Alternative Outlets & Therapies That Could Change Your Life
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso
Stress and hardship are things that affect all of us at some point and when that happens we all need a little help. Since I talked about therapies geared toward those on the spectrum last week, I thought it would be nice to follow-up this week to discuss some therapies we can all benefit from looking into when it comes to living a happier and healthier life.
The Epidemic of Stress and The Value of Thinking Outside the Box for Therapy
Stress is everywhere and constant for a lot of us. It comes in many forms and from many sources and we all have different ways to deal with it. Some are healthy. Some aren’t so healthy. Some are expensive. But stress always comes back around for another round. Dealing with stress is an active fight but very often we’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage because we’re fighting with the same attack each time while our sources of stress are typically dynamic and unpredictable. Think about the things you do when you’re really stressed out. Maybe you smoke a cigarette,indulge in some junk food,or just roll into bed for a refresher nap. You might go try doing something enjoyable to distract yourself or you might buy yourself a little gift to cheer yourself up. Some of our most common go-to solutions for stress and depression are indulgent and ultimately just band-aids that usually add to the problem instead of fixing it.
Good stress management is a combination of treatment,prevention, and stress reduction. This means we not only relieve the stress but also do something beneficial for ourselves so we can resolve what’s stressing us out and know how to better handle it in the future and moving forward. So while it’s not a bad idea to treat yourself when you feel overwhelmed,it isn’t really benefiting you in the long run or even addressing what stressed you out in the first place. While there is no one solution to good stress management we can learn to do it better through a combination of methods instead of one extravagant band-aid action.
Today we’re going to look at some alternative ways you can tackle stress that will not only reduce your current stress but make you well-armed to handle stress in the future.
Step One: Identify and Cleanse
The most important step in stress relief is to identify what’s stressing you out and get it out of your system in a positive way that won’t damage you or cause regret later. Sometimes when we do indulgent things we can dig deeper holes by spending irresponsibly,having too much of something pleasurable, or burning bridges we’ll need later. Stress makes us lose our sense of rationality and leaves us vulnerable to doing things we’re better off not doing. It can be hard to identify stress though so your first step before going out and getting drunk,telling off another person, or buying something you don’t have the money for you need to take a moment and get grounded.
Before you act on how you feel take some time to be mindful. Get yourself focused and pinpoint what’s really burrowing under your skin. Before you pick up that band-aid,pick up a pen! And I don’t mean a device like a phone or computer but a pen. Reduce your distractions and eliminate the weight of the modern world for a little bit so you can really think. Modern distractions can actually add to your stress and make it harder to heal and calm yourself. When we have too many shiny distractions we have a hard time focusing on ourselves.
So go ahead and grab a pen and paper. You’ll find that these will be the best things to have in your arsenal for stress management.
But what can we do with these simple tools?
We’re obviously going to write! Real writing is sort of a lost art these days as we have so many shortcuts and devices but when we write about our life and feelings it’s a natural, effective, and affordable way to cleanse ourselves. You don’t have to be eloquent, grammatically proper,or even organized when you write to vent. Just let it flow in whatever form it will take onto the paper.
Journals and Diaries
Keeping a journal or diary has been a practice for centuries by all walks of people. It is also a common method used in commercial therapy to help patients identify their feelings and behaviors. Journals can be a great and freeing thing for people as they are informal,accessible, and affordable as a method of stress relief therapy. It not only allows self-expression but leaves room for recollection later on so we can learn from our experiences and grow as people.
While there’s no right or wrong way to journal it works best when you…
- Do it traditionally on paper with a regular writing tool as opposed to electronically
- Do it with some regularity and in private
- Do it without distractions like TV or other electronic devices
- Do it in a set place where you feel safe and comfortable
- Do it because you want to and it has some tangible benefit to your quality of life
Journals and diaries have the most benefit when they’re not shared with others. If you feel safe and okay sharing your journal it’s fine but it will be best utilized as something private for you and as a safe way to express your feelings without feeling additional anxiety and pressure from others. It’s not for everyone but if writing in your journal about your day or week makes you feel noticeably lighter it might be a great way to maintain good mental health vibes and work out your stresses. It’s something anyone can afford that you can easily customize to suit your needs.
Writing letters is something that has sunken into obscurity as more technologies replace traditional social interactions but letters can be one of the truest forms of expression when we truly embrace them. Before email existed, people communicated deep thoughts and feelings and even maintained relationships with a handwritten letter to another person. Letters lack the cold and mechanical feel of a text or email and have a better chance of pulling out our deeper thoughts and feelings. In the process we find a self-expression method that needs no emojis or explanations.
