We all experience stress at one time or another. If you’re like me, chronic stress has become a regular part of who you are, just as much as putting shoes on before you leave your house. It sounds pathetic, but more importantly it is extremely unhealthy. I’m finally saying, enough is enough! I’ve put together my current top 5 tips for relieving stress, but before we jump in let’s take a trip down memory lane and talk about where my journey with stress started.
…my mom would tease me that when I was a baby I wouldn’t leave the blanket because I didn’t like the feeling of grass or sand under my fingers. I’ll admit, not much has changed. I don’t even like the feeling of socks! But I started to exhibit signs of stress from an early age. I frequently worried about the choices my siblings were making (no offense, you guys lol), whether or not I was doing enough to please my parents, or living up to the expectations of my religion. My parents were always supportive and never unreasonably tough on me, but I still put pressure on myself to constantly be better. Can you relate?
My anxiety and depression eventually spiraled out of control and I ended up meeting with multiple therapists and tried various antidepressants to find the right one for me. Let’s take a moment and address this, because I have no idea why there is so much societal shame in going to therapy or taking antidepressants. It’s something I’ve never shied away from talking about, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be more open about it. I honestly feel that therapy and antidepressants saved my life. By 15 years old, I was suicidal and wasting away. Taking the right antidepressant got me to a place I was more willing to help myself. And, therapy taught me the tools I needed to work through emotions, find peace with my past, and advocate for what I needed.
Fast Forward to College…
…I started to fall back into old ways of thinking and poor stress management skills. It’s not surprising; college is hard! And, there’s a saying in the dietetics community that most dietitians are Type A personalities. I felt pressure to meet this model of what a dietitian “should” be, which only exacerbated the stress I was already feeling.
I was also newly wed, newly living on my own away from my family, and learning what it meant to be a “poor college student.” There were countless tearful nights but thankfully I was able to surround myself with enough friends that said ‘screw it’ to perfectionism, which helped a lot. And, my husband – my rock – he was there to wipe away every tear, and be the listening ear and voice of reason I needed and continue to need.
…you know the saying, we’re all a work in progress? That couldn’t be more true. Life will ebb and flow. We have our good days and bad days, or months. Over the last year I once again found myself feeling that loss of “control.” You know what’s funny? I never actually had control of my life. None of us do. So if you can accept what is, and trust that you will make the decision that is right for you in any given moment, the peace you so eagerly seek will come naturally. But, of course, I’m still working on this. 🙂
Little signs started creeping up that reminded me I needed to do a better job at managing my stress. I became more irritable (sorry, hubby!). I was hyper focused on the food I was eating. My irritable bowel symptoms were awwwwful (hello, abdominal cramps and bloating!), and my stress popped up all over my face (yay, adult acne)!
Then there were BIG signs that I wasn’t doing a good job at managing my stress. I got SHINGLES. I had no risk factors – I’m young, I wasn’t taking any immunosuppressants, and according to my doctor, I didn’t have cancer (I asked). The only thing I could attribute the outbreak to was stress.
It gets worse
Next, I had a panic attack. Full fledged. Couldn’t move. I felt paralyzed to my couch. I just sat there and sobbed. At the time I couldn’t think. I couldn’t figure out why it was happening, I just knew I needed to let all of my emotions out. The following days and weeks had me reflecting a lot. I was scared that I was spiraling down into depression, and I felt like I didn’t know how to get out of it this time. One thing I did know…I have got to take my emotional health more seriously.
I started out by researching antidepressants vs natural remedies. Not homeopathic type remedies, but different ways of treating depression and anxiety without synthetic drugs. Not that I’m against antidepressants; I fully believe that antidepressants helped me reach a place I was willing to help myself. But before I ventured down that path again, I wanted to figure out what else I could do.
What I Am Doing | 5 Tips for Relieving Stress
1) I’m giving myself permission to slow down
Isn’t it sad that we have to put in effort to allow ourselves to relax? I feel like our society gives out gold stars to whoever can do the most and push through the hardest when times are tough. There’s something to be said about effort, but if you don’t give yourself the rest you need you’ll only burn out and resent the life you’ve worked so hard to build.
I frequently have to tell myself that it is okay to stop and take a break…and not feel guilty about it! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid on the couch because I needed to rest and the whole time stewed over how I “should” be doing something right now. Knock it off. That mentality is garbage. Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes and put yourself first.
2) I’m prioritizing meditation
Science has shown how beneficial meditation is, but I feel like somehow it is still one of the most underrated practices to reduce stress and improve overall wellness. I think meditation can be intimidating, which is why it has been so hard for me to keep my own meditation practice going. I got really into meditation in college but quickly became frustrated when it became hard. Some meditation sessions left me feeling at peace while others brought me to tears because of the suppressed feelings that would come to the surface. Isn’t meditation supposed to relieve my anxiety, not make it worse? The short answer is, no.
