For years I thought I was someone who handled stress really, really well. When doctors asked me how stressed I was, I’d tell them, “Oh no, I’m one of those people who actually does better with too much work.” They would nod and give me a look and then I would go home feeling a little too proud of myself for juggling a million things at once. Then I moved out of NYC and realized just how much weight I’d been carrying on my shoulders and in my mind. It wasn’t until I got a little distance from the city that I realized how fast I’d been running (figuratively, I think I exercised twice in my 12 years in Brooklyn) without any breaks or rests in between work and life commitments.
It wasn’t until I tried just about every “de-stressing” technique, tool and trend available (my brother-in-law is a meditation teacher and had been encouraging me to give it a try for a while) that I saw that some of them — and the surrounding hype — was actually right. I didn’t become an overnight convert to any one way of thinking, but what I did learn was that something, even for a few minutes, is always better than nothing. And not a single thing on this short list has ever failed to help me bring my stress level down and get me centered again. I hope these tried-and-true techniques I return to over and over will be of some help. I hope they’ll help anyone out there who needs some more peace and quiet in their life. xo, grace
- Get Outside: Whether you’re stepping outside onto a tiny balcony or hitting a trail on your bike, the one thing almost all of us have access to in some way is the outdoors. I wish we all had access to our own national park, but even a short walk around the block or a 5-minute break in the fresh air will do wonders to help you get present. And that is only possible when you let go of everything else you’re worrying about in the past or future. Even if you find only a few minutes of “present-ness” in your outdoor time, those minutes will be incredibly helpful in either powering through your next work stint or powering down for the day.
- Be Silent (in Silence): For some people, meditation is their go-to for silence and being surrounded in silence. I’ve tried various forms of meditation and have struggled with most of them, except for embracing the simple concept of mindfulness. For me, that takes the form of trying to find 2-3 minutes a day (yep, just a few) to sit in silence. No TV, no music, no chanting, nothing except the sound of nature outside or the silence of an old, creaky house. In those moments my mind tends to race around like a hyperactive child, but after a few minutes I usually find myself settling into the quiet and embracing the way that my own voice and thoughts seem to be turned down in volume.
- Move Your Body: I fought this for 35 years. I told myself that if I worked my brain hard, I didn’t have to work my body at all. Boy, was I wrong. Though I was pushed into daily exercise by Type 1 Diabetes, anyone who has a body needs to be using it in a positive way every day, to the best of their ability. This is different for everyone, but if a 30-minute walk is something you’re able to do, embrace that and do it every day. Julia and I used to sleep until 7:30 or 8 in the morning, but now we wake up at 7 am so we can take a nice 45-minute to 1-hour walk with the dogs. That short stint of low-impact movement, combined with the fresh air, is great way to start the day. And if I do nothing else that day, I’ll have a healthy dose of cardio under my belt before I even start the coffee machine. Whether you go to a gym, walk your dog, do yoga in your living room or do tai chi in your apartment building’s courtyard, find a version of movement that works for you and do it as close to every day as you can. You’ll be amazed at how much it does to give your mind a break and let it release some stress.
- Say No: We’ve all heard about the importance of saying “no” in work when you have too much on your plate, but one thing I’ve learned lately is that it’s okay to say “no” in your personal life, too. Both areas of our lives can pile on the responsibility and sometimes you just need to say “no” when you’re invited out on a Friday night, but you’d feel better staying in and going to bed early. You’ll take better care of yourself and your friends will get the added bonus of being reminded that it’s okay for them to say No, too.
- Do Something To Put Your Stress in Perspective: There are moments in life when your stress will legitimately be life-consuming. But most days, it’s helpful to have a reminder that unless our stress is about immediate survival needs (access to food, clean water, shelter and health care), it doesn’t need to be the end of the world. It’s easy to get consumed in piles of work stress, but in those moments I find it helpful to do something that reminds me that my stress is small in comparison to people who could use our help. Whether you volunteer at a food pantry, a health center or just take a moment to read about someone in need and then do something to help them out, I never fail to calm down and put things in perspective when I realize how lucky I am to not be worrying about the basic things we all need to survive day-to-day.