Can't Meditate? Here are 7 Other Ways To Help Reduce Stress
I must admit, I have had this love-hate relationship with meditation for the last twenty-five years. I love the state that meditation brings me to, that sense of being relaxed, calm, and focused. But, oh, I hate having to sit there while trying to wrestle with my crazy active mind.
I know, ‘everyone has been telling me to meditate’, you say. Meditation is sold as that secret sauce to take your wellness up to the status of the elite gurus, right? It’s the “end all, be all” for the health of your entire mind-body-spirit. It’s the absolute must-do that is the only path to conquering that ever appearing stress in your life.
Don't get me wrong; practicing meditation is an excellent approach to optimizing your health and overall well-being. It really is fabulous for relieving and dealing with stress, and it’s something I recommend that almost all of my clients at least try. But it's not the only way to get there.
The whole purpose of meditating is to calm the mind and emotions and relax our physical body too. And there is always more than one way to get there.
So, if you’ve found meditation is just not your cup of tea, let’s talk about some of the other things you might try.
I vividly remember watching the skit, Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live as a kid in the 80’s. Stuart would look himself in the mirror and do a silly show on daily affirmations, always saying at the end, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!’ And from that moment, whenever someone mentioned doing affirmations, I had this sense that affirmations were just something ridiculous to do. So I never really gave them much thought. That is, until very recently when I began learning more about the power of affirmations.
Affirmations are words or phrases meant to inspire and motivate you towards positive change. They are aimed at affecting both your conscious and subconscious mind. Ever hear the phrase, ‘your body hears everything your mind says’? So if this is true, we want to feed our body and minds with positivity. By repeating these words or phrases, the subconscious mind is affected, and with that it can be incredibly helpful in encouraging positive change in our bodies, mind, and spirit. Who doesn’t want that?
Here are a couple of affirmations I love for women wanting to balance their hormones or trying to conceive:
My hormones are finding their perfect balance (for fertility).
My eggs are healthy and plentiful.
I love and trust my body.
My body is strong and healthy.
My body is able to conceive a healthy baby.
Once you have found a phrase or two that resonates with you, begin to repeat it to yourself. You can write it on a post-it and place it somewhere you will see often like a mirror or your computer. Whenever you read the phrase, take a moment to envision the picture of what’s going on inside your body. If you feel negative talk creeping in, that’s okay, just gently redirect your mind to your positive affirmation.
Spending some time every day writing out your thoughts can also help to relieve stress. You can use journaling to list the things you're grateful for, this is known as gratitude journaling. You can use it as a "brain dump" to get all of your thoughts and ideas out of your head to soothe your mind. You can use "ever since" journaling to describe your life after you reach your goals.
Journaling is more about just recording your thoughts or documenting your experiences. Research shows that people who write in journals or diaries experienced less stress, less anxiety, less depression and also may even live longer. Sounds super promising right?
Now, how to do it. It’s actually quite simple. Buy a notebook, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy it can even just be one of those cheap school notebooks you had as a kid. Then, set aside 10-20 minutes in your day and make a commitment to just write and write continuously. Begin by writing about the things which are deeply affecting you currently & write about your emotions associated with it. If any thoughts come up about your childhood or certain relationships during the process, just keep writing it all down.
Spend time every day reading, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. You can look for something to read like a fun sci-fi book, or to learn something new, or about someone who interests you. Maybe you are attracted to self-help books - books that teach you how retrain your thoughts, conquer your fears, or reframe your world. Whatever genre you’re attracted to, just pick a book and start. I also love having an Audible subscription, where I have a few books always available to listen to on my dog walks or car rides. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain books I only read in actual book form, but this has greatly increased the amount of books I’m able to ‘read’ in a year.
Time to curl up and let yourself get caught up in a story.
Adult coloring books are all the rage! No, not *that* kind of adult, get your mind out of the gutter. The type of adult coloring books I’m referring to has coloring pages with lots of detail and tiny areas to color in. Something that may take you hours to fill in, like a coloring book with mandalas.
Or, you can always opt for something simple, like a kids coloring book too. The idea is the same. By focusing on the art you’re creating through these tiny repetitive movements, it can help to clear and settle your mind.
It may sound silly and not even like an actual stress-relieving technique, but something you just voluntarily do. Most people, however, tend to breathe shallow and just into their chest instead of bringing their breath all the way down into their lower abdomen. This type of shallow breathing can put us into a state of fight or flight. How we breathe changes the oxygen levels in our body and can help us become more relaxed and improve our mood. And the great thing is that it’s so easy to do virtually anywhere you are - at your desk at work or at a cafe at lunch.
