haul, of course, but the simpler and less complicated everyday life is, the less stressed you’ll feel. De-cluttering, cutting down on commitments, etc. – these sorts of things really make an enormous difference.
Many people don’t realize how much money worries are affecting them until they start saving for a rainy day. Once they have enough saved up to get them through bad times (should they come), they feel a huge weight lifted. Just knowing that you’re covered in case of an emergency can have such an amazing impact on your stress level.
Whatever you do, find ways to laugh each day – vigorous belly laughs are good for the body and the soul.
(Bonus!) Admitting when you feel overwhelmed and asking for help.
This is extremely difficult for many people, because being in control is comforting, in its way. On the other hand, not carrying everything on your shoulders really can lower your stress level significantly. Learn to delegate, and don’t feel guilty about asking for help.
Of course, none of these is as important as going easy on yourself. So what if you didn’t get the dishes done or the article finished? So what if the house is a wreck? So what if you forgot to pay a bill? These things aren’t all that important in the scheme of things. Your health is. Your family is. Your joy is.
Perhaps most importantly for me, I got rid of unnecessary stressors in my life. In addition to quitting my job, I lowered a few of my standards, stopped talking to people who made me feel tense, and actually *did* some of the things that I felt guilty for not doing – like finally switching to a plant-based diet, or writing to my grandmother every week, or actually losing the weight. I also took a hiatus from the computer. My earlier career was computer based, and the computer ended up being a big part of my stress load. I decided to take a couple of months off. When I came back, I emptied my email folder and started anew. That made a huge difference. I told people no more emails, and now my inbox isn’t so daunting. In fact, these days, I generally get it to zero regularly. I’m also better able to hop on for a few minutes and hop right back off. Before, I was spending hours on the computer each day in order, I think, to neglect other parts of my life – not consciously, of course, but it still had the same effect. After taking that break all those years ago, my computer usage became much more balanced and helpful (rather than detrimental).
So, now you know my little secret.
Peace didn’t come naturally to me for many years. I had to work hard at it, and even then, sometimes, I failed. But, I kept trying, and I began enjoying my life, again. It’s wonderful to wake up and not feel like burrowing back under the covers to hide from the inevitable. Each morning, I open my eyes and smile. The weight I’d carried around for so long is nearly gone, now. It’s an amazing feeling.