Personal Development

7 Sure-Fire Ways to Reduce Stress and Restore Your Sanity

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story on the trend in slow reading. The idea is that intentional time in a book can improve our minds and reduce our stress.

If you’re a book person like me, this is no surprise. It doesn’t matter if it’s paper or digital, just taking thirty minutes out of a busy day brings me a sense of calm. A good book gives me a moment to myself in a world of racing and rushing and lets me collect my thoughts—or even escape them for a while.

We all have favorite things we do to deal with the stress in our lives. These are things that take our minds off our difficulties, help us reframe them, or reenergize us to face them. Here are my top-seven stress reducers.

  1. Exercise. I’ve been using a trainer for a while, but before that my primary exercise was running. It’s still the centerpiece for me. Running cuts my stress in several ways. Not only do the endorphins and improved circulation help, but it also gives me a big hunk of time for thinking and processing. It’s impossible to count the number of times I’ve left the house in a knot and come home with a solution.
  2. Sleep. Getting solid, regular sleep has become one of the main things I do stay balanced. I’ve written a lot about the importance of sleep. Few things charge my batteries and boost my optimism like waking refreshed after a good nap or a long night’s sleep.
  3. Connection. Time with friends and family can melt troubles. The people who bring us joy may not even know the burdens we hold when we sit down to the table or lean against the porch railing—and we just might forget them too. It happens to me all the time. Laughing, telling stories, and even sharing our frustrations can make us feel restored and our problems more manageable.
  4. Learning. Reading is a big part of this for me, but I find conferences, courses, and hands-on training work too. For me, learning is not only entertaining, it’s also empowering—both of which are good for battling stress.
  5. Art. I love photography. I geek out with the technology and theory. When I was on my sabbatical in August, I spent a lot of time behind the camera. Creative and artistic expressions are immersive and restorative. Gail found this with painting. I also experience it with music, particularly playing guitar.
  6. Movies. Consuming art, especially film and theater, also helps lower my stress. The theater environment creates an immersive experience that pushes everything else to the margins. Depending on the movie, I can leave reflective or reenergized. Either way, I usually find myself in a better place than when the lights come up.
  7. Gratitude. If there’s a category killer for stress reduction, it’s gratitude. The other day I was frantically working on a project, trying to complete it. Gail had gone to dinner with friends, but called to interrupt me. Drop what you’re doing and go look at the sunset, she told me. I didn’t want to, but I took her advice.

    I stepped outside, and the sky was dazzling. Suddenly my heart filled with gratitude—for Gail, who made me stop, for God, who painted such an arresting scene, for everything really. It hardly matters how tough things are, slowing down long enough to be grateful washes most of life’s stress away.

Not all stress is bad. Deadlines, the demands of excellence, pleasing customers, and so on, all come with stress. But that stress can bring out our peak performance. Still, we can’t live under the gun all the time. We need periods of intense engagement and periods of retreat and relaxation—otherwise we’ll burn out.

Whether it’s a good book, a long jog, a fun movie, or an engaging conversation, finding an effective way to unwind is essential for coming back strong again and again.

What stress reducers work best for you?

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