I’m a worrier.
I worry about my kids getting the right nutrition and succeeding in school; that sex offenders live close by; that one day my beloved dog Snickers will die and I don’t know how I’m going to survive it; that my oldest daughter is 13 and will be dating and driving soon (which scares the crap out of me).
I even worry that maybe I’m not worrying enough. For instance, my youngest child watches a lot of TV, especially on the weekends. And I let it happen. That’s a problem, right? I should be concerned that she’s glued to the tube for five hours watching an entire season of Wizards of Waverly Place. I should be bike riding with her, teaching her a foreign language, pushing her to plant a garden. We should do something productive, right? I should care more.
But I kinda don’t. Which is a problem, right?
All this stress, worry, anxiety, whatever you want to call it, ends up in my neck and shoulders. I know this because they are permanently located right next to my ears. Which is why countless medical professionals have repeatedly advised me to meditate. I hear them. I nod my head in agreement. And I promise myself that, “This time, I’m going to do it. I’m going to make it a part of my daily routine.” And yet, it never happens. Meditating is just not my thing.
So, in honor of National Stress Awareness Day (appropriately on April 16, the day after Tax Day), I went searching for other ways to relieve stress. Ways that I might actually adopt that don’t involve sitting quietly in a room gazing at nothingness and waiting for a transcendent moment of clarity.
Here’s what I found.
- Exercise: It really is the magic pill. And just about any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Whether it’s gardening, house cleaning, jogging or kickboxing, just get your body moving to start releasing those feel good endorphins. For a more in-depth discussion of the amazingly strong connection between exercise and the brain, check out the book Spark by John J. Ratey, M.D. In his book Dr. Ratey discusses how exercise is our best defense against depression, ADD, menopause, Alzheimer’s, addiction and more.
- Socialize: Do you like to kvetch to a friend after a tough day? Go ahead, connecting to family and friends actually releases a hormone called oxytocin, an anti-anxiety compound. So pick up the phone or go for a coffee date. You really will feel better.
- Just say no! We are overcommitted, overscheduled and overworked. Enough already! We can’t do everything, so stop trying. Repeat after me, “I’d love to [chair the finance committee/run for president of the PTA/organize a fundraiser] but I can’t. Thank you so much for thinking of me though.” And then run. Fast.
- Keep a journal. Writing is a fantastic release for pent up emotions. Don’t worry about creating the next bestseller, just let the words pour out of you, misspellings and all.
- Pet the pooch. Dogs really are mans’ best friend. When you pet your dog your body releases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, all feel-good hormones. Your body also decreases the amount of stress hormones being released. Good hormones go up, bad ones come down. I knew I loved dogs for a reason.
- Breathe. Really breathe. Deep breathing sends oxygen through your bloodstream helping to calm your entire body. And if you can, take a whiff of lavender or rosemary, both of those scents are known to lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.