Stress, it’s a killer, isn’t it? Literally! I don’t think I have to tell you about all of the negative health effects of being stressed out all of the time. We all know that it can cause everything from headaches to weight gain, and worsen every condition from heart disease to infertility. Knowing that stress is bad for you is one thing. Putting a stop to it is another entirely. There’s no magic button we can push in our brains to make us relax and stop worrying. Wouldn’t that be so nice, though? Maybe in the creepy future, when our brains are completely controlled by computers.
For me, stress creates this maddening cycle that reminds me of the ouroboros (I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use that word for a while now). You know, that mythical mystical symbol with the snake eating his tail. I get stressed out because of money, which gives me a headache, which makes it hard to focus so I can write and earn money, which makes me more stressed out. And the snake goes round and round. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with different ways not only to relieve stress, but also zap my brain fog and help me focus better. I’ve tried a mix of new and old ways to relax. Check out what’s worked for me so far!
My Top 10 Ways to De-Stress and Focus Better
1- Five Minutes in the Dark
If you have access to a sensory deprivation chamber, I hear they work wonders. My cousin tried one and loved it. I think it would freak me out more, though, and besides, I don’t know where to find one. Instead, I hide in my bathroom in the dark for five minutes. I lock the door, turn off the lights and sit on the floor. For the first minute, I’m either bawling or hyperventilating over whatever drove me into the bathroom in the first place. Then, after a minute or two, I start to calm down. I just sit there and think about the darkness until my brain shuts up. Obviously, if you’re afraid of the dark, this one won’t work for you.
2- B Vitamins
After saying that I needed to take more B-Complex for the last 15 years, I finally STARTED taking a supplement. I bought a $5 vial of sublingual (under the tongue) B-Complex from my local Dollar General. They had a BOGO Free sale that day. I’ll be honest, it tastes like something you’d burp up, but if you keep it under your tongue, it’s not too bad. I keep a chaser handy for when I do swallow what’s left after the rest absorbs in. I’ve only been taking it for about two weeks now, but I definitely notice a difference. I’m not saying my stress is gone (not by a long shot), but I don’t get quite as frazzled by minor things anymore. My head also feels a bit more clear for an hour or two after taking it. As always, talk to your doc before you start messing around with supplements.
When I get stressed, my whole body feels like it’s wound too tight. Turns out, it kind of is! Think about it: when you’re feeling anxious, you kind of fold in on yourself. You hunch your shoulders and neck, draw your arms in closer to your body, and tense up all over the place. If you live in a constant state of stress, your muscles are pretty much always clenched. My neck and shoulders don’t even know what it’s like to feel relaxed. Stretching exercises help you loosen up and relieve some of the literal tension, which in turn relieves your figurative tension.
Since I’m not exactly a limber person, I’ve come to rely on my Plexus Wheel to help me really roll out my muscles. They were cool enough to send me one to try out for free, and now I’m crazy addicted to it. I can even do shoulder stands with it! No, you’re not getting a picture of that, I’m pretty sure I look like a spazz when doing it, but it feels great. I have the 12″ Standard Wheel, which is great for shoulders and back pain. I want to get the Micro wheel, too, to target specific muscles better. You can buy a 3-pack with all of the sizes to really work your whole body. They have some great deals going on both on Amazon and on their website. Make sure you check out all of their videos to learn how to use it.
aren’t all about mandalas and nature designs anymore. There’s a HUGE variety in every genre and for every mood. Feeling totally ticked off and need to let off some steam? Color one in these sweary books! Want to get whisked away to a dreamy land while you color? Try one of the many coloring books based on fairy tales, YA books and more. Do not underestimate the relaxing power of grabbing a box of crayons and reverting back to those blissful childhood days when life was so much simpler. There’s only one rule: don’t stress if you color outside the lines! Remember, it’s supposed to be blissful, you’re not creating the next great work of art for the Louvre.
5- Puzzle Games
Spending a few minutes (or hours, if you want) playing games on your iPad is a great way to destress. If you want to destress AND boost your brain power, though, puzzle games are where it’s at. They challenge your mind while giving your body a chance to unwind a bit. I’m currently addicted to Best Fiends because, unlike SOME games, I don’t get stuck on a level for months on end. I’m up in the 300s right now and I’ve never been stuck on a level for more than a day, unless you count the little side missions. I just plain can’t beat those. I have enough stress in my life. I don’t need to add “can’t even beat level 51 of the latest candy matching game” to the list.