There’s two breathing techniques I’ll introduce - one called diaphragmatic breathing (which is just deep abdominal breathing) and a technique called the 4-7-8 breath. They are very similar techniques, but some people tend to like one over the other.
To do diaphragmatic breathing - you just want to simply breathe in through your nose for the count of four - focusing on bringing the breath all the way down to your lower abdomen. Then hold the breath for 4 counts. And then release the breath from your chest and abdomen for four counts. And then start all over.
The second technique is just a little more advanced and some people like it because you have to focus your mind a little bit more with this. It’s called the 4-7-8 breath. It starts the same way as the previous one, where you breathe through your nose for four counts, expanding your lower abdomen. Then you hold your breath for a count of seven, and then slowly exhale through your mouth making a whoosh sound for 8 counts. Then start again. Do this a couple times and see what you think. Some people may get a little dizzy at first because they’re not used to fully breathing. And that’s okay, all the more reason to practice.
Spend time in nature
You don’t have to head away for vacation to relax in nature. While a calm beautiful beach or cabin in the woods may be amazing, you don’t have to go that far. Even spending time on the grass at your local park or playground, or walking on a wooded trail in your neighbourhood can do the trick.
There has been quite a lot of research on the healing power of nature. For example, in Japan there is a type of therapy called ‘forest bathing’ where you immerse yourself around trees, plants, and flowers. People there engage in this therapy to lower stress levels, enhance immunity, and even to manage diabetes.
Sweden also has its own type therapy called a ‘nature based rehabilitation’ garden, where people disabled by intense work stress can go. It is a garden in a greenhouse environment which can be accessed any time of year. Patients engaging in this type of nature rehabilitation program are more apt to return to the workforce.
Other research has found that some trees give off invisible chemicals (called phytoncides), which have been found to reduce stress hormones, lower anxiety, and improve blood pressure and immunity. Pretty cool, right?
Being in nature and outdoors also provides you with the benefits of getting natural sunlight, which gives you much needed vitamin D and can naturally stabilizes your melatonin levels.
Have you ever noticed how good you feel after walking down a beach barefoot? Or, with walking through the grass barefoot? There is healing power not only in being around nature, but also with letting our feet be in direct contact with the earth. This may sound like a little bit of crazy talk, but I can assure you that there is an actual beneficial physiological effect from having your bare feet touch the ground.
When your bare feet come in contact with the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons from the Earth through the soles of your feet. This absorption of electrons has an antioxidant effect effect in your body, which can help to stop free radical damage in the body. In other words, because the Earth carries an electron-rich, negative charge, walking barefoot outside can help lower inflammation and heal your body in numerous ways. So, take those shoes off and get to walking!
Make time for people and pets you love
It's so important to spend time with family and friends whom you love. New research is coming out about the negative health issues related to loneliness. And on the flip side, having a solid community of people surrounding you has been shown to be quite healing and stress relieving.
Our animal family members can also be quite an important addition to relieving our stress as well. In fact, a 2009 study published in The Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that cat owners were a third less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke. And a 2017 study found the same benefits for dog owners. If you ever want to quickly reduce your stress hormone cortisol levels, just pet your dog or pet. Multiple studies have shown this lowers a person’s stress hormone. Pretty incredible!
So, reach out and plan to hang out with your besties, or even offer to take your neighbor's dog for a walk in the park.
Stress reduction is the goal. How you do it, be it meditation or otherwise, is not that important. What’s important is that you find what works for you.
Try affirmations, journaling, reading, coloring, breathing, spending time in nature, and making time for people and pets you love.
Have other great ideas? Let me know what helps you de-stress in the comments below.
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Recipe (calming): Lavender Essential Oil
Instructions to inhale directly:
Add up to 6 drops of undiluted essential oil to a handkerchief/tissue and inhale occasionally. Use up to 3 times per day.
Instruction for steam inhalation
Add 3 - 12 drops of undiluted essential oil to a bowl of steaming water. Inhale slowly and deeply for 5 - 10 minutes. Use up to 3 times per day.
Tip: Lavender isn't the only calming essential oil. You can also use angelica, balsam, benzoin, bitter orange, cedarwood, celery, chamomile, cornmint, cumin, curry, frankincense, grapefruit, jasmine, juniper, labdanum, laurel, lemongrass, marjoram, nutmeg, palmarosa, parsley, patchouli, peppermint, rose, rosewood, sage, sandalwood, scotch pine, spearmint, star anise, sweet basil, sweet orange, thyme, or ylang ylang.