Engage all of your senses to effectively fight stress.
April is Stress Awareness Month and it will surely be a welcome respite for many. From contentious politics and unpredictable financial markets to long winters and late season snowstorms, it’s safe to say stress has been in the air. (Oh, hi taxes!)
Spring often evokes positive feelings of renewal and revived expectations for the new (warmer) season. We look forward to longer days, more sunlight, picnics in the park, storing our puffing winter coats and posting Instagram pics of our springtime afternoons. However, transitional times and seasonal changes can impact our moods and breed stress, as we adapt to daylight savings and new daily rhythms. So it’s vital - even during the time of year when we may feel giddy with excitement - that we take the time to listen to our minds and bodies and reflect on how we’re harboring stress.
As a licensed massage therapist, I frequently talk to my clients about the physical manifestations of their stress. Some of my clients swear by the gym, others meditate and a few turn to fun nights out with friends to cope - but I always encourage them to try new stress reduction techniques that engage all of their senses. These simple practices can not only provide immediate relief from intense feelings of stress, but if practiced often and incorporated into your daily routine can also have an impact on your overall wellbeing.
Here are 5 simple and effective ways to de-stress from the peace of your own home.
Self-massage has been practiced for centuries as part of Ayurvedic healing; it encourages the body to self-heal, promotes sleep, increases circulation, decreases the effects of aging and of course relieves stress. By easing tension in our joints and limbs, we can produce feelings of calm and relief. When we’re stressed, it’s common to clench our teeth at night, so I pay extra attention to my temples, jaw, and neck. Starting at my temples, I use the tips of my fingers and rub in small circles down to the top of my jaw line, continuing to massage along the edges of my jaw where the muscles attach and feel achy. I use enough pressure for it to feel like delicious pain, not scary pain. The goal is to relax into any pain instead of tensing up against it.
In my practice, I’ve found that people often overlook scent as an effective tool for de-stressing, yet it’s a foolproof and quick remedy that can calm the body and mind. I keep a small dish with a cotton pad on my bedside table; before I go to sleep I add a few drops of Lavender essential oil for some nighttime aromatherapy. Lavender is a scent known for relieving nervous tension and promoting sleep. I also love using a pleasant citrus, like sweet orange or pink grapefruit, in the daytime as a quick pick-me-up. Peppermint oil, which is cooling and feels refreshing, is wonderful after a workout or at the start of a headache. I also love hanging eucalyptus in the shower to help steam open my pores and breathe more deeply.
Glaring lights or an overabundance of light can alter our circadian rhythm and increase stress. I advise switching out typical light switches for ones with dimmers and lower them progressively throughout the day, so you can relax and sleep more peacefully at night. And don’t forget to get a little bit of natural sunlight every day (much easier to do in the springtime), which helps regulate melatonin.
Our taste buds are another overlooked area when talking about stress, but adding a few drops of flower essence to a glass of water or under the tongue during moments of increased stress or anxiety can make a big impact. I love a few drops of Bach Flower Essences Rescue Remedy under the tongue to help rid anxious feelings. Before bed, I occasionally take a tincture of wildcrafted Skullcap, which has natural anti-anxiety properties, which can be added to an herbal tea blend for added benefits.
Unwanted sounds from neighbors or the outside world can interrupt our sleep and increase stress levels when we’re trying to relax or focus on a task. If you’re someone who finds that you’re easily distracted by external noises, I highly recommend purchasing an affordable white noise machine. You can switch it on at night to help you sleep soundly or whenever you find that your neighbor’s blaring television or barking dog is driving you nuts. Alternatively, try noise canceling headphones for some peace and quiet.