When life gets hectic, it often feels like the slightest little thing can bring on stress.
Whether it’s managing your email inbox, trying to write a paper, or even just waiting in a long line at a grocery store, these situations can make your heart pound and chest tighten when you’re already feeling on edge.
We usually shrug off these stressful moments and go through the rest of our day, without really taking a moment to look after ourselves. But ignoring these stressors can take a toll and overwhelm us.
We’ve all been there: a restless night of sleep and a million thoughts racing through your mind.
Stress is a part of life, and we can’t completely eliminate it. In fact, we wouldn’t want to -- stress can be a useful feeling that helps to motivate us to get something done or to tell us we’re in a challenging situation where we need to focus up. But if you’re feeling stressed more often than you’re not, then it’s easy for it to become overwhelming.
However, there are practical things you can do to look after yourself and relax your mind.
Below are tips on how to relax your mind and manage your stress in simple and creative ways. The best part is that it won’t take long before you to start to feel the benefits of these exercises.
So the next time you have 10 minutes to spare, do an exercise and feel the stresses of daily life start to drift away.
Take a moment to reflect and do a mental scan
Stress can cause our bodies to go into fight-or-flight mode. This goes back to the early days, when hunter-gatherers needed extra stress hormones to escape predators. We can thank evolution for trying to protect us from danger, but unfortunately, our bodies can’t seem to tell the difference between a saber-tooth tiger and a work email.
Add into that a global pandemic, and our bodies tend to be going into survival mode even more often, causing us to experience that intense fight-or-flight response even more than normal, which exhausts our systems.
It’s so essential to pause, reflect, and take care of ourselves.
During stressful situations, our mind has the tendency to think in extremes or conjure up worst case scenarios. Something as innocent as writing a first draft of an essay can have you wailing “I’m not good enough to get into grad school!” These extreme thoughts are a part of our fight-or-flight instincts. While they don’t feel great, they are normal.
According to this Harvard Business Review article, a simple way to tame our thoughts is to take a moment to “understand ourselves rather than overthink the situation.” By becoming more aware of what’s driving our thoughts, we’ll have a better sense of what’s actually causing us stress, and then we’ll be better equipped to manage it.
When you have an intense response to something, try taking a moment to ask, “Where is this coming from?”. You might realize that you’re feeling extra tired that day, and when you’re tired, things tend to feel a little more dramatic. Realizing this can help you to let go of those intense feelings (“This isn’t actually a big deal, I’m just tired”) and simply move on.
You might also realize your intense feelings are coming from a real problem. Maybe you’re snapping at your coworkers because you’re feeling stressed about an upcoming meeting with your boss. Acknowledging your fear or concern about your meeting can help you to compartmentalize those feelings a little and be more present and patient with your coworkers.
Even further, you can examine why you are so concerned about the meeting: what makes you feel stressed about it? Are those feelings grounded in reality, or is it a fear based on a past experience or worry for the future? Are those problems you can solve right now?
Self assessment can be so revealing and useful for coming into the present moment and feeling more able to tackle the stresses of life. The Ink+Volt Reflection Pad is a self awareness tool that can help you gain more clarity and awareness when life gets hectic. The pad features 18 different check-ins and allows you to give a 1-5 rating on everything from productivity to mindfulness.
By taking stock of different areas of your life, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to focus on. Maybe you’ll realize that you’ve been going to bed later than usual or that you’ve been checking your phone before bed. These might seem like innocuous things but they could be negatively impacting your sleep. Now that you’ve identified the causes of fitful sleep, you can do something to change that.
Think of the Reflection Pad as a body scan, a popular relaxation technique where you bring awareness to your body and identify where you’re holding tension or stress. Sometimes we need a body scan for our lives. Take a moment to bring awareness to your current life. Where are you holding tension in your life right now? Where do you need relief?
Want to relax your mind? Do something with your hands
Another way to relax your mind is to do something with your hands. Anything from knitting, coloring, or doing the dishes can be a great stress relief because it helps you distract your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Here are some simple activities you can do with things you have around the house:
Studies have shown that a creative outlet has numerous benefits for your mental health. Scrapbooking is a great creative outlet for relaxing your mind because you don’t have to feel pressured to excel at it or feel tasked to learn a new skill. There’s something so satisfying about cutting images and photos and collecting mementos from your life and gathering them all in one place.
These tasks require focus (which brings you into the present moment) without significant mental strain (meaning, your brain gets a rest for once!).
Plus, scrapbooking can be very grounding by helping you appreciate the small, everyday moments of your life.
Crafter Tazhiana Gordon has a helpful video series on how to create your own scrapbooks. In this video, Gordon shows you how to create a monthly story series and document the meaningful moments that made up your month.
Gordon also incorporates journaling into her scrapbooking practice. You can include cute paper and keep it in place with washi tape. Write anything from a couple of lines to a paragraph to document the experience. Later, whenever you need a pick-me-up, you can flip through your scrapbook and renew the joy and pleasure you felt during that moment in time.
The simple act of coloring can help you cope during challenging times and reduce stress. The repetitive motion is almost meditative, allowing you to relax your mind and keep negative thoughts at bay. You can even color while you’re watching TV or listening to soothing music. By keeping your hands active and your mind focused on coloring, you’ll be surprised by how much lighter you feel when you finish.
The Ink+Volt Coloring Book is an antidote to stressful days and will help you feel relaxed and recharged. Each page comes with an inspiring phrase that can help you feel more motivated and ready to face the next day.
Other activities that you can do with your hands:
- Cooking/chopping vegetables
- Watercolor painting
Make a heartsong journal
I first read about heartsong journals from writer Rachel Miller. Here’s how Miller describes a heartsong journal:
“The best way I can explain a heartsong journal is that it’s basically an “encyclopedia of you.” It’s a special notebook, separate from your day-to-day journal/diary/notebook, where you can write the meaningful things that are really close to your heart, and that you want to reference again and again.”
You can explore any area or go in any direction you desire because this journal captures who you are and what you love.
Supplies for a heartsong journal
Possible lists and entries you can include:
- Favorite songs
- Travel wishlist
- Decor ideas for your dreamhouse
- Inspirational quotes
- Soothing scents and sounds
- Relaxing images
Not only is making a heartsong journal a soothing and creative outlet, but the journal itself will continue to be beneficial even after you’ve written it. You can turn to it whenever you need a mental boost or a visual reminder of what nourishes you. After all, a wonderful way to relax your mind is to take the time to care for yourself.