Like a journal, a common therapy method that even some health professionals stand by is to write a letter and not send it as a method to deal with stress,anxiety, and depression.
This method has a lot of benefits like…
- Allowing ourselves to express something we want to say to a person in our life that we can’t have a healthy or normal conversation with for some reason
- Helping us organize our thoughts about a situation or incident
- Helping us naturally identify recent events or things that are on our minds
- Allowing us to get something out of our system so we can identify and properly address it
Even though the letter is sort of fake and most likely won’t be really mailed to the person we addressed it to, the feelings in it are real and it can be a great alternative to situations where you’re dealing with a person who is too difficult to broach conversation with or isn’t around to have a conversation with. It allows you to express your feelings and lift the stress of that situation off your shoulders. It’s hard to reconcile with situations where we don’t get a chance to finish an interaction or settle something with another person and we can carry that around without realizing it and do a lot of damage to our quality of life and well-being.
It doesn’t even have to be related to an interaction with another person. Some therapists suggest and sometimes save lives by advising those with mental health issues write letters about just their feelings because seeing it on paper can be a way of the person getting those feelings out and sometimes getting rid of them completely. It can even be the push you need to realize you need to have a more substantial conversation with another person about something going on in your life.
We write lists for a lot of mundane things like our groceries,daily chores, or Christmas shopping but what if you made some more meaningful lists? Lists are one of the most basic forms of writing and getting information down but they can also be a great way to work through our tough times in life.
Here are some lists you can make that will not only help you deal with stress but make you think in better ways…
- Make a list of things making you unhappy that day/week/etc.
- Make a list of things that are making you happy with your life right now
- Make a list of at least five things you like about yourself
- Make a list of some things you want to change about yourself and the reasons why you want to do it
- Make a list of your talents and skills
- Make a list of things you’re proud of yourself for doing
- Make a list of some things you want to accomplish in life
- Make a list of all the people who are important to you in life
- Make a list of people who might be toxic in your life
- Make a list of qualities you value in other people
Lists are simple and quick ways we can identify stresses and reflect on ourselves. They don’t have to be eloquent or perfect and give us a glance at things in their most basic form. If you’re going through a tough or stressful time a list is an easy starting point to prioritizing your self-care and getting you on the road to mental wellness.
Step Two:Reward Yourself
Once you identify stress you want to bring it down a little. Rewarding ourselves is a viable thing to do but only when we do it in a fashion that is beneficial. Anytime we over-indulge in pleasures,spend money we don’t have, or damage a relationship letting go on another person we hurt ourselves in the long run. Successful stress management means we bring our stress down in a way that doesn’t make the situation worse or cause personal damage or regret.
So for this step all you need is you. We’re going to discuss some things you can do to reduce your stress while actually rejuvenating yourself a little as opposed to causing more harm and applying a band-aid.
Mental Health Days
Mental health days are not just for those who have a diagnosed mental health issue. Mental health is something that matters for every person and we all need a mental health day sometimes. When I was going through DBT one of the things we talked about was something called turtling. Turtling involves taking a brief day or two to take a vacation from the world. That might involve just rest if you’re a person who lacks a healthy sleep schedule but should also involve mindfulness. Doing activities that are not indulgent but rather calming and introspective can help you shed stress and improve your mood in a way that is healthier for the long run. Things like drinking,shopping,or emotional transferal onto others may seem like things that are good at the time but we usually regret them later or do personal damage in the process but when we focus on healing ourselves we rejuvenate and heal with benefits and not harm. It can also be an opportunity to get a better understanding of a tough situation in your life so you can handle it better.
If you’re going through an especially stressful time the best thing you can do is take a day or two to stand back from the situation and give yourself some time to reflect and heal. We get bombarded with so much stimulus in our world today that we sometimes forget to just step back and take a moment to breathe and assess the situation but it can be just the thing you need to begin to sort out your worries and get back to really living.
