Everyone experiences stress differently. We know that stress has a psychological and physiological impact on our minds and body. The American Institute of Stress (url at bottom of page) differentiates two types of stress based on the way we respond to a demand or change, stating “the unpleasant or harmful variety of stress termed distress, which often connotes disease, and eustress, which often connotes euphoria.” So whether you experience your circumstance to be positive or negative, both cause stress responses in the body. Stress can be helpful, such as increasing productivity, especially if you are experiencing eustress. However, stress can affect your overall sense of well-being and health when it causes distress and is long-lasting.
It’s fairly common to find stress leading to cyclical anxious thoughts. You may also find yourself spending a lot of time focusing on how to fix a problem. This by itself is exhausting or overwhelming. If you are like me, you may find yourself feeling lost in moments of stress or overwhelmed. It may also be difficult to express what you are feeling in words.
When feeling stressed, engaging in the creative process can assist in finding ways to express what you are experiencing, without the need for words. I find that connecting with my creative self helps to quiet self-judging voices and instead shift back to a grounded and authentic place in myself.
Here are 5 tools I personally use to reduce stress. These include ways to pause my mind, come back to the present moment, connect to my creative process, and calm my body’s nervous system.
- Change my position. When feeling stuck, the first step, and sometimes the hardest, is to make a change that will disrupt the cycle I feel stuck in. I find that physically changing my body position or location can really help. This may be putting my feet on the ground if I had them up, stretching, or changing my posture. However, I find it most helpful to change my location altogether. This may be just to another chair in the room or going to a different room, going outside, or running an errand. If you are like me, one of the first things that happen when I change my position is that, more often than not, I take a deep breath and an exhale follows. Breathe it out.
- Connect with sources of strength and spirituality. Especially when stress is rooted in big life questions, such as “what meaning does this have?” and “Where am I going in my life?”, I find the need to connect with sources of strength or purpose. This may be in the form of artistic, creative, or journaling reflections, as well as connecting with others or nature around me. Connecting with nature, for example, helps me feel connected to life outside of myself, expand my perspective, and feel connected to something greater. It helps me notice my five senses and observe and absorb positive energy from colors, movement, growth, and comforting smells around me.
- Change my body temperature. When stressed or frustrated, it’s common to hear someone say “I need to cool off.” Here, I mean literally. Maybe this means taking a shower, going on a walk and focusing on the breeze as I breathe, or changing my clothes. What would help you physically feel more comfortable?
- Keep social engagements. Being around others can be difficult when stress is high. Some stressful situations may result in being around others less, but being around others can also help us feel less alone and bring joy too. I find that laughter helps shake things up a bit and release tension. For me, I come by laughter, silliness, and playfulness easier around loved ones and friends than I do when I am alone.
- Find rhythm. Different rhythms can help us express emotions or can be soothing. How would it feel to give yourself permission to stomp around for a minute, have a dance party, listen to some favorite music, cook or bake something, go for a swim, or swing for a little while at your local park? Ask yourself what rhythms are part of your daily life or the things you enjoy. How may they be helpful to you in releasing stress?
Prefer a simple movement activity to center yourself? Try this one from our therapist, Sondra Malling, in her blog on “From Center to Flow State” (Url at bottom of page).
There is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to stress. Some of these tips may work for you and others may not. Consider what you already know about yourself and what helps you feel calm or confident. How can you incorporate your skills or environment intentionally into your daily life to help manage stress?
A bonus! Try Creative Art Therapies. We truly believe that creative ways of expressing yourself, beyond talking about stress, can bring new insight. This insight can support growth and healing. Preventing stress is just as important, if not more so, than learning ways to deal with stress. Working with a creative arts therapist, or another professional can help you identify ways to prevent stress in daily life.
If you would like support in stress management and prevention, reach out. We are happy to assist you.
Find out more about common signs of stress and how it affects your body, mind, and health at stress.org (url at the bottom of the page) from The American Institute of Stress.