Happy New Year! January is ‘International Quality of Life Month’ so what better time to kick-start the new you with this list of 10 sure-fire stress busters, as identified by Michelle Doetsch (massage therapist, reiki master and aromatherapist).

1. Get enough sleep. This is the amount of sleep you thrive on, not just get by on. Some people only need 5 hours and some need 10. Some people thrive on something called two sleeps where they sleep 3-5 hours, wake up, do something quiet like read, meditate, or pray for 1-2 hours, then go back to sleep for another 3-5 hours. (It’s so fascinating that I’m thinking about writing a whole blog post just about the topic of 2 sleeps.) Getting enough sleep is THE most important thing you can do for yourself, because this is when the body repairs and restores itself. Besides, sleep deprived people tend to over-react to stress, which means that their stress levels are higher than people who get enough shut-eye.

2. Stay hydrated. I had a Dr. tell me that the way to tell if you’re hydrated is by the colour of your urine. The only acceptable colours, she said, were very pale yellow or clear. If your urine is dark yellow or if it has a smell, you need to drink more fluids. Every part of your body works best when it’s fully hydrated, even your muscles. Remember, there’s more to this stress thing than just external stressors, there are also internal and physical stressors; and having a dehydrated body that isn’t working optimally definitely counts as a physical stressor.

3. Say no to additional obligations, especially if you don’t really want to do them. I know you want to be nice and helpful, and that’s admirable; but not if means raising your stress level.

4. Identify the current top 5-10 stressors in your life. Be specific. “Kids” is not going to cut it for this one. “Kids bringing me dirty or wrinkled clothes at 10pm that need washing and/or ironing and are needed the next morning” is much better because it allows you to formulate a possible response or plan.

5. Choose the one item from the above list that you can most easily eliminate, and eliminate it. Maybe it’s resigning from a committee that you hate or getting your spouse to take the kids to just 1 of their extra-curricular activities each week. OR… Maybe a parent of one of your child’s teammates will be willing to drive them one way and you can drive the other OR they take their kid and yours to this activity and you take the kids to a different one (you know, spread the stress-relief love around a little).

6. Choose at least 3 other stressors from your list above and create a plan to reduce (or even better, eliminate) the stress of it. In the example in #4 above, maybe you could make a new rule that backpacks must be cleaned out before dinner (so wrinkled clothes, permission slips, treat requests, etc can be taken care of easily) and repacked by bedtime. Or if your kids are old enough you could make a new rule that if they don’t get you their dirty and/or wrinkled clothes or uniform by a certain time, that they will either have to wash/iron it themselves or wear a dirty/wrinkled uniform and deal with the consequences. Notice I said consequences, not punishment; every single action we take (or don’t take) has a consequence.

7. Take time for yourself. If everyone in your family gets “me time” except you, it’s time to even things out a bit. “Me time” is when you recharge your body, mind, and spirit and although it looks different for each person, it is vitally important for everyone. For some people it may be going out with friends for a couple hours after work or on a weekend and just having some grown-up fun. For others, it may be meditation each morning before the rest of the household wakes up, a weekly bath complete with candles, book/magazine/music, and the beverage of your choice (and a locked door), or time several evenings a week to engage in your favorite hobby.

8. Find your bliss. What makes you happy? What fills you with joy? Is it listening to music? Dancing? Woodworking? Gardening? Something else? Everyone has a bliss. Whatever yours is, find it. You don’t have to be good at it, it just has to give you joy. For instance, I LOVE dancing; it makes me all kinds of freaky happy. I’m not a great dancer by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t care because it brings me such joy when I do it. Besides, no one can see me when I pull the shade in the living room and crank the music. When you follow your bliss (engage in your bliss activity), your stress levels will fall dramatically!!

9. Rest when you need to. Instead of prattling on about the glorious benefits of rest let me just give you some examples: When you’re sick and you rest, you get better faster. When you’re exhausted and you rest/sleep, you’ll be more productive afterward than you would have been if you worked while exhausted. When you’re frazzled and on a deadline, if you rest for just fifteen minutes, you return to your project with improved clarity and productivity. In fact, a study from years ago showed that all other things being equal, people who took a fifteen minute break away from their project, completed it faster and did a better job than those who continued to work in a stressed state.

10. Smile. Smiling is a sure fire mood booster, and a better mood equals less stress. Lots of people have written about how you can turn a bad mood around by smiling. I’m sure that many of you have tried this and found that there is at least some truth to it. I know I have. I recently saw a TED talk on body language featuring Amy Cuddy. It was truly fascinating because she talked about how you can “fake it until you become it.” She says that just mimicking a smile by holding a pen in your teeth can improve your mood. I wasn’t sure I was buying that, so I tried it. You know what?? She’s right!! So you now have no reason not to smile more. If you’re the type that simply can’t fake a smile for anything, try the pen trick!

As published by Michelle Doetsch, Healing Yew, 3rd January 2013

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