Whether you’re an ad executive who’s busy negotiating and closing deals all day, or a paralegal helping your firm prepare for a huge case, your professional responsibilities can be overwhelming and stressful. Learning how to manage stress and channel it through positive means is vital, not just for a successful career, but for your happiness and well-being too. If you don’t take time to unwind, constant stress can lead to a number of physical and psychological problems, like poor concentration, depression, back pain, and weight gain. It also weakens your immune system and increases your risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease.
That’s why Excelle came up with these twenty-two different ways to de-stress without breaking the bank. So hit pause, relax, and indulge in some much needed (and affordable!) R&R.
1. Do Something You Did All the Time as a Kid
Do you ever long for those days when your biggest concerns were nap time, recess, and Saturday morning cartoons? You’d build pillow forts at slumber parties, climb the biggest tree in your neighborhood, and catch fireflies at night. It’s amazing how much less complicated life was back in the day. Just because you’re all grown up now doesn’t mean you can’t still partake in the simple joys of childhood. Turn off your Blackberry, disconnect from the internet, and act like a kid whenever you can. Revel in the refreshing nostalgia, and feel the positive associations and memories melt away your stress.
If you have kids of your own, have them participate in these activities with you. Ride a bike to the park. Start a pick-up kickball game with your family or friends. Make a snowman in the wintertime. The possibilities (and your imagination) are endless. Cost: Free.
2. Volunteer Your Time or Expertise
One of the best feelings in the world is giving back to others. As a professional, you have tons of knowledge and experience, so why not share your skills with someone else? Volunteering can be something small—like reading a story to young cancer patients one day a month—or something bigger—like providing a drowning company with free legal or financial advice, or whatever it may need to get back on its feet. No matter what you do, you can be content to know that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. Not only is volunteering incredibly fulfilling, it’s also a great resume builder. If you’re a recent grad or career changer, volunteering can give you valuable training and hands-on experience to jump start your career in your desired industry.
Non-profit associations are always looking for more help, so even if you can only donate five hours a month, your time will be very much appreciated and well worth the effort. Cost: Reading at your local hospital or cleaning up litter at your favorite park costs next to nothing (just factor in the transportation costs and pack your own lunch). Volunteering abroad may cost the price of airfare and lodging.
3. Stretch, Breathe, and Meditate
It’s hard not to feel stressed and overworked by the hectic pace of a hyper-connected society that moves at the speed of MyFaceTwitSpaceBlackBookBerry. Before you go into meltdown mode, hit pause, relax, and take a breather. Even if yoga’s not your thing, basic meditation, stretching, and breathing techniques, though seemingly simple, can work wonders for your stress relief. When you stress out, tension is stored in your body, causing pain and tightness, especially in your back and shoulders. Stretching will get your body loose and your circulation flowing in full force again.
To meditate, find a relaxing atmosphere, sit on level ground (find a cushion if uncomfortable), close your eyes, relax every muscle and breathe deeply with your abdomen, not your chest. Focus on each inhale and exhale to exclude other thoughts and quiet your mind. Cost: Free.
4. Hang Out With Your Funniest Friend
It’s been scientifically proven that laughter is both preventive and therapeutic. It decreases your stress hormone levels and boosts healthy hormones, like endorphins, strengthening your immune system. You even get a mini workout for your abs, diaphragm and your shoulders. Not only will laughing with your friend boost your mood, it’ll take your mind off all the stressors in your life. It offers a release from the pent-up emotions and frustrations you may be feeling, and the emotional bonding will boost your self-esteem and feeling of connectedness to others. Laughter really is the best medicine, so call up your funniest friend and hang out. You’ll be glad you did. Cost: Free.
Nothing beats a good night’s rest. Emails filtering in non-stop? Clients calling every five minutes? Holier-than-thou executives bossing you around? Many professionals bring their troubles home with them and that equals more stress for you and your loved ones. Why not sleep it off? Getting even thirty minutes of shut eye can help you relax and put your problems in perspective. If you’re going to try to sleep off your stress, make sure you’ve got surroundings that promote good quality rest. A dark, cool, quiet room with few electronics is best. Feeling antsy but still want to rest? Try a cup of Valerian Root or chamomile tea. A warm bath can also help put you in a restful state of mind. Cost: Free.