I learned to let go of all expectations I had for meditation. Instead of lighting incense and forcing myself to sit with my legs crossed like a Buddha doll, I’ve been taking 60 seconds in the shower, the car ride to work, 2 minutes before bed, etc., to meditate. You can meditate wherever you are. And instead of putting an immense pressure to “erase” the thoughts scrolling through my mind, I focus on my breath. I focus on the feeling of my breath come in through my nose while my belly expands, and the release as it flows past my lips and out my mouth.
3) I’m taking CBD oil
What is CBD oil? CBD is a cannabinoid from the cannabis plant. Most people hear cannabis and think, “Oh! Marijuana!” But, CBD is not psychoactive so it doesn’t get you high. Fun fact, I’ve never actually gotten high before. I’m too scared it will make me more anxious! I learned about CBD oil from someone on Instagram. I know, I know – we shouldn’t be taking any medical advice from anyone other than a medical professional, so before trying it I did a little of my own research.
Turns out, there are promising studies that show CBD may have a positive effect at reducing anxiety and other anxiety disorders (1, 2). Two important things to note is that some studies were done on animals and not humans, and the long-term effects of CBD use is not known. But, short-term use does show some promising results!
So, I bit the bullet and dished out quite a bit of money for a small bottle of Inner Peace from the brand, Mowellens. I chose Mowellens because I like how transparent they are. Their products are tested for contaminants, plus they include a breakdown report of what compounds and at what concentrations these compounds are found in their products.
How much CBD oil I take
I went in a little skeptical, especially since the placebo effect of taking something you believe is going to help you can be so strong. I started with 2 drops in my smoothie or on my tongue every morning. Within a few days I noticed I had more patience for things I don’t normally, such as traffic and stresses at work. After a week it dawned on me that I was WAY more calm in the evening and sleeping better. I kept thinking either this is a placebo effect or this stuff actually works! Either way, I was happy to have relief from my constant anxiety.
Then I stopped taking it for a couple of days while I was out of town. I wasn’t even thinking about it but my husband definitely noticed a change in my attitude and ability to handle stress, and he was right. My patience was thin, I was more anxious about things I couldn’t control, and I started stressing more about the things I could control, such as food.
Does CBD oil work?
I can’t say for sure that taking CBD oil is the key to treating my anxiety, but it is working right now. Unlike antidepressants, I don’t feel any extremes when I take CBD oil. I also don’t feel an immediate calming effect; I more or less am able to realize how much better I handle my day to day without anxiety. Could it treat severe cases of anxiety?? I don’t think science has answered that question so I caution you to talk to your doctor before trying CBD oil for yourself. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is safe for everyone, and just because it is working for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. But as of right now, I am loving CBD oil and so happy it is helping!
4) I’m putting my phone down more often
This is actually the easiest tip for me. I don’t dance between many social media apps, but I do regularly scroll through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I’ve filled my Facebook and Pinterest feed with delicious cooking videos and recipes, but my Instagram tends to be a lot more anxiety inducing. Between feeling a constant need to post to Instagram and comparing myself to others, I find myself avoiding my Instagram app more often than not. I’ve even contemplated deleting it but I think that avoiding it when I’m feeling anxious will suffice for now. 🙂
5) I’m no longer looking for outside reasons to be happy
This may be the hardest tip of all, but also the most important. My hubby always reminds me when I’m feeling unhappy that I won’t find happiness in things or circumstances. Not that I need a new pair of shoes to be happy, but the nagging feeling to keep up with the Joneses or anxiously waiting for the next big event or thing will never bring lasting happiness.
To help me look inward for happiness, I’ve started saying out loud what I’m grateful for. I find gratitude to be one of the key elements of longterm happiness, but it takes more than just stating the obvious. Yes, I am grateful for my family, and I am grateful for the roof over my head. But if you take it a step further and think about just how damn lucky we are to even be reading this blog post on a computer or a smart phone, likely in the safety of your own home, means you have at least some financial stability that allows you such a privilege.
Today, I’m not only grateful for my family, I’m grateful for the special bond I have with both of my parents. I’m fortunate to be able to call them up anytime I want and hear their voices. I’m grateful not just for my husband, but for his perseverance in finding a career that he loves and has worked so hard to get. How lucky am I to be able to walk outside and breathe in fresh clean air?! Yeah, I’m grateful for that. And, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share with you my story in hopes that it will inspire you to focus on your own mental health.
I could go on and on with this topic, but for the sake of short-attention spans, I think it is time to wrap this up. 🙂 Let me know in the comments what you do to relieve stress and anxiety. I’m always looking for new ways to practice self-care!