This past week I went to Florida for a wonderful family vacation. We were able to escape the freezing cold, hit up the beach, swim, bike, run, and enjoy life together.
Vacation always serves as a time for me to slow down and reflect on life. I am usually go-go-go and busy, so the slowed environment of a vacation gives me an opportunity to think about what is behind me and what lies ahead. I have more time to read, do what I love, and relax.
Relaxation does not come easily to me, as I am the type of person who likes lists and having a planned schedule of things to do. However, when there is no laundry or dishes or work tasks to be completed, we can contemplate what is really important to us. For many people, that includes family and health and happiness. It is not a perfectly clean house, getting to work on time everyday, or having a big screen TV. So why is that what we tend to focus on?
I read several articles about mindfulness on this vacation, and it is clear the ability to relax and unwind is becoming a challenge not just for me, but for everyone else in our society too. We are bound up with never ending e-mails, chores, and obligations. How can we bring restfulness, calmness, and reflection into our everyday lives? We have to find ways to de-stress despite all the hustle and bustle. We have to step back and not get so caught up in the little things. Mindfulness is about being in the moment, creating self-awareness, controlling our thoughts, and minimizing fear/worry.
Here are my tips for stress relief and what I try to focus on when life gets ahead of me:
- When in a stressful situation, ask yourself, "Will this matter in 5 or 10 years?" For example, if you are concerned about a test or realize you forgot your wallet at home or you get caught in bad traffic, most of the time the situation won't make a huge difference in the long run. Look at the big picture. As the popular quote says, "Don't sweat the small stuff."
- Take deep breaths. This is another trick I use when I get caught up in the moment. Take 5-10 deep breaths and try to concentrate on your breathing, not the stress that is in your way. This will reset your thoughts, and let you re-enter the situation with a new mindset.
- Give yourself extra time. The haircut you thought would take 20 minutes might take 40, and your doctor appointment scheduled for 15 minutes might take 60. Try not to cram too many appointments or meetings close together. Allowing yourself extra time prevents the stress of rushing from one thing to the next.
- Find hobbies you love and try to do them regularly. For me, this is arts and crafts. I love to draw and color, and I recently took up painting. Find time to do the things you love, even if it means saying no to a social outing or event.
- Exercise! Walk, run, swim, bike, ski, do yoga - anything to get your blood flowing will make you feel better.
- Spend time outside. Most people waste away their days inside sitting. Get outside and enjoy nature. This can easily be combined with exercise! Fresh air is so good for us and refreshes our bodies. Even if you only have 10-20 minutes at lunch, it is better than nothing.
- Get enough sleep. Most people need 7-8 hours every night. I need 8-9 hours, so I have to make sure I am diligent about my bedtime when my alarm is set early. Light from electronics at night can mess up our circadian rhythms. Turn off your phone, computer, and TV at night to help you sleep better.
- Eat well and eat regularly. Fried food and other unhealthy food choices will not make you feel your best and could weaken your immune system causing you to get sick. Do not skip meals and have snacks if you get hungry between meals. You'll keep your energy levels up and decrease chances of irritability. Always eat a variety of foods and drink lots of water too. Occasional treats feed the soul and are important, but not for every meal.
- Step away from those who bring you down, and spend more time with people who lift you up. We cannot choose our family members, but we do have some control over who we spend time with at work and who we have as friends. Don't hang out with complainers or negative people. Find individuals who strive to be positive, happy, and thoughtful. Their feelings will rub off on you.
- Talk to a close friend or family member. If you are having trouble overcoming a situation alone, talk to someone you trust about it. They can offer a different perspective and provide you with some support.
- Do something for others. Volunteer, find a way to help a stranger, or make someone smile. Take an hour a week to spend at an animal shelter, library, or food shelf. Carry bags for an elderly individual who is struggling. Write a hand written note to a friend or family member. Thank a stranger by looking them in the eye and using their name if possible. This works great when people have name tags such as at the airport, in a museum, or at a health care facility. It might not seem like much, but I can tell you it makes a huge difference. Spreading kindness is good for everyone.
- Change. Break out of your regular habits and routines to open new doors. Try a different route to work. Walk the dog somewhere new. Mix up your meal plan. If something really isn't working for you and despite your best effort you still stress about it, do everything you can to change it.
Cassie sends hugs! Although, an hour after this picture was taken, she decided to destuff the elephant through the nose... Ha! She had a blast with friends while we were away on vacation, but I think she's happy we're back.