Tips for living a low-stress life

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I recently got a call from a new client who asked me, “Can you help me lower my stress and anxiety? I don’t want to take medication. Oh, and by the way, I’m kinda depressed, too.”

This is a common request. Despite TV commercials that show relaxed, happy people running in fields, blessed-out on their new anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, many people don’t want to take pills.

Many pills have a lot of side effects, some of which may be worse than the anxiety or stress itself. And many people don’t want to feel “dependent” on pills. I am not an MD, so I don’t prescribe medication for my clients. For some people, medication works. For the rest of you who prefer to lower your stress and anxiety without medication, this column is for you.

Here are some suggestions for reducing your stress, anxiety, panic and worry without taking medication.

Try a simple 3-5 minute meditation. Sit comfortably in a chair or sofa and let your feet rest easily on the floor. Relax and allow the chair to hold you up; you don’t have to do anything. Let your eyes gently close.

Put your hands on your stomach and begin to breathe deeply and easily. As you breathe in, say to yourself, “I am breathing in.” As you breathe out, say to yourself, “I am breathing out.” Notice the easy rising and falling of your stomach as you breathe. If thoughts come into your mind, let the thoughts be like clouds: they float into your mind and easily float out. Enjoy your breathing.

Get away from people on a regular basis. Even if you adore your partner or you are the mother of five fabulous kids, you need to periodically get away from people. One client I know – a stay-at-home dad – leaves his beloved partner and their son and goes to a coffee shop, reads the paper and people-watches at least once a week.

Another client of mine takes a bubble bath and locks the door. Her partner and kids are not allowed to disturb her during her 30 minutes in the tub.

Create a relaxing morning and evening routine.
When you wake up and just before you fall asleep are two times of day when your conscious is very receptive to positive (or negative) thoughts. Even if you’re super-energetic, don’t leap out of bed and try to control your day from the get-go.

Let yourself wake up gradually. You might even make a statement of gratitude like “Thank you for another day.” This sets the tone for your day. You can also do the 3-minute meditation (see above) when you wake up.

Before going to sleep, don’t read the newspaper or watch the news; you don’t want to take all those disasters to sleep with you. Instead, create a simple routine for yourself that calms you and sets the tone for the kinds of dreams you want to have.

Get enough sleep. Experiment: find out how many hours of sleep really makes your body happy. What time is it best for you to go to bed/wake up? Don’t compare yourself with other people, your body is unique. Once you find what works, stick with it as much as possible. A predictable sleep schedule promotes deep, stress-reducing sleep.

Moderate your sugar, caffeine and alcohol intake. Sugar and caffeine highs and the crashes that follow make it hard to stay relaxed and grounded. Alcohol can temporarily relax you, but you pay a price later – usually in lousy sleep or low energy the next day. If you know you’re going to be drinking a lot, keep the next day as undemanding as possible.

Find outlets for your anger and frustration. You can’t live in this world without getting pissed off at times. Even the Dalai Lama loses his temper and Mother Teresa was no pushover. For some of us, this means a physical outlet.

I used to have a punching bag suspended in my bedroom, and I’d hit it with boxing gloves when I was frustrated or annoyed. Writing can be a good way to discharge intense emotions. So can music: find yourself a nice, aggressive and angry song to sing along with when you’re irritated and pissed off. Some people go dancing and sweat through their clothes, thoroughly discharging all the negative emotions they’ve held onto all day.
 

Know your limits. Sometimes, feelings of anxiety, panic or depression are too much for us. If you have suicidal feelings, pay attention: this may be a sign that you need professional help. Call your doctor, therapist or go to the nearest hospital emergency room and ask for help from the on-duty psychiatrist.

In this world, living a low-stress life is an ongoing challenge. Whether you live in a fabulous mansion or a tiny studio apartment, there’s no escaping stress, anxiety and worry. The above ideas are a start toward long-term, sustainable reduction of stress and anxiety in your life. Find the ones that work for you and practice them daily.