zen habits : breathe

12 Ways to Decompress after High Stress

Every Thursday is Happiness Day on Zen Habits.

The last couple of days were just crazy for me. My days were jam-packed with activity, meetings, people stopping in to see me, hundreds of emails, phone calls and messages, one project after another. I am usually able to maintain calm and focus in the midst of a workday, but the last two days put my abilities to a test. I stayed calm, but the stress levels were definitely higher than I care for.

After all that, I needed to decompress.

So today is a decompression day for me. I have a number of tried-and-true methods that work for me, and I have to say, in the last 24 hours, my stress levels have dropped dramatically.

Here’s what works for me:

  1. Deep breathing. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Now let it out … slowly. Try counting to 10 as you let out your breath. Feel the tension and stress flowing out of you with your breath. Repeat 3-10 times, as necessary.
  2. Self-massage. I like to massage my shoulders, neck, head, lower back. It helps a lot. Even better: get your honey to do it for you! Another great relaxation technique is to tense up and then relax each muscle in your body, one at a time, starting from your toes up to your head.
  3. Take a walk. When I’m in the middle of stress, I like to take 5, and take a walk around the building. I also do the deep breathing and self-massage mentioned above as I do so. It’s a great way of letting go of tension and allowing yourself to re-focus.
  4. Exercise. This morning, I went to the beach at 5:30 a.m. and went for a swim. It was beautiful at the beach at around sunrise, and the swim was invigorating. Yesterday I went for a bike ride, and the morning before it was a short but refreshing run. Tomorrow I think I’ll do another short run. It really gets the stress out of your system and gives you some quiet time to think when you exercise.
  5. Get outdoors. Even if I didn’t do the swim, just being there at the beach, with my decaf coffee (I quit caffeine, remember?), was calming. It’s nice to connect with nature and take in the beauty around you. While you’re there, stretch, yawn, take some deep breaths, and enjoy.
  6. Sex. One of the all-time greats. It works like a charm. Seriously. It’s probably the best on the list. (Sorry, mom.)
  7. Take a day off. That’s what I’m doing today. Don’t tell my boss. I have lots of vacation and sick leave saved up, so it’s not a problem, actually. I’m just going to veg out and allow myself to calm down and center.
  8. Meditate. You don’t need to be trained to have a short, relaxing meditation session. Just sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, relax, and focus on your breathing. Try to concentrate on it coming into your body, and then going out. When other things pop into your head (they will, inevitably), just acknowledge them (don’t try to force them out) and allow them to leave, and then focus again on your breathing. Do this for as long as you can, and then take a couple of cleansing breaths, and get up a new person.
  9. Read. I like to throw myself on the couch with a good book. Well, not necessarily a good book — a page-turner. Something that will engross me completely, take my mind off everything else. John Grisham works well for me, as does William Gibson. And Terry Pratchett. Or Ann Patchett, for that matter. And Stephen King. Just get lost in their world.
  10. Love. I like to spend time with my kids or my wife. Just snuggle with them, focus on them, forget about the world. They are all that’s important, and sometimes I need that reminder.
  11. Disconnect. Turn off the phones, turn off the computer, and shut off the outside world for a little while. These things just raise your stress level. Go offline and forget about the online world! You can do it! Except for Zen Habits. That’s the only blog you’re allowed to read when you decompress.
  12. Take a nap. One of my favorites. Just take a 30-minute nap, and you’re re-set! A nap is like a restart button for life.

What are your favorite ways of decompressing after a stressful day? Let us know in the comments.

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