Stress Management: Like Brushing Your Teeth Only Much More Fun

Did you know that stress can accumulate over time if not dealt with on a daily basis? It's kind of like plaque buildup on your teeth. If you don't brush and floss on a daily basis, the plaque hardens and causes gum disease and bad breath.

But as well as causing tooth decay, did you know that there's a correlation between plaque buildup, gingivitis, and even cancer??? In light of this, a little daily brushing and flossing seems like time well spent, doesn't it?

Like plaque, stress can build up, too, but it can contribute to a host of diseases, including obesity, high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, anxiety, depression, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, ulcers, immune dysfunction, headaches, diabetes, skin conditions, muscles aches, and many, many more.

According to WebMD, 75 to 90 percent of doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Imagine what a few minutes of de-stressing every day could do to improve your overall quality of life! And it doesn't have to be boring, either. Creating de-stressing routines are an opportunity to shoe-horn a little fun and relaxation between all the to-do items.

To give you some ideas about how to build your own de-stressing routines, I thought I'd share the daily routines that I've created over the years to help me manage and cope with stress including morning, afternoon, and evening rituals.

My morning routine is very important. When I miss it--and yes, I do sometimes oversleep and have to run out the door like a mad woman--my day is a little more hectic. The morning routine fortifies me against the day's onslaughts. Starting the day calm and centered makes me much less reactive to events and much more proactive, which means I'm less likely to stress out.

I wake up before my household, make a cup of coffee and spend a few quiet moments sipping in silence. Then I a spend a few minutes meditating, read something uplifting and inspiring like Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and get in a workout, yoga, or a walk in the woods. I make myself a nourishing smoothie and then I'm off to the races getting kiddos to school, appointments with clients, running errands, volunteering, and working on the latest project.

Once I get home, I have an afternoon routine designed to shed the day's stressors and transition my brain and body out of the active, get-things-done mode: I make myself a cup of tea or a quart jar of ice-cold Good Girl Moonshine (non-alcoholic ;-) ) and a snack, then settle into a comfy chair to read a chapter of a book, watch a YouTube episode or listen to a podcast of something entertaining or educational. I avoid anything news or politics related because this is relaxing time. I'm very careful of what I "consume" during this time, both mentally, emotionally, and physically. It's critical to be gentle with yourself.

Then, it's usually time to start dinner, greet the kids and their dad as they get home from school, and otherwise get into the evening routine with the family. Of course, this varies depending on whether the kids are currently playing sports or involved in other afterschool activities. I must admit, I prefer the non-sport seasons. Life is hectic enough without soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, and play practice to scramble around for. BUT if I do have to run off to a game or practice, I make my drink to go and make sure I have a podcast downloaded or a book to listen to as I take my time driving to and from wherever. I get my relaxation time however I can during sports seasons.

When everyone's home and dinner is cleaned up, the kids start their homework and I spend some time in the kitchen prepping for the next day or experimenting with new, healthy recipes. But this is also de-stressing time for me. I enjoy cooking and baking if I have a clean kitchen and no one underfoot. ;-) I like to prep healthy snacks, bake healthier versions of desserts, and otherwise play with new recipes. It's fun and takes the edge of whatever residual stress remains from the day. It also gives my brain something to focus on other than the usual repetitive stressful thoughts.

If I get a chance to watch a television program, I usually have a knitting project in my lap. Knitting has been one of the most valuable destressing hobbies I've ever taken up. I've learned that a few minutes of "in the zone" knitting is as effective as meditation at calming my brain. The rhythm is soothing; the texture of the yarn and needles is soothing; the visual, tangible progress is satisfying. I highly recommend taking up knitting or crocheting. Just keep in mind that learning to knit or crochet takes some practice and isn't necessarily relaxing right off the bat. Be patient. It's worth the learning curve.

