I have had so many people ask me how to reduce the stress in their lives. Being a massage therapist, I feel reducing stress is sort of my “specialty”; so I started thinking about what massage therapists do to help others relax, and what I specifically do for myself. Here are some tips I came up with; see if any of these will work for you:
- First things first: take care of yourself first. We all have so many responsibilities, but if we are not taking care of ourselves, those responsibilities will not be met. I think of the talk they give on the airlines before you take off: “in case of a lack of oxygen, place the mask OVER YOUR OWN FACE FIRST, THEN (and only then) place a mask over the face of your children”. Obviously, if you die from lack of oxygen, trying to take care of others first, you won’t be able to help them at all, and you both go down. Got it? Don’t miss this!
- Know what your purpose is. I know this sounds like it comes right out of the self help community, but it also comes out of the organizational management community. If you know what your purpose is, you can define your priorities and know what doesn’t contribute to that goal. In other words, if you are having to take care of ailing parents, you certainly can’t lead three classes a week that someone else thinks you should. You can clearly define that time needs to be dedicated to your goal. Another example, if you are starting your own business, you aren’t going to use the time you need to work on that to bake cookies for a cookie exchange (unless that is your business). See where it could be easier to say “no”?
- Have regular sleep habits. Keep in mind that most of our bodies’ restorative processes happen at night, when we sleep; not while we watch tv or look at Facebook.
- Gratitude. First thing in the morning, I write in a gratitude journal. I believe starting the day in this manner (or ending it if you do it at night), allows your mind to focus on the good in your life instead of all the things that could or do go wrong. This is powerful, don’t underestimate it.
- Schedule “white space” in your day. I don’t know where I heard this term, but I love it. Have small amounts of time between events that really are space makers. Time where you can take a short time to regroup your thoughts, or even just have time available if something takes more time than you expected. It can be as little as two minutes or as long as an hour. One way to do this is to plan extra time for any activity you have planned. When you come home from work, try to have at least half an hour to just rest and wind down before you jump into your next activity. I know, usually it is preparing dinner and everyone is hungry. Well, if they are hungry, tell them what they can do to help while you go change your clothes and take a breath.
- Hug your loved ones as often as you can. You may have heard that touch is a language that your body understands. It definitely is, and it communicates to your brain and body that “everything is alright” and “I am safe and loved”. So if your family is not a family of body contact, then don’t give them a choice…hug them, you need it.
- Walk outside, or get into nature as often as possible. There are so many reasons for this, I would have to write a book on it. Just know that nature resonates very well with your body, allows the negative ions to dispel the free radicals in your atoms, activates your circadian rhythm, allowing you to sleep better, and the movement is lubricating to your joints. Please don’t make it a power walk (unless you love that); a leisurely walk that you enjoy is what will lower your cortisol and allow you to relax.
- Have a rest day. Women especially feel they should not be allowed to rest. I realize there is more to do in a week than we can possibly fit into seven days, let alone six. However, try to choose one day to ignore the housework and do the relaxing things. Include your loved ones, make it a social day. Don’t try to catch up on everything that did not get done during the week. Rebel against the “gotta do” list. Make this a day where the purpose is to rejuvenate for the next week. Take a nap, take a walk, go out to dinner with friends, go to a movie; do things that feed you.
- Practice forgiveness. This does not mean agreeing with what they have done to you. It means realizing that holding onto unforgiveness is hurting you, not them. it means moving on and learning the lesson that you will try to avoid that situation or person in the future. Unforgiveness is a cancer in the body, that will eat you from the inside out. Get rid of it, for your own sake.
- Work on your relationships. When you come to the end of your life. You won’t be upset that you didn’t get your To Do list done; you will be thinking about your loved ones and your friends. One exercise that I like is this: Ask yourself, if this was your last day on Earth, what would you do? What would be the most important to you? Washing those dishes? (if so, go back to number 2 above!) No, it should be letting those around you know that you love them. So how would you show them that? My suggestion is you should do that now, when you have plenty of time on Earth. Let them know you love them and work on those relationships that need it. Again, this is for you.
I know, you are wondering how any of this fits into what a massage therapist does; it doesn’t, or does it? What we do is create a setting for you to relax. Low light, soft, slow music, a comfortable temperature…these are the environment for relaxation; however, they only help in the short term. We also provide encouragement, understanding, unconditional acceptance and touch. Hmmm, does any of this sound like what I talked about above? These are actually our tricks to reduce your stress. I can tell you to take a bath with candlelight and soft music. But you know as well as I do, once you get out of the bathtub and walk into the kitchen to see a mound of dishes, your relaxation is gone. You have to work on it and protect it. You also need those around you to respect you and help you, as you do them. Look at the list again and see if there is an area that is calling you to work on it. Please do it, for your own stress level, and for those around you.
Certified Health Coach
Institute for Integrative Nutrition