Stress is Optional

Here are 11 ways to take time for what matters and put stress in its place.

Ilya/Stocksy United

Waging a battle against stress doesn’t make much sense, does it? It’s the surest way to increase the stress: “This battle against stress is really stressing me out!” Mindfulness lets us interrupt the stress cycle and let in some space and air.

1. Take a walk

Modern life seems designed to make us stay in one place—sitting, standing, or lying down—for long periods of time. Most people don’t even remember a time when you had to get up off your butt to walk across the room and change the channel on the TV or go over to the bookshelf to consult the dictionary. Moving has gone out of style, and the balance of mental to physical energy expended can get way out of whack. Find an excuse to use muscles that are feeling lonely and neglected. Raise your heart rate a little. Your body, and mind, will thank you.

2. Eat lunch somewhere pleasant

Taking lunch at your desk ensures your mind will stay in the same frame of reference while you’re eating, particularly if you’re checking email or doing work at the same time. Go somewhere else to have lunch, hang out with co-workers, let go and enjoy. Then come back to work a little refreshed.

3. Relax your muscles with a body scan

Progressive muscular relaxation can help you notice where you’re holding stress. It doesn’t take long and it’s simple to do: Lie down comfortably on your back with your legs straight. Close your eyes. Start by tensing muscles in your feet, then relax. Work your way up your body doing the same thing in sequence from your feet to your head. Often it’s only by experiencing muscle tension and letting it go that we become aware of just how much tension our bodies are retaining.

4. Minimize multitasking

Sometimes it’s necessary to be doing several things at once (or at least in rapid succession). But too much multitasking, jumping around from one thing to another to another—in a constant state of partial attention—is exhausting, inefficient, and highly stressful. Instead of checking emails, planning supper, writing a report, and texting your sister, try giving full attention to one thing at a time.

5. Get your face out of your phone

Your phone is your everything, all-the-time, go-to, distractor device. It’s like having someone nudging and nagging you all day. It constantly steals your attention. Set some boundaries on when, where, and how you will use it. Beware letting it dominate during social occasions. Try putting it away completely during meals and parties. Pick a few places—doorways, elevators, in line at the store—where you can make a mental note to avoid it, and take those moments when you’d be deep in cyberworld to follow your breath instead.

6. Look at something green

Are your sightlines constantly filled with brick, concrete, glass, and carpet? How about spending a little more time where things are growing, breathing, giving off fragrance, swaying in the wind, and glistening in the sun? Nothing like a little nature to slow you down and show you the big picture.

7. Play

All work and no play…and yes, that means you. Playing isn’t restricted to children. Playing simply means doing something that has no purpose, plan, or aim. Wander the streets, play cards, go bowling, read for pleasure. The surprises that come from letting yourself go can exhilarate and refresh.

8. Go for a swim

Swimming some laps is just the right kind of boredom to help you de-stress. The rhythmic splush, splush, splush and the weightlessness are like being rocked in a cradle. It uses a lot of muscle groups and is great if you have old injuries that would make something like running difficult. And, bonus: You can’t use your phone or watch TV while submerged in water. You can hear yourself think. Or not think, as the case may be.

9. Read something out loud

A good piece of writing or poetry read aloud can have a very soothing effect. That’s why children love to be read to. If you’re not a fan of your own voice, try listening to an audiobook.

10. Listen, really listen, to a piece of music

Sit or lie down and listen to an entire album, symphony, opera, or whatever suits your taste. You may feel yourself twitching or reaching for your phone at first, but soon you’ll sink into the sounds.

11. Take a vacation

Americans took less vacation time in 2014 than in four previous decades, according to the US Travel Association. Only 57% of the nation’s workers used all of their paid vacation time, and people with higher annual incomes took the least days off. Definitely not a good way to avoid stress and its harmful effects. Time off actually makes you a more productive worker. Plus, your family will appreciate it and you’ll have time and space to really take care of yourself.