Stress is a fact of life. We are all born with instinctive stress responses to deal with emergency situations or threats. We developed these stress responses once upon a time to help excite our bodies to the point where we would be able to escape predators and outperform competitors. When a potentially dangerous situation arises, stress hormones are released into our bloodstream.
However, today stress is chronic and ongoing and we are now living at such a pace that we activate these stress hormones all the time. The burden that this constant state of arousal can put on our bodies and brains is incredibly unhealthy and draining. This is why it’s important now that we take proactive steps to counteract that stress.
One way we can combat chronic stress is by creating an escape for ourselves – a ‘stress free zone’ – whether that’s a room in our home, a happy place somewhere outdoors or a place we go to mentally.
1. Keep it EXCLUSIVE.
The first and most important thing is that the space you create to be your stress free zone actually is stress free. Shut out problems. Create a space that blocks out the things that might stress you out and where you can really get away from things. No voices, no phones, no text messages, no computers, no watch or other device that may pull you away. Anything that beeps or rings to alert you of messages should be shut out. This may mean you need to learn to say « no », or at least « not right now ».
2. Keep it PERSONAL
Take a mental vacation with images of things that make you smile and feel good. Loved ones, the beach, a mountain view; it’s your vacation so it can be whatever resonates with you. Maybe you just need to completely clear your mind of any thoughts.
It can be helpful to add things that can heighten your senses such as:
- The power of nature. Plants add beauty to a room- but don’t stop there. A tabletop fountain or a Zen garden can be a peaceful addition.
- The power of smell. Odors affect our mood and can help us concentrate, hence the power of aromatherapy. For example, citrusy scents such as lemon and orange can help eliminate anxiety and increase concentration. Lavender, cedar wood and rosemary help reduce stress.
- The power of light. If you choose to de-stress in the morning to start fresh, then open the curtains. Natural light influences circadian rhythms, the « master clock ». If you want to unwind and slow things down, choose dim lighting in an amber shade that you get from candle light or a fireplace. At bedtime, you may want to use a sleep mask to block out light altogether.
- The power of water. The sound of water has been used as a healing force for centuries and been shown to affect portions of the brain. Download recordings of nature sounds like trickling water or ocean waves and play them as background music for relaxation.
- The power of breath. Breathe more mindfully. Take a full breathe – inhale deeply into your belly, then allow every last drop of air to release on the exhale. This simple action blocks the stress response and cues your body to relax, making you less likely to get fatigued and more able to think clearly. Take 5 minutes twice a day
3. Keep it CLEAN
A messy space stresses people out and it’s hard to relax when you’re surrounded by clutter and things that need putting away. The best way to keep it clean is to simply reduce the things in your space. If you have lots of clutter to deal with, set aside 15 minutes a day to organize your space. Separate things by what you can donate to Goodwill, throw away or pack away for safe keeping.
4. Keep it SIMPLE
Who has time to unwind today? Unless you keep your stress-free time simple and short you probably won’t be able to fit it into your busy schedule.
- Laughter. Find whatever tickles your fancy and makes you happy. Laughter has been shown to lead to reductions in stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. When laughing the brain also releases endorphins that can relieve some physical pain. Laughter also boosts the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells, leading to a stronger immune system.
- Music. Music is one of the easiest ways to distress. Relaxation music or your favourite playlist can have a profound and immediate influence on your mood and mindset.
- Play time, walking or exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. The best thing is that it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Walking is a great way to get started. Stretching can also relieve muscle tension. Even everyday activities such as housecleaning or yard work can reduce stress.
- Photos. Every once and a while, looking though photo albums of loved ones can bring back great memories that make us happy. Photos can also be of things or places. Some researchers believe that humans have a fundamental, genetically rooted need to affiliate with nature and other life forms. They call this « biophilia. » Just looking at photographs of serene natural scenes has some invigorating effects, replenishing our cognitive senses, according to studies.
- Comfort. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes and get comfortable. Surround yourself with comfort and softness, including your seating and the things you touch.
5. Keep it REGULAR
Daily commitment is crucial. You don’t need to be connected 24/7 so make sure you keep at least 15 minutes a day to unwind. With a little practice and dedication you will have everyone wondering why you are so happy.
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