In David Letterman countdown fashion, here are my top 10 ways I manage stress in the moment. If you happen to be experiencing any stress right now, consider bookmarking (or Pinteresting!) this page -- maybe something here will help you, too.
10. Listen to the sounds of the ocean for two minutes. This link will take you to a site with a beautiful seascape and the sounds of the ocean on it. Just sit and stare at it. If your mind strays to whatever it is that's stressing you out, pull it back to the ocean. It's only for two minutes. Everything else can wait.
9. Virtually visit the Sistine Chapel. For a more religiously-inspired moment of peace, you can click this link and virtually visit the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Italy. You can even use your mouse to explore it, while a choir sings in the background (so be sure to have your headphones on if you work in a shared space).
8. Make a cup of tea. Although it makes no logical sense (since both coffee and tea contain caffeine), coffee is usually associated with "waking up," while tea is associated with "slowing down." So whenever I feel my blood pressure rise, I make a cup of tea (decaffeinated, if I'm really stressed). In fact, I even travel with tea -- I always have a little baggie filled with my favourite teabags in my handbag. I take my own tea to drink on planes (I'm a nervous flyer), and often make myself a cup at night to wind down stressful days on the road. Tea is like my instant reminder to breathe.
7. Practice a little aromatherapy. I don't really know anything about aromatherapy, but I do know that when I smell lavender or eucalyptus, I feel immediately calmer. I once received this as a freebee in a gift bag, and it's really fantastic to rub on my hands and the back of my neck to relieve stress; however, one of the easiest tricks while you're at the office is to simply have some lavender-scented hand lotion nearby; or even better, scented sanitizer. I like this one and this one -- great, calming scents and clean hands. Bonus.
6. Light a candle. Something about the flickering light that helps make my surroundings feel a bit calmer. And if you happen to work in an office where they'll frown on an open flame, stick one of these in a small translucent container, and your mind may never know the difference.
5. Go outside. Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes. Take 5 minutes and go outside, and breathe the air, people watch or whatever. Just change focus for a few minutes.
4. Music, music, music. For me, music is everything. A while back, I was having a pretty lengthy procedure done at the dentist, and to get ready, Marcus put together a special playlist to take with me, filled with songs that either made me happy or made me calm while I was in the chair. I call it my "Keep Calm & Carry On" playlist. Put together a special one for yourself for listening when you need to take a break.
3. Go to your happy place. When things get a bit tough, I close my eyes and imagine myself sitting in one of my favourite places of my memory (lately it's floating in the middle of the cove at Coco Reef, Tobago). A few minutes of imagination, and my heartrate slows down, and I'm ready to tackle life again.
2. Meditate. I am certainly not a pro at meditation, and while I used to do it daily, I have fallen deeply out of practice. (An aside: I will admit that when I was meditating daily, I was far better at handling stress. I'm here to tell you that a regular meditation practice is a very good thing.) That said, nothing can restore my sanity like 5 minutes of meditation. There are many ways to do it, and you can find all sorts of instruction on the internet about how to do it (for beginners, I like this one and definitely this one). Ultimately, however, I would recommend doing whatever works for you. The point is to focus your mind. And for what it's worth, here's how I do it:
I imagine that I'm alone in a dark tunnel, and there's a light ahead just around a bend in the tunnel. As I walk toward it and around the bend, I realize that there's another bend, and the light is actually around that one. I continue to follow the light and the light continues to move away from me. I imagine this for 5 minutes. When my thoughts stray, I bring myself back to my tunnel, and start following the light again.
See? Simple. But if that doesn't work for you ...
1. Breathe. Literally close your eyes and breathe. Inhale for 1 slow count, then exhale for 1 slow count. Then inhale for 2 slow counts ... then exhale for 2 slow counts. Then inhale for 3 slow counts ... and so on. Try to get to 10 slow counts. When you think you can't inhale any more, just do it anyway. And then exhale for 10 slow counts.
Then open your eyes.
And with that, here's wishing you a stress-free week, friends.
(Incidentally, tomorrow I'm headed to Las Vegas to attend the WPPI Conference. I'll be speaking at the Squarespace booth, and when I'm not doing that, I'll be helping my friend Maile at the Epiphanie booth. If you're there, please stop by and say hi -- I'd love to meet you.)
Image: Photographed in my back garden with my Nikon D300, 50mm lens. aperture 1.4, shutter speed 1/250, ISO 500