Creating a Personal Spa
For some a spa can be a great way to indulge and refresh but that can be expensive. But in our fast-paced world it’s easy to take the spa in your home for granted. Instead of blasting in and out of your bathroom in your packed daily routine,set aside a day where you can do a bathroom routine that is an affordable at home spa experience. Instead of a shower take a nice relaxing bubble bath. Instead of going to the salon,wash your hair at home and give yourself a nice therapeutic scalp massage. Do what you do normally but just do it at a reasonable pace. If you don’t normally use lotion than try it. The action of applying a lotion is an affordable and multipurpose therapy that is not only massage but aromatherapy. Light a nice smelling candle and listen to some relaxing music while you do your bathroom routine to round out the experience and make it more relaxing. You can even read a book while you’re in there if you want to.
When we pamper ourselves and take care of ourselves it creates natural positive vibes and helps us relax and come back down to earth from our busy lives. The feeling of being clean is in itself a huge boost to our well-being. It’s also a great way to reward and rejuvenate at the same time that won’t hurt you or your wallet.
Embracing Positive Experiences and Alternative Therapies
Some of the things that are the best things you can do to reduce stress in your life are easily accessible and won’t empty your wallet or values substantially. The human mind and body can be complicated but also simple at the same time. The best thing you can really do for yourself sometimes is live. Simple things are what positively feed the body. Instead of staying stuck in your house being stressed or depressed, go outside. Natural light is also a natural mood booster. Instead of an overpriced and distracting restaurant meal,have a creative and relaxing meal at home where you actually sit down and take the time to eat and enjoy your family and the people around you. Take a vacation from your technology and enjoy reading a book,doing a puzzle,or doing some kind of creative DIY project that makes you think in a fun way. Take advantage of some pet therapy either by taking time to really appreciate your own household pet or by volunteering at your local shelter.
We often think about extremes when we’re frustrated but when we take the time to appreciate all the simple pleasures around us it can be a huge benefit to our mental state and make us appreciate life that much more.
Making Environmental Changes
It’s easy to not notice when something in our home or daily environments is actually hurting and not helping. While we may not always consider things like lighting,colors,or where things are in a room it can affect us and our mood greatly.
You don’t really need to go full feng shui on your house or office but taking a moment to reassess your environment when you’re stressed or not feeling quite right can be a small but effective step. Small things like changing your lighting,painting the wall a fresh color,getting new curtains, or even getting new bedding can be a refreshing and affordable treat and a positive change. You can even just make some small steps to improve how the room smells,get a white noise machine to make it more peaceful,buy a painting at the home store or put some photos you like on the wall for positive visuals, or just rearrange the furniture a little. New perspectives are new opportunities when it comes to how you see your world and feel as a person.
Learning to Treat Yourself in Moderation
It’s okay to treat yourself to a new item,indulgent treat, or luxury but where we make mistakes is when we over-indulge and use that as a distraction from reality. You can still treat yourself but instead of having too many drinks,buying something you don’t have money for, or doing something that only temporarily makes you feel good try rewarding yourself with a sense of reason and moderation. Understand your means and understand the aftermath of what you want to do. If either of those things are strained or potentially harmful then you want to scale back your reward item a little. If you want to buy something then find something small and within your budget to buy or see if you can curb the urge just by window shopping with a friend. If you want to pig out try getting a sundae after you’ve already had a good meal so you won’t over-stuff yourself with garbage. If you want to drink,limit it to one drink and don’t drink alone so you also get the benefit of a social experience.
The key to rewarding yourself is to do it in a way that won’t hurt you later and in a way that is just enough and within reason. Too much of a good thing can sometimes be just as bad as being stressed and depressed.
Step Three: Improve and Prevent
Once you come through a tough time you might be tempted to just jump right back into the fray. Instead of doing that, try taking time to address your coping skills so you can handle stress better moving forward. Make a note about new techniques you’ve learned and keep them going if they help you. Start practicing more mindful behaviors in your daily routines and make appreciating life an everyday thing. Continue taking better care of yourself to keep your health and happiness up.
The key to really dealing with stress is that we need to change as people sometimes, because if you keep doing what you’ve always done then you’ll keep getting the same results. Actively tackle the negative practices in your life so you can live better in a long-term way. Appreciate who you are and take good care of yourself all the time, not just when you’re overwhelmed. Loving yourself is key to coping in our busy modern world and the more you focus on living well, the less stress and hardship will break you when it does occur.
When it comes to coping, we should really all be in it together. While there are a lot of things we may experience due to being part of a specific group, it’s important to understand we’re all going through something or dealing with something and that it’s okay to need help. But just as our stresses grow and change, we can learn better ways to deal with it. Next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed try thinking outside the box on what might get your situation stabilized. You might be surprised at how easy and accessible peace of mind really is.