Here’s a non-controversial statement to start an article ….. ‘being a parent can be stressful!’
There are no surprises there, right?
Juggling work, relationships, kids and other responsibilities can cause even the calmest of us to get stressed at times.
And that feeling of stress is a normal human emotion which has been programmed into our genes for thousands of years. It’s not something we can control.
However, what we can control, is how we respond to stress.
Part of being an emotionally intelligent adult is learning to recognise the signs of stress in yourself and others.
By noticing the signs early, you can take action to help relieve stress quickly and get yourself back on your A-game.
Now, I’m not talking about the bigger lifestyle choices that can help reduce stress. That’s a subject for a different article. What I’m talking about is, in the heat of the moment, the kids are screaming, you’ve just fought with your wife, or maybe had a tough meeting with your boss.
In these moments, you don’t have time to meditate, go for a long run or drink six beers (bad idea by the way). What you need is something that can change your mood fast.
This is when having some ‘healthy’ stress-relieving techniques can be useful.
Everyone is different, so you may need to try a few things and see what works for you. But to get you started, here are a few obvious (and not so obvious) ideas that can help relieve stress quickly.
This is my ‘go-to’ and it works every time.
If I’m feeling extra stressed, then ideally, I like to go for a run in the fresh air. But, I don’t always have time for that. So in these cases, a quick 20 push-ups usually do the trick.
There’s obviously some science behind it, with the release of endorphins and all that good stuff. But I also know from experience that it works well for me.
If push-ups aren’t your thing, you could try star jumps, burpees or a skipping rope. Or if you’ve got a bit more time, you could bang out a 4-minute Tabata workout.
Whatever gets your blood pumping and the endorphins flowing is a sure-fire way to change your mood and turn that frown upside down!
We’ve all heard the expression ‘take a deep breath’ or ‘count to 10’. This advice is as old as the hills and is a must-have cliche in every parent’s toolkit.
And, focusing on your breath is also a mindfulness technique to bring your attention to the present moment, meaning you get both physical and mental benefits from slow breathing.
You can use the 4,7,8 breathing technique or any other form of focused breathing as an effective way to release stress and calm yourself down quickly.
3. ROTFLMAO 🤣
The health benefits of laughter are incredible. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, boost immunity and you guessed it…. relieve stress.
What’s interesting is that forced laughter has the same effect as real laughter. So, even if you aren’t feeling humorous, you can fake it till you make it.
My partner and I went to a laughter yoga class a few years ago and witnessed this process in action.
Much like regular yoga teachers use asanas (poses) to stimulate different muscles, the laughter instructor had a series of techniques they used to get people laughing in different ways.
My favourite was the chainsaw technique, where you impersonate the sound of a chainsaw with your laughter. You even get your body involved by pulling an imaginary cord to start it up. Can you picture what I’m talking about?
The Kookaburra technique was another one they used and I’m sure you can guess how that one works.
Fake laughter works particularly well with kids because it’s highly contagious.
Give it a try next time you are in a stressful situation with your family. Just burst into a fake laugh and keep going until everyone else joins in.
They may think you’ve gone mad, but either way, you will have changed the mood in the room pretty quickly and hopefully triggered some endorphins in the process.
4. Strike a power pose
Have you seen this very popular Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy?
Cuddy and her team of psychologists did a bunch of research into the link between body language and emotions. Or, more specifically, they were measuring how changes in body language affected testosterone (the confidence hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone).
After observing the behaviour of primates and humans they discovered that confident individuals tend to spread out and make themselves bigger. Based on this they created a series of ‘power poses’, which included hands in the air (Mick Jagger), hands on hips ( Wonder Women) and hands behind head (The Boss).
The study required volunteers to strike a power pose, while the scientists measured the changes in their hormone levels.
Amazingly, after just two minutes of power posing, they saw a 25% drop in cortisol and a 20% increase in testosterone.
Simply changing their body language was quite literally changing their mood.
This can be an effective technique to use in stressful situations. For instance, before a big presentation or a job interview, or even when you arrive home after a stressful day at work.
Just go to the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror and strike up a Mick Jagger pose for a couple of minutes. Your cortisol levels will drop and you’ll soon be feeling like a rockstar yourself.
5. Shake it off like a Zebra
Have you ever noticed how quickly animals in the wild can recover from stressful situations?
One minute they’ll be fleeing from a pack of Lions and then they’ll immediately return to grazing peacefully on the plains. If only we humans were so quick to get over things.
The difference is that animals, such as Zebras, have a physical response that allows them to shake off stress and get back to living in the moment.
Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky explored this concept in a book called, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.
So, if you are feeling stressed, you can try applying the same technique that a Zebra uses.
Find a quiet place, away from people who may think you’ve gone crazy. Then give your whole body a quick shake. Like a mini-convulsion.
You can even try to make a zebra noise as you do this (I imagine it’s similar to a horse, perhaps?)
This one works even better if you can do it with someone else.
Perhaps it’s something about the absurdity of it, but it can definitely snap you out of a stressful cycle and change the mood very quickly.
Give it a try – I dare you!
6. Hug it out
Hugging produces oxytocin and makes you feel good very quickly. Within 20 seconds, a hug will also cause a significant drop in cortisol. So, what better way to change a stressful situation than to hug someone?
If you can’t hug your partner or your kids and you don’t feel comfortable hugging a stranger, then find a pet to hug instead. Dogs are great for this!
And for those who were wondering, yes, sex is also great for relieving stress. But I didn’t want to incriminate myself by including it in the list of ‘quick’ techniques.
If you’ve got a bit more time and a willing partner, by all means, give sex a try instead. But for those in a rush, a hug is a quick and safe way to get your hit of oxytocin and instantly reduce your stress levels.
Our physiology controls our psychology
I find this link between physiology and psychology fascinating.
Just as emotions can trigger physical responses in our bodies, we can also trigger emotional responses by changing our physiology.
The power pose is a perfect example of this, but basically, all the techniques above involve moving our bodies to help change our emotional state.
Once we are aware of this link, we can start to use physiology to help manage stress.
As I said upfront, experiencing stress is normal and unavoidable. But how we respond to it is our choice.
These techniques provide some useful tools to help take back control and start to choose how we respond to stressful situations.
Please try some of these ideas and see how they go for you. If you have any other stress relief techniques, feel free to share them in the comments.