This post was originally written by Leo Babauta for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
The last couple of days were just crazy for me. My days were jam-packed with activity, meetings, people stopping in to see me, hundreds of emails, phone calls and messages, one project after another. I am usually able to maintain calm and focus in the midst of a workday, but the last two days put my abilities to a test. I stayed calm, but the stress levels were definitely higher than I care for. After all that, I needed to decompress. Here are 11 ways to decompress after high stress.
11 Ways to Decompress After High Stress
So today is a decompression day for me. I have a number of tried-and-true methods that work for me, and I have to say, in the last 24 hours, my stress levels have dropped dramatically.
Here’s what works for me:
1. Deep breathing. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Now let it out … slowly. Try counting to 10 as you let out your breath. Feel the tension and stress flowing out of you with your breath. Repeat 3-10 times, as necessary.
2. Self-massage. I like to massage my shoulders, neck, head, lower back. It helps a lot. Even better: get someone else to do it for you! Another great relaxation technique is to tense up and then relax each muscle in your body, one at a time, starting from your toes up to your head.
3. Take a walk. When I’m in the middle of stress, I like to take 5, and take a walk around the building. I also do the deep breathing and self-massage mentioned above as I do so. It’s a great way of letting go of tension and allowing yourself to re-focus.
4. Exercise. This morning, I went to the beach at 5:30 a.m. and went for a swim. It was beautiful at the beach at around sunrise, and the swim was invigorating. Yesterday I went for a bike ride, and the morning before it was a short but refreshing run. Tomorrow I think I’ll do another short run. It really gets the stress out of your system and gives you some quiet time to think when you exercise.
5. Get outdoors. Even if I didn’t do the swim, just being there at the beach, with my decaf coffee, was calming. It’s nice to connect with nature and take in the beauty around you. While you’re there, stretch, yawn, take some deep breaths, and enjoy.
6. Take a day off. That’s what I’m doing today. I have lots of vacation and sick leave saved up, so it’s not a problem. I’m just going to veg out and allow myself to calm down and center.
7. Meditate. You don’t need to be trained to have a short, relaxing meditation session. Just sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, relax, and focus on your breathing. Try to concentrate on it coming into your body, and then going out.
When other things pop into your head (they will, inevitably), just acknowledge them (don’t try to force them out) and allow them to leave, and then focus again on your breathing. Do this for as long as you can, and then take a couple of cleansing breaths, and get up a new person.
8. Read. I like to throw myself on the couch with a good book. Well, not necessarily a good book — a page-turner. Something that will engross me completely, take my mind off everything else.
John Grisham works well for me, as does William Gibson. And Terry Pratchett. Or Ann Patchett, for that matter. And Stephen King. Just get lost in their world.
9. Love. I like to spend time with my family. Just snuggle with them, focus on them, forget about the world. They are what’s important, and sometimes I need that reminder.
10. Disconnect. Turn off the phones, turn off the computer, and shut off the outside world for a little while. These things just raise your stress level. Go offline and forget about the online world! You can do it!
11. Take a nap. One of my favorites. Just take a 30-minute nap, and you’re re-set! A nap is like a restart button for life.
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Simple Ways to Live a Less Stressful Life
If you’re finding that you’re frequently having times of high stress that you need to decompress from, here are 10 simple ways to live a less stressful life in general.
Now, your life will probably never be stress-free — I don’t think that’s even desirable, even if it is possible, because stress is something that challenges us and helps us grow. At a reasonable level. But when stress gets too high, it causes us to be unhappy and unhealthy.
So I made some drastic changes. I simplified my life. I started exercising and eating healthier. I began to eliminate my debt. And I learned some habits that, when applied on a daily basis, can really transform the way you live, in a positive way.
1. One thing at a time. This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Right now. Focus as much as possible on doing one thing at a time. Clear your desk of distractions. Pick something to work on. Need to write a report? Do only that.
Remove distractions such as phones and email notifications while you’re working on that report. If you’re going to do email, do only that. This takes practice, and you’ll get urges to do other things. Just keep practicing and you’ll get better at it.
2. Simplify your schedule. A hectic schedule is a major cause of high stress. Simplify by reducing the number of commitments in your life to just the essential ones. Learn to say no to the rest — and slowly get out of commitments that aren’t beneficial to you.
Schedule only a few important things each day, and put space between them. Get out of meetings when they aren’t absolutely essential. Leave room for down time and fun.
3. Get moving. Do something each day to be active — walk, hike, play a sport, go for a run, do yoga. It doesn’t have to be grueling to reduce stress. Just move. Have fun doing it.
4. Develop one healthy habit this month. Other than getting active, improving your health overall will help with the stress. But do it one habit at a time. Eat fruits and veggies for snacks. Floss every day. Quit smoking. Cook something healthy for dinner. Drink water instead of soda. One habit at a time.
5. Do something calming. What do you enjoy that calms you down? For many people, it can be the “get moving” activity discussed above. But it could also be taking a nap, or a bath, or reading.
Other people are calmed by housework or yard work. Some people like to meditate, or take a nature walk. Find your calming activity and try to do it each day.
6. Simplify your finances. Finances can be a drain on your energy and a major stressor. If that’s true with you, figure out ways to simplify things. Automate savings and bill payments and debt payments.
Spend less by going shopping (at malls or online) much less. Find ways to have fun that don’t involve spending money.
7. Have a blast! Have fun each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I like to play with my kids — they take my mind off everything and are really hilarious. I also like to play sports. Board games are fun. Whatever you choose, be sure to laugh.
8. Get creative. Throwing yourself into a creative activity is another great way to de-stress and to prevent stress. I like writing, but others like to paint or play music or sketch or make pottery or do interior design or build things.
9. Declutter. This is a favorite of mine. I like to take 20-30 minutes and just go through a room, getting rid of stuff we don’t use or need anymore. I look around at anything that’s cluttering up a room, and get rid of it or find a better place for it.
When I’m done, I have a nice, peaceful environment for work, play, and living. Do this a little at a time — it can be one of your “fun activities”.
10. Be early. Try to leave earlier by getting ready earlier, or by scheduling more space between events.
Things always take longer than normal, so schedule some buffer time: extra time to get ready, to commute, to do errands before you need to be somewhere, to attend a meeting before another scheduled appointment. If you get somewhere early, it’s good to have some reading material.
What are your favorite ways of decompressing after a stressful day?