Last, I have a before bed routine that is essential for a good night's sleep, which is essential for de-stressing. Sleep is healing. Sleep is rejuvenating. Sleep maintains our sanity. If we're not getting good sleep, we're not healing, emotionally or physically. To get my brain primed for sleep, I start diffusing relaxing essential oils about 2 hours before bed. My favorite blend right now is 4 drops of Wild Orange or Grapefruit and 2 drops of Frankincense. This diffuses while I'm watching TV and knitting or reading a book.

When it's time to get ready for bed, I add 1 drop of Cedarwood, 2 drops of doTERRA's Breathe blend, 2 drops Wild Orange, and 1 drop Vetiver to my bedroom diffuser and push the start button. Then I head to the bathroom to brush teeth, wash my face, and use that time to repeat whatever mantra I'm currently working on. Like, this month I'm repeating, "I accept myself unconditionally, right now" while looking at myself in the mirror. And, yes, I've written it on a sticky note and slapped it on my mirror to remind myself.

Once I've brushed my hair and put away whatever I left lying around my bathroom and closet, I plug my phone in the charger IN THE LIVING ROOM. I bought one of those charging stations that can hold up to 10 phones/tablets/e-readers so everyone in the family can leave their phones on the bookshelf about an hour before bedtime. Everyone except my hubs, that is. *sigh*

Getting the cell phone out of the bedroom has had a very positive impact on me. First, I'm no longer scrolling through social media in bed, which is the worst time to be getting your "likes" fix. Why? Because social media has been shown to have negative effects on self-esteem and self-control, as well as induce anxiety, frustration, and anger. Do you doubt me? Tell me all about that obnoxious meme your cousin shared about such-and-such political figure...and then tell me how you feel. Is that feeling conducive to rest and relaxation?

If you still doubt that social media is negatively impacting your ability to rest in the evening, do a little experiment: Stop interacting with social media one hour before bedtime and see what happens.

There's nothing earth-shattering about my bedtimem routine, but it's the fact that I have a bedtime routine at all that makes falling asleep like, well, clockwork. My brain is trained like one of Pavlov's dogs. From the moment the first diffuser blend wafts through the air until I crawl between the sheets, it starts the process of unwinding and preparing for the sleep. From brushing my teeth to, yes, picking up and putting away my belongings, I'm creating a sense of calm and peace.

I know it doesn't sound as much like a de-stressing routine as my morning routine, but it most definitely is. Self-care such as brushing your hair has a soothing effect, as well. And by the way, I not only fall asleep most nights as soon as my head hits the pillow, I also sleep a good, solid 7-8 hours. Occasionally, I wake up at 3 am but that's either hormone or wine related, and not due to unmanaged daytime stress.

Speaking of wine...I know a lot of us have a glass of wine in the evenings to unwind, and that's really mostly fine. But be aware that while it helps us fall asleep, it can also trigger a rebound effect in the middle of the night, waking us up. Interrupted sleep is not as restful. The rule of thumb is to make sure you've processed all the alcohol in your system before bedtime...which means your last drink should be around 4 hours before bed. Yeah, I know. I know. Just do your best and definitely don't stress about it.

That's it! That's my daily routines. Okay, so it sounds like a lot, but remember I built this routine over years. And it changes. The key? Add one little 60-second thing at a time AND tie the new element/routine to something you already do, like, oh...I don't know...brushing your teeth? ;-) Seriously, this works like magic. It's known as "habit stacking" and it works.

Once the new habit has taken hold, which usually happens after a month of consistent practice, you can work on adding something else. But don't be in any hurry. Make sure what you're adding is something you enjoy, first and foremost. And if it doesn't take hold, take a break. Maybe it's not the right thing for you. That's okay. Maybe try again down the road.

Overall, the most important thing is to take a minute or two every single day to do something, anything that is fun, comforting, and/or soothing. All of the above is ideal. Destressing routines should involve pleasurable activities, as well as self-care activities, and it works even better if they're both. Avoid forcing prescribed routines on yourself. Trying to make yourself meditate when you hate it is not relaxing.

Life is meant to be enjoyed. Having fun is one of the ways we heal and recharge our batteries. Make sure you create some time to enjoy life and you'll be less likely develop those streass-related ailments down the road.

Much love and light!

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