Recently I went through a very stressful period in my life. I usually handle stress pretty well, but for some reason this time was different. The stress was making me ill. I had gastric problems related to the stress, I got migraines for the first time, and I started grinding my teeth at night, ruining some dental work. I had to find a way to deal with my stress, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on spas, massages, retail therapy, vacations, or psychotherapy. I needed to find some inexpensive ways to tackle stress. I found quite a few that worked well for me and so I’m passing them along to you.
Coloring books: I’m not kidding. I picked up some coloring books at the Target $1 Spot and a box of 64 Crayola crayons and colored. I discovered it’s impossible to be stressed out while coloring. I even colored some things in colors that they aren’t supposed to be, like green skies and blue grass, just to have fun with it. And the smell of the crayons makes me feel like a kid again.
Movies and ice cream: My minister actually told me this one, but it works. Rent a movie where a lot of things blow up and turn up the volume. It doesn’t have to be gory, just a good sci-fi or special effects bonanza. Get your favorite flavor of ice cream and eat it while watching the movie. If you’re really stressed, just eat the ice cream directly out of the container. It’s hard to be stressed while everything is exploding around you and you’re eating good ice cream. Comedy films would probably work, too, but there’s something satisfying about watching things go boom.
Exercise: I exercise regularly, but during this period of stress I dropped off considerably. I had so much else going on it was hard to drag myself out for a run. But once I forced myself to carve out the time and exercised rain or shine, whether I felt like it or not, my stress levels went way down.
Socialize: When my stress was at its worst, I was hunkered down in my house by myself. I was too tired (I thought) to do anything so I stopped going out with friends. Big mistake. I forced myself to be social again. My friends took my mind off my problems and we did some fun, low cost things together like picnics, pot lucks, and game nights. Their presence made me feel much better.
Play: In addition to coloring, other forms of play were helpful, as well. I played catch, frisbee, and bean bag toss in the yard, played board and video games, and worked a few jigsaw puzzles. It was all fun and it got my mind off my problems and allowed me to unwind.
Relaxation: In addition to my regular yoga practice, I worked on consciously relaxing during the day. Whenever I felt my shoulders or jaw tightening, I consciously relaxed those muscles. It helped train my body to stay in a relaxed state.
Nature: I’m blessed to live in an area that’s close to the beach and mountains and has lots of lakes, parks, and trails. I spent a lot of time walking and sitting in natural surroundings, just listening to the birds, the water, or the breeze in the trees. It’s a very calming experience to be out in nature.
Prayer/meditation: I revived my long forgotten prayer practice. It helped to talk over my problems with a higher being. I didn’t feel so alone after praying. I also meditated, trying to just quiet my brain and give it time to rest.
Bedtime stories: This one sounds nuts, but was probably one of the most helpful. Most of my stress hit at night. You know how it is: The TV goes off, it gets quiet, and your brain kicks in with all the worry, exaggerated thoughts, and scary ideas. It not only kept me awake, it ruined what sleep I was getting and contributed to my teeth grinding. So I started telling myself stories as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to come. I started out with familiar stories, like old bedtime stories, or condensed versions of my favorite books, but then I started making up my own stories in my head. Usually within a few minutes I’d fall asleep and sleep quietly through the night.
Journaling: Because I like to write, writing about my stress was a natural outlet for me. I wrote without censoring anything. I just put it all out there. Then I destroyed it. But the act of writing longhand was calming and the relief of airing my problems was tangible, even though no one else heard them.
No caffeine: I gave up caffeine. It wasn’t helping with my sleep problems and it was making me jumpy. I’d never had problems with it before, but during this period it made everything worse. So I weaned myself off of it and I felt better after a couple of weeks without it.
Silent scream: When things got really bad, I waited until I had the house to myself and then let it all fly. I yelled, cussed, slammed doors, and generally let out the frustrations. No one was around to be offended or hurt by what I said or did, and I felt better afterward. Drained, but better.
Hot baths: Just sitting in a hot tub did wonders to calm me down before bed. I didn’t need any expensive oils, bubble baths, or aromatherapy candles. Just the hot water calmed me. It was also the only way I found to get rid of my migraines.
Read: I read a lot as it is, but I cranked it up a notch, looking for diverting stories, adventures, favorites from my childhood, travel guides, or books about non-stressful subjects like plants, animals, and science. The library was a great source of stress relief.
Gardening: My garden became a refuge, giving me exercise, time in nature, healthy food, and a quiet place to just be while I worked.
Fewer outside influences: I quit watching the news, particularly at night. I don’t watch TV much as it is, but I curtailed the little I did watch. The shrill ads just added to my stress and the news was nothing but bad news. I stopped reading the paper, too. I skimmed the headlines on the Internet first thing in the morning to stay informed of anything major, but that was it.
Thanks to these ideas, my stress is under control. I’ve stopped grinding my teeth and my gastric problems are resolved. The migraines are much less frequent and the time between them grows longer every time. Now, when I start to feel stressed out I reach for one or more of these ideas to help me cope. It beats letting it all build up and making me sick. We all experience stress, but there’s usually no need to add anxiety over expensive treatments to the mix. Try some low cost stress relievers first.
Note: If your stress is severe and nothing else is helping, do go see a doctor or therapist. Stress can contribute to a variety of diseases and problems, so you don’t want it to go on unabated.