Work Hard

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2015-01-15 14.07.43I’ve shared before that when I get really stressed I often take on a “stress project.” I used to think this was a maladaptive coping skill, but I’ve changed my mind. I used to think I was just trying to avoid the real cause of my stress. Now, I see that’s not the case at all.

When I take on a stress project, I am able to see something through to completion. I’m also stepping away from whatever is causing the stress. I mistook this stepping away as avoidance. In reality, it’s balance. When I get stressed about a particular situation, I often allow myself to become consumed by it. That’s not healthy. Stepping away from the stressor to take on another simpler project allows me to gain some perspective and restores balance to my life. Not to mention, it feels really good to step back and see the fruits of my labors.

It’s ok to put my usual tasks on hold so we can clean up the leaves, or take down a fence, or move a bunch of overgrown bushes. Not only is it ok, it’s good for me. It takes me out of my world of extremes, allows me to work off my frustrations, and gives me the opportunity to be proud of a task I accomplished. All of these benefits are good on their own, but they’re all also excellent ways to reduce stress.


R,S,T – Remember [to] Say Thanks

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-08-24 11.00.39Everyone knows that it’s well-mannered to say, “Thank you.” when someone is kind or helpful. I do really well at thanking most people in my life, but I don’t do such a good job with my husband. I’ve been purposing to thank him more often for all of the wonderful things he does for me and for our family.

As I’ve been saying thank you more (although still not enough) I’ve discovered something interesting. Saying thank you often makes me feel really good.

I’m always appreciative of what my husband does for me, but, when I thank him out loud, something happens. First of all, I can see he really appreciates that I took the time to acknowledge his effort, and that alone is enough reason to do it, but something happens to me. It makes me feel happier and closer to him. Somehow, thanking him out loud makes me feel more connected to him.

You know what happens when I feel connected to my husband? My stress levels go down. The more connected I feel, the more supported I feel. The more supported I feel, the less stressed I feel.

The fact is, my husband always has my back, but, when I take the time to thank him out loud, I can feel that more. It’s amazing that the small effort involved in saying thanks makes me feel better, and it makes him feel more appreciated. I never realized the power of those two little words until recently. I’m so glad I did. I’m going to keep working to make those two words a very regular part of my vocabulary.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.


The other day I was really tense. I could feel my shoulders all clenched up. Then I realized that the majority of my body was doing the same thing. I got the bright idea to try the progressive muscle relaxation I learned in my Bradley Class when I was preparing for natural childbirth. In a nutshell, progressive muscle relaxation is when you contract a muscle and then relax it. You repeat the tensing and relaxing with muscle groups all over your body. When you’re finished, you check to see if any of your muscles are still tense. If they are, you can repeat on those areas. Anyway, by the time I was done with the technique I felt so much better, so much calmer, and my muscles were much more relaxed.

Since I first noticed this the other day, I have realized that when I get stressed, I tighten up my muscles. This makes so much sense because stress triggers our fight or flight response. This was fabulous for our ancestors who got stressed out about things like running into lions. Not so great for people like me who are perpetually stressed out.

I’ve realized that my muscles get tense really often. Many times a day. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m noticing it more and more. This is great because, when I notice it, I can quickly go through the relaxation exercises to loosen my muscles back up. Relaxing my muscles immediately makes me feel better physically, but it also makes me feel better mentally too. It’s really a great little trick for me. It takes minutes of my time, sometimes even only seconds if I only focus on one or two muscle groups, and it makes a huge difference. Ideally, I think you should probably go somewhere quiet and really focus on the technique, but I do it wherever I am when I notice the tension – standing over the stove, listening to a little one read on the couch, sitting in traffic. Wherever the tension strikes, I’m countering it with relaxation. It’s working so well for me!

O is for Outside

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2015-03-30 11.35.20Go outside! If it’s not raining, do it right now. I’m so serious. Being outside is a game changer. The fresh air, the green grass, the singing birds. I don’t know what it is. Reading that list back to myself sounds so cheesy, but I can’t delete it because it’s true.

I did some googling to try to find something credible to say about why being outside makes me feel so much less stressed, but I couldn’t find anything. Don’t get me wrong, there were TONS of articles about how going outside will rejuvenate you, lower your heart rate, decrease your stress levels, improve depression, etc., etc., etc. But none of them seemed to know why. I don’t really care why, I just know it works. So much so, that I’m making it a permanent fixture on my 6 most important things list.

From now on, if the weather is nice, I will spend a minimum of 15 minutes outside. 30 would be better. More would be great. I might sit and watch the kids play. I might sneak away from the kids and do a little reading. I might take the kids and go on a walk. I might sit on a bench and just watch my plants grow. Or go down to the pond and watch my insanely cute baby turtles swim around. Or maybe all of those things. It doesn’t really matter what I do, as long as I’m doing it outside. Being outside really does make everything seem better. It makes me calmer and happier, and I just love being out there. I’m so grateful the weather has been nicer because spending time outside has been so good for me and fun for the kids too.

Nip Negative Thinking

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

negative thoughts

As much as I don’t want to be, I’m a pessimist. When I was in high school, I used to proudly proclaim, “Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.” Not exactly a slogan to live by.

Actually, I like to think of myself as a recovering pessimist. But, unfortunately, I have frequent relapses. Especially when I’m stressed.

