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How to ‘unstress’ effectively? 

Written by Vasundra S, Content Producer of Full Circle - Art Therapy Centre

As I sit to write this article, I feel some familiar feelings come up - I’ve been procrastinating on a creative project. The due date is closer than I’d like it to be and I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. Each time I look at the calendar and the project material on my desk, I feel all knotted up in my stomach and I binge watch Netflix run away from the room. 

But since I’ve been researching and practising mindfulness for a future post, I decide to bring some of my learnings from my research to this experience. 

One of the concepts we learn as a beginner in the practice of mindfulness is bringing “mindful attitudes” to a present condition or situation. I try to bring a mindful attitude of curiosity into this experience. And my article is a result of this. 

So let’s start with, what is stress? And how is it different from anxiety? 

It’s so common for us to use expressions like “I’m so stressed” or “I’m so anxious” and quite often we use them interchangeably. We even invest time and effort in combating them without knowing what it actually is. 

In simple words, stress is your body’s response to any kind of demand. Yes. Any kind of demand. When you feel stressed, your body releases a stress-response cocktail that puts your body in the best state to respond to that demand. This is great when its a physical demand -like “there’s lion chasing me, survival demands I need to run” and then your body uses up that chemical cocktail to respond and those chemicals in that particular combination stop being released. 

(Let’s blame these cocktail references to the wonderful summer we’re having ok?)

What happens though when these demands are not physical? What if these demands are emotional and your body keeps releasing special chemical cocktails and you don’t use them up? You build these chemicals up and they make you feel uncomfortable and “stressed”. Stress and stress-response in other words can be short-term. Anxiety though, is different. It’s an amplified version of stress and it lasts much longer. 

How do we deal with stress? 

Logically, you cannot control demands, especially emotional demands. You can however, figure out how to use the stress-response chemical cocktails most effectively such that they don’t linger. 

Simple right?

Ok maybe not so simple. 

This is what happened to me earlier. Working on the creative project felt like a demand. Thoughts like “Why aren’t you building this?” “Why are you procrastinating”? Got linked to this demand. And my body released a chemical cocktail that made me feel like reaching for the Apple TV Remote run away. Literally (figuratively). 

But here’s what I did instead. I applied a mindful attitude and used my chemical cocktail to make my fingers move faster than the speed of light on this Google doc. Guess what? I feel “unstressed”. I use the word unstressed because destressing involves “actions” and to me when I’m stressing out, “actions” feel like “demands”. (ICYMI - demand = stressed)

Here are a few ways in which I recommend arriving at a state of unstress. The following recommendations mostly involve surrendering into the present moment and being true to yourself. No distractions.  

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can take you into the moment and can transform your experience of that moment. An example of this is choosing to savour the flavour over experiencing the heat of a hot cup of tea in your hand. You may continue to feel the heat, but the experience of the flavour sort of overpowers it. You don’t escape the moment, you just learn to choose what you hold onto from that moment. With mindfulness, you don’t have to “do” anything. You just need to “be”. 

2. Move

If you feel like it, it's a good idea to move. You have the chemical cocktail to fuel you anyway, why not just use it up for movement and exercise? The movement will not only use-up your stress-response cocktail, it’ll actually release feel-good chemicals as a result. 

3. Create

Expressing yourself through art can be quite relieving. Creative pursuits put your brain and body can change your chemical energy dramatically. This can involve indulging in any form of art - painting, doodling, dancing, singing, writing (as in my case) or even cooking. (Btw, I Quora’d this, binge watching Netflix isn’t an art form…..yet.

4. Breathe

Sounds too simple? You’d actually be surprised at how often we tend to literally hold our breath for things that are bothering us subconsciously. Try taking an inhalation and exhalation break the next time you feel stressed. Breathing can also help you improve your focus. This works best in a situation where you’re experiencing stress induced by overwhelm. 

5. Talk it out

I’ve added this as a sort of last resort. I know this could be a fairly common technique, but it is honestly, my least favourite one. I always feel sensitive about the energy I bring into anyone’s life. Everyone has a stressful and demanding lives these days, can we not add to it with our own drama? Except if its a therapist where the emotional benefits a session far outweighs the financial investment. But honestly, I’m more of a do-er and less of a talker. So its number 3 for me all the way. 

What are some of your go-to “unstressing” techniques? Did you try any of the techniques mentioned here? (Come on! It’s not too late to try to “breathe”). Keen to hear from you.