6. Visit the Shooting Range
Does your stress ever turn into rage, and you want to rip your hair out and scream? Before you tear down your curtains and punch that hole in your wall, consider paying a visit to your local shooting range. There’s something curiously calming about loading a gun, aiming, squeezing the trigger, and hearing the bullets rip holes into a paper target. Not only does it release the physical tension that’s been building up from your stress, but you also get the satisfaction of taking home your target and showing off your killer aiming skills to your friends.
Shooting ranges generally charge by the hour, and the prices are reasonable if you have your own gun. Renting a gun isn’t that much more expensive, but if you wanted to take a class, they’re a bit pricey, ranging from $40 to $65. Cost: $10–18/hour if you have your own gun; Renting a gun can be $10–20/hour extra; Classes run $40–65.
7. Buy Cheap Paints or an Art Project at a Hobby Store
Looking at art definitely has its calming effects, but it’s not always just about the product. You don’t have to be Picasso to get the health benefits of producing beautiful works of art either. People who make art as a hobby find that the process of self-expression through unwinding and creating art can be extremely soothing as well. Artistic self-expression originates from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who theorized that the power of imagery could tap into the thoughts, memories and feelings of a person, whether conscious or unconscious. Art therapy is thus frequently used in hospitals, clinics and rehab facilities to promote physical, emotional and mental well-being via creative expression.
Making art helps lessen anxiety, stress and depression, and promote self-awareness, self-esteem and insight into your life. You can pick up reasonably priced art supplies or art kits at any hobby store. Just set aside an art space, turn on some relaxing music and paint to your health. Cost: $7–25.
8. Cook a Delicious Dinner with Items You Have in Your Fridge
America’s “Fast Food Nation” mentality has us plowing through processed, barely digestible microwave dinners and super-sized extra value meals. Not only is our physique suffering, our stress and anxiety levels are off the charts. Everything around us, even food, is moving at the speed of light. Back up, slow down and consider taking the time to cook your next meal with simple items you already have in your fridge and cupboards. Cooking takes patience and persistence. The process of chopping, measuring, stirring and sauteing can be incredibly therapeutic.
Check what ingredients you have in your kitchen, and look up a recipe (see below). Pick something simple to make, so the preparation and cleanup don’t stress you out. Let the culinary sensations, like scent, sight and touch mesmerize you. Finally, take pride in the sense of accomplishment as you slowly enjoy your delicious meal. Cost: Free.
9. Go on a Hike or Go to the Park
Sometimes we get so caught up in traffic, shopping malls, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life that we forget to stop and smell the flowers. But when Ralph Waldo Emerson said “adopt the pace of nature,” he wasn’t being poetic—he was being entirely scientific. Science has proven time and time again how the psychological benefits of nature can calm the brain and better your mood and concentration. Hospital patients recover faster when they have a view of trees and flowers from their window, and children with attention-deficit disorder exhibit less symptoms in a natural environment.
So get back to basics, and enjoy nature. Bring a blanket to the park and lie out, or go for a hike and take in the scenery. Bask in the sun, breathe in the fresh air, and appreciate all the colorful simplicity of the outdoors. Your brain’s health depends on it. Cost: Mostly free (Some parks/hiking grounds may charge $3–5).
10. Take a Bath with Candles and Aromatherapy
The recuperative and healing properties of water have many stress-relieving benefits and allow the body to fall into a deeper sleep. Submerging in a bath tub relieves your body from the constant pull of gravity, and heated water relaxes muscle tension, improving circulation, range of motion and energy flow. Melt away your stress by creating a mini spa in your bathroom. Turn on soothing music, dim the lights, light candles and prepare fresh towels. The music will drown out household sounds that you may associate with everyday stressors, and relaxed lighting can go a long way when creating a peaceful mood. You can pick up high-end aromatherapy bubble bath soap, skin-moisturizing oils and exfoliating body scrubs on the cheap at your local T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or Ross.
Most importantly, make arrangements for your well-deserved uninterrupted solitude. Turn off your cell phone, log out of email and if you have roommates or family around, tell them to leave you alone for an hour or two. Be sure to prepare your bed beforehand so you have a nice, comfy space to crawl into after your bath. Cost: $4–18, depending on how many spa items you want to buy.