I don’t have to write paragraphs to explain why negative thinking doesn’t help my stress levels. It’s just fuel on the fire.

So, I thought I’d turn negative into something positive. I made a little acrostic poem to remind myself that negative, pessimistic thinking isn’t helpful. More that that, whatever I’m thinking probably isn’t even true.








(to) Encroach

Booya, negativity! I just made you into something positive.

(Haha! I think that’s probably the first (and hopefully only) time I’ve ever used the word “booya” in my life. Unfortunately for me, I put it in writing, so now this moment is immortal.)

Make A List

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

make a listI work really hard most days. So hard that, as I’ve already mentioned in this series, I don’t even grant myself the time I deserve for should-be priorities like eating, resting, cuddling my babies, laughing, or having fun. So you know what really upsets me and sends my stress level through the roof? When I sit down to dinner with my family, completely exhausted, and look around at my house and realize that it looks like I haven’t done anything all day. I run myself ragged, but, at the end of the day, it seems as if everything I’ve done has been undone by little hands, and things I really wanted to get done remain undone because I was too busy to get them done. It makes me feel like my life is completely out of control. It makes me feel like a failure.

Part of my problem is that I have really high expectations about what I should be able to accomplish in a day. I usually want to get about 50 more things accomplished than time will allow. As you can imagine, that means I don’t accomplish what I want to accomplish each day. The truth is I simply can’t accomplish that much in one day. No one could. There is only so much time. And only so many tasks can be completed in that finite amount of time.

I’ve always been a list person. Whatever I need to do goes on my list. Partly, so I don’t forget about it. And partly, well, because I’m a list person. I think up a new task, it goes on the list. The only thing I love more than making my list, is crossing things off my list.

So, at the end of the day, as I look around my messy house that I spent the whole day cleaning, I also see my list. My list full of un-crossed-off items. And I get really upset and uptight. How can there still be so many things left on my list?? How am I ever going to get all of these things done?? How will I prevent the world from spinning out of control?? (There goes that catastrophic thinking again…)

So, in preparation for this post, I’ve changed the way I make my list. And it’s worked out so well for me!

Every morning, I take out a sticky note. On the sticky note I write the six and only six things that I’m going to accomplish that day. (Sticky notes won’t hold much more than 6 items, so it keeps me from cheating. Otherwise, I might try to add a few “bonus” items.) Items 1 and 2 are the same every day: 1. school with A & J 2. read aloud. That only leaves me with 4 little ol’ spots for all the many things I think I need to do. This makes me prioritize my projects and it makes me stick to a reasonable number of tasks. I don’t have to accomplish my list in any order, my goal is just to accomplish it by the end of the day.

This little exercise has been so good for me! It feels so good to get to cross six things off my list every day. It feels so good to look at my list and know that I actually accomplished what I intended to do that day. It feels so good to sit down to dinner and know that, even though my house is a mess and I’m exhausted, my list is complete. It gives me tangible evidence that I did, in fact, accomplish something, even if I feel like there is still so much that could be done.

Keep It Real

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

masqueradeKeep it real. What do I mean by that? Basically, I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to fake it. I don’t have to pretend to like something I don’t. I don’t have to pretend everything is ok when it’s not. I don’t have to pretend I have it all together when I (probably very obviously to all of you) don’t.

The problem is, I’m always pretending. I’m not trying to be fake. I just don’t like to offend, upset, or inconvenience anyone. Because of that, I often go along with whatever I feel I must go along with. I’m not talking about merely being agreeable. I think, in a lot of circumstances, it’s probably better to be pleasant and agreeable. My problem is that I never, ever speak up about what I want or need. I just go with the flow, even when it’s to my own detriment, just for the sake of making things easy for others. I wish that I could claim that I’m some kind of big-hearted, generous person, but that’s not usually the case. I go along with whatever and then find myself stewing inside. Eventually, I get to a point where I’ve let so many things build up that I’ve got resentment bubbling out of my ears. Then I blow up. Usually at my poor husband. Whether or not he was actually the cause of said resentment. It’s not exactly a healthy cycle.

When I was growing up, I simply was not permitted to ever disagree with my mom. Her opinion was (and is) always right no matter what. I’m not trying to blame my mom for all of my faults. I’m a grown up, and I’m responsible for my own behavior. But, in this instance, I really do think that’s why I am the way I am. I think I was just trained to sweep my thoughts and feelings under the rug. (Or, at the very least, just never admit them out loud.) Now, that’s my default setting.

A lot of my stress comes from these kind of circumstances. Circumstances I could avoid if I would just speak up.

The flip side of this twisted logic is that I never ask for help when I need it. I don’t want to get in the way or be a burden or otherwise inconvenience anyone. I have a lot of really sweet people in my life. I’m sure if I ever reached out when I was in need, someone would be there for me. But I wouldn’t know if that’s true or not. Because I’ve never done it. At least not willingly.

If I look at all the times I don’t ask for help when I need it and all the times I go along with something or agree to do something when I really should have said no, I can find the source of the majority of my stress. If I can get myself to remember to “keep it real,” I think I can eliminate a lot of my stress right at the root.

Now that I think about it, I think I just figured out what emotional boundaries are. I’ve always been kind of confused about how to know where I need emotional boundaries. I think I finally understand. If I can remember to “keep it real” and actually act real, I think my emotional boundaries will naturally fall into place. I’m pretty sure this may be a life altering breakthrough for me.