6- Coffee with an added boost
Yes, I know that “they” say caffeine and stress don’t really play nice together, but I would be a million times more stressed out if someone took my coffee away from me. Sometimes, a steaming hot cup of Joe is enough to help me chill out and think more clearly. If your plain old coffee isn’t doing it for you, try Kimera Koffee! It’s infused with “focus boosters” like Taurine, Alpha GPC, DMAE, and L-Theanine (also called “nootropics”). I was a bit skeptical, both about how it would taste and whether it would actually help me focus better. They sent me two bags to try out, and I’ve been drinking just one cup a day for the last two weeks. I think it actually does help clear my brain fog. I compared how I feel first thing in the morning after drinking plain coffee versus Kimera, and I definitely feel like I can start my work day a little earlier with Kimera. It doesn’t take as long for my brain to wake up.
It comes in two different flavors: Regular Kimera Koffee in the black and white bag is your average medium roast. Jujimufu’s Brew is for people who like a bolder roast, and it’s my favorite. The coffee itself is Single-Estate sourced from the high-altitude region of the Domincan Republic. The Nootropics come from a US company. It tastes exactly like regular coffee, but I do notice a very slight filmy layer when it brews. Just stir it up, though, and it vanishes. While they say you can drink 2-3 cups a day, honestly, I just stick with one. It is a bit pricier than plain old coffee, but overall, it’s cheaper than buying all of infused ingredients separate. Nootropics are hot right now, which of course raises the price. Kind of like how St. John’s Wort was dirt cheap until Oprah or someone did a special on how it’s good for depression. Then the price doubled overnight. Also, while the Nootropics are considered general safe, like other supplements you should check with your doctor first. Head over to Kimera Koffee to learn more!
7- Scheduling your anxiety
Sounds weird, but putting “time to worry” on your daily calendar really does help you get it out of your mind a bit. Give yourself a 15-minute time slot to fret away. If you feel dread pushing in on you during the rest of the day, just remind yourself that you’ve already scheduled a time to deal with it later. Use your scheduled stress time to write down everything that’s currently freaking you out and brainstorm ideas on how to deal with them. Instead of worrying about money all day long, I can schedule in “freak out about the bills” for 2:15PM. When that time rolls around, rather than just mindlessly freaking out, I write down the things that I’m most worried about and come up with a game plan in case they really happen. Start with the worse case scenario. Once you’ve figured out what you’ll do if that happens, the rest is easier.
Aromatherapy itself isn’t exactly a “surprising” way to relieve stress. Its benefits have been touted for a zillion years. My take on what to use in your diffuser, though, may be a bit more surprising. Everyone is always talking about lavender for relieving stress and helping your relax. Lavender this, lavender that. Put it in your diffuser, spray it in your room, bathe in it, douse your body in it (no, don’t!). Sure, it’s a fantastic little herb for promoting relaxation, but honestly, it makes me sleepy and it’s far from my favorite scent.
Instead, I use bright and happy essential oils to help me destress and boost my ability to focus. I’m a HUGE fan of peppermint oil, especially when I have a tension headache. I also adore anything citrus. I’m currently loving “Slim” by GuruNanda because it’s both energizes and soothes. They sent me a bunch of their essential oil singles and blends, along with that super pretty color-changing diffuser you see above.
One thing I love about their blends is that each one is made up of 100% pure essential oils. I’ve seen way too many blends out there that are 99% carrier oil and 1% essential oil. While you definitely need carrier oil if you’re applying the EOs to your skin, there’s just no reason for them in diffuser blends. Now, GuruNanda does sell roll-on oils, and those are blended with sweet almond oil. Again, since you’re putting it on your body, that makes sense. GuruNabda also has a pretty fair pricing system. All of the “standard” single EOs and blends are just $7.99. The exotics can run a bit higher, but still pretty fair. Yes, even that $198 Bulgarian Rose Oil is priced about right (rose oil is crazy expensive in general). Visit GuruNanda’s website to check out all of their essential oils and complementary products.
Bottom line: don’t feel like you have to go with an essential oil blend that you kind of hate just because the rest of the world says it’s the most “relaxing” or “soothing” scent. Find the one that helps you find your bliss and diffuse the heck out of that baby.
9- See a Chiropractor
I just started seeing a chiropractor and it’s doing wonders for my tension headaches. I was apprehensive at first because I went like 20 years ago and it did more harm than good. But I have so much chronic back pain that I can barely sit still anymore. I can’t get injections because I’m terrified of them due to a traumatic experience. I’ve been popping anti-inflammatory meds like candy for the last few years and they’re destroying my stomach. My doctor suggested either PT or chiro. I’ve tried PT and just didn’t see the point. They gave me exercises on a sheet of paper, told me to go sit in the chair and do them, hooked me up to a TENS unit, then sent me home. I have a chair and a TENS at home, so I just started doing it myself.
