There was a time in my life when I lived for several months by my very sick 2-year-old child's bed in an intensive care unit and later in a kidney unit. I became intimately acquainted with stress.
Believe it or not, as parents we can reach serious levels of stress and anxiety without ever experiencing serious illness, trauma or loss. I have felt the same level of stress while trying to care for my small daughters and experiencing morning sickness from the new baby on the way.
I have heard people say that trials come in threes, or three at a time. I have always wished that were true, because then maybe it would stop at three.
So in a world that is sometimes relentless and feels like it just keeps coming at us, how do you de-stress? Here are seven proven methods.
Breathing is scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve health according to Harvard Researcher Herbert Benson. You don't have to take your eyes off your children or your hands out of soapy dishwater. Just spend 30 seconds focusing on your breath. Begin my becoming aware of your surroundings and what your hands are touching. Then gradually take a long, slow and deep breath in. Breathe out just a little longer than you breathe in. Take a second long slow breath in and then out. By the end of your third deep breath and long slow exhale, you will notice a physical change. And it will take less than 30 seconds.
Sometimes sights, smells and sounds can carry us away to bad memories of unpleasant people or experiences. When you find yourself remembering unpleasant things "ground" yourself. Make sure your eyes are open. Touch something in the room, a blanket or table. Put your feet flat on the floor. Become fully present in the room. Focus on the textures you are touching, the smells you are smelling, the things you see. Focus on the here and now. Tell yourself you are safe.
Talk to yourself
Whether it is out loud or silent, try it. If you are having anxiety about something that has happened to you or something that might happen to you sometime in the future, self-talk can become self-soothing. When we are overwhelmed with anxiety we may be worried about things that are totally out of our control or that may never happen. Comfort yourself by talking to yourself. Say things like:
I am safe. I was having a memory. It is only a memory and can't hurt me.
I am in a safe place. That was a bad dream. It was not real. My nice safe bed is real.
The banks are closed, it is after business hours and nothing will change until the morning. I can let it go until my alarm goes off at 7 a.m.
Sometimes we can become the victim of someone else's anger. For example I was in a long line at a crowded big box store on a Saturday. A woman and I had moved our cart to let people through, but were clearly in line. Another woman approached and decided she was going to direct traffic. She became erratic and upset, saying some ugly things. We both stood and stared at her without responding. There was no way to respond to her angry behavior. As she walked away I used a technique I learned many years ago. I literally brushed her words off. I took my right hand and briskly brushed down my left arm and then did the same on the other side. I smiled at the woman who stood next to me, we shook our heads and I imagined her angry words falling out of my hair on the ground. I had brushed the anger off.
Get a hug or give a hug
Science shows that a hug is very therapeutic. It can release a hormone that reduces fear, builds trust and lowers blood pressure according to Psychology Today. Paul Zak, from Claremont University prescribes eight hugs a day for your best health. A healthy hug given to or from someone you love and feel safe with can reduce stress like magic. Even if it is a hug you give your baby.
There is nothing like a good belly laugh to reduce stress. Laugh alone or with a friend. Laugh at yourself or with an old movie. Remember an inside joke or your favorite cartoon. Laugh for just a moment and let it all go. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.
Give it to God
Finally when it is just too much, accept that you can't carry the burden and give it to God. A 30 second prayer is 20 seconds longer than it takes.
Begin keeping a journal today of things that soothe you. Write down things that make you smile, keep you happy or give you joy. When your day is overwhelming pick something from the list and even if you only have 30 seconds, find your place of peace.
Shannon Symonds, Author of Safe House due to be released July 2017 by Cedar Fort, has 15 years experience working as an Advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to write, run and Laugh