I’m really glad that I decided to give chiro a try. I go for both my lower back problems and my neck pain. I never realized how tight my neck, shoulder and upper back muscles were until he started working them. If you’re not sold on them, consider this: Chiropractors have come a long way in just the last decade. It’s not all adjustments and back cracking anymore. In fact, my chiropractor only does the whole “adjustment” thing for like a minute of my 15-minute visit. The rest of the time, he uses this weird little metal spatula to work out adhesions in my muscles. Hey, don’t knock it, it actually works.
10- Binaural Beats
Another super weird thing that I just started trying recently, binaural beats are apparently all the rage right now. I found them when I was looking for new ways to get rid of migraines, since I had a killer headache and nothing was working. You’ll find a ton of them on YouTube, and you have to listen through headphones to get the most benefit. I’m not sure about the science (or if there really is any), but basically, binuaral beats are like two different sounds going into your head at once. That’s how I understand it, anyway. Correct me if I’m wrong, I’m super confused about how they work, I just know that they do.
You will need to listen to a bunch of different ones to find that magical beat that soothes your mind and soul. Some of them literally drive me crazy, but others instantly make me feel more Zen. Oh, and some make my ears itch! What’s up with that? Like I said, you really have to go through them and figure out which work for you. If the first few seconds make you want to tear your eardrums out, move on to the next.
11 More great ways to relieve stress so you can focus
The above are my current favorite ways to de-stress, but there are countless other ways. If those don’t work, try some of these:
- Vent to your dog: can’t say what’s on your mind to people in your life? Tell your dog how you feel! Just don’t yell. No need to stress him out, too.
- Throw something out. Feeling cluttered but don’t really have time to organize the house? Just clean out one drawer and throw away as much junk as possible. Letting go of random crap around your house helps you let go of the mental things weighing you down.
- Delete emails and files from your computer or phone: Digital clutter is just as stressful (more, for me) as clutter in your house. Freeing up space on your PC, tablet or phone also helps free up your mind!
- Watch depressing movies: sometimes, a good cry is all you need to let out some stress
- Take a cool shower: hot baths are great for relaxing…unless you’re already hot yourself. Jump into a lukewarm or cool shower to feel rejuvenated in a flash.
- Read a mindless book: Forget the self-help books, they just make me feel like I’m doing everything wrong. Dive into a mindlessly entertaining novel full of improbable things like insta-love, heroines that never learn their lesson, and epic battles that suddenly get resolved within the last 2 pages. Hey, suspending disbelief for a few hours is a great way to teach yourself to think outside the boring box.
- Make lists: Lists bring me such joy. I like to make them right after I’ve done a bunch of productive things. I add all those things that I just did to my list, then cross them off. Cheating? Maybe, but it’s pure ZEN, my friends! I also make lists of ideas when they strike so I never have to spend half an hour staring into space trying to think of what to write about next.
- Surprise yourself. It’s kind of hard to buy yourself a surprise on Amazon (I mean, it’s not really a surprise if you know its coming), but subscription boxes are a whole other ball game. Pick one that sounds good, order it, then don’t even peek at this month’s theme. When it comes, you’ll have a box full of fun treats!
- Turn off the “read receipts” on your phone. You know what stresses me out like crazy? Read receipts. People see that you’ve read their message, and now you have all of this pressure to respond. If you don’t have time to do it right away, you start to worry “will they think I’m ignoring them on purpose?” Or worse, they’ll text you two minutes later with “is something wrong?” Stop sending out “read” receipts and no one will ever know if you’ve looked at your phone. Forget to text them back for two days? Just tell them your phone was dead under your seat in your car and you couldn’t find it! 😀
- Filter your Facebook. Another quick way to zap stress and spend more time actually focusing on beneficial things: “unfollow” toxic people on Facebook. Unfriending works too, but sometimes those toxic people are related to you. During and after the election, I unfollowed SO many people. Sadly, way too many of my friends and family supported “the wrong” person (in my opinion, and that’s all I’m saying about it). I’ve pretty much managed to make my Facebook feed hate-free, and I feel so much better for it.
- Count out of sequence. I saw this tip on that show Bull (the one with Tony from NCIS) and it actually kind of works. When you’re totally freaking out and can’t pull it together, start counting out of sequence. Like 1,2,3,5,8,17,12,15,9 etc. I can’t remember why it works, but if a TV shrink said to give it a try, it has to be good, right? Seriously, though, try it.
So, do you feel a little better yet? Some of these things may seem weird, others are a little obvious but with my own twist. All of them have helped me alleviate stress and focus better at some point, though. Sometimes I do have to try a few before my breathing returns to normal, but eventually I chill out.
What about you? What are some weird or surprising ways that you relieve your stress? Share below!