Stress Relief for the Adult Who Doesn't Want to Adult
Life is stressful. We can debate up and down about why it’s stressful, but most of us would agree that “adulting” is hard. With so much external obligations that are outside of our control, pressing upon our time and keeping us up with worry, it’s pointless to tell someone to just ‘relax’ and ‘take it easy.’ Stress and anxiety aren’t going to just magically go away.
This article is designed for those of us who have stress in our lives, but may not know how to release the valve before the whole thing explodes.
The Mini Vacation
All of my suggestions are going to revolve around this one concept of a ‘mini vacation.’ And by mini vacation, I don’t mean slipping off to the Bahamas and not telling your family. Nor am I suggesting a day at the spa being pampered. The vacation in question is for your brain. See, on any given day, we have countless things on our minds. Bills, deadlines, family drama, repairs, etc. And sometimes those can become overwhelming. So overwhelming that it puts you on auto-pilot. You don’t have any hopes or dreams, you just slog through each day because what else are you going to do? This is because your brain is being bombarded with these worries in a constant stream and you aren’t allowed to take a metaphorical breath to get away from them.
Enter the mini vacation. You might think that a vacation for your mind involves some kind of meditation or zen-like yoga to ‘clear your head.’ This might work for some people, and I’ll speak to the power of silence later, but if you’re like me, then meditation just involves uncomfortable sitting positions and the nagging sensation that you should be doing something else. No, the mini vacation is a deliberate redirect. An activity that uses your brain, rather than trying to empty it. It is my personal experience that nothing makes me forget my worries faster than focusing on something else. Engaging your brain in an active problem-solving activity. The reason I call this a mini vacation is because, while you are focusing on this alternate activity, you’re not thinking about everything else. It forces you to forget about those bills, deadlines, and drama, simply because you’re thinking about something else. When you get back, you feel refreshed, despite having been totally engaged in something.
When to Seek Help
If your stress level is so high that you feel physically ill and/or you have difficulty functioning in your daily life, please consult a mental health professional.
I discovered this technique after working for years in customer service. I used to man a desk and help the public with computer-related problems. As anyone who has worked a similar position will tell you, the public and technology don’t mix. So I had a lot of ongoing stress to deal with. During my down time, I would write fiction. And, I started to notice that, after I had a successful writing session, I would come out of a sort of haze. It was almost as if I’d left the job, and the building, for a few minutes, and completely forgotten where I was. I concluded that this was because I was engaged in the writing itself. Whether it was the story, the technical process, or just the act of moving my fingers over a keyboard, it didn’t matter. What mattered is that I was problem solving and it was occupying too much of my mind to remember that I disliked the job I was doing. Over time I discovered more activities that had similar results, like drawing and video games, and finally started to figure out how I was accomplishing these mini vacations. To some extent, the activity will be a reflection of your interest and hobbies, but the list I’ve provided below is a good starting point if you don’t know how to approach this.
There’s a reason why “coloring books for adults” have become a thing, and it’s not because millennials don’t want to grow up. It’s because someone discovered that coloring is cathartic. There is a challenge to coloring, even if it’s a small one. You have to select your color and drawing utensil, stay within the lines, and vary your level of shading and boldness. You wouldn’t think that a coloring book offers you a lot of choices, but as you’re working on it, your brain is making many choices, however small, and is focused on following directions. The lines are a guide, but most of the decisions are up to you. This is the same with a 1,000-piece puzzle or a plastic model of an airplane. Something is given to you, unfinished, and your brain and hands must figure out how to finish it. And, after your brain has been on vacation, while completing this task, you get the added bonus of something pretty at the end. This task also works well when paired with music, especially if your worries are trying to shout over your coloring.
The Act of Creation
The act of creation is the broadest category and ties in most heavily with what your hobbies are. But the general idea is that you’re creating something from nothing. Unlike a coloring book, the act of creation has no guidelines. Sure you can use prompts for writing, or photographs for painting, but there is nothing holding your imagination to that starting point. You can paint as broadly or as finely as you wish. Whether it’s writing a poem, short story or novel, painting, drawing, or molding clay, or just knitting a scarf, I’ve found that the act of making something is the strongest of the mini vacations. It uses everything you’ve got, crowding out all those nasty thoughts. It should be noted that the act of creation is also the hardest of these mini vacations to achieve. The reason being that, without guidelines, it can be difficult to decide where to start, and difficult to stay motivated if the project isn’t turning out how you wanted. But just remember, every minute you’re stressing over how to start, continue, or finish your act of creation, is another minute you’re not thinking about the stresses of every day life.
Despite all the different video game genres there are on the market, they all have one thing in common. They require you, the player, to input something, in order to progress. Unlike a movie, which will continue whether you’re paying attention or not, a video game doesn’t move until you do. Even if you’ve never played a video game in your life, it presents you with the task of learning how to play it, posing challenges to you, and building upon what you’ve learned to (hopefully) lead to a satisfying conclusion. Because of this active participation, it forces you to think about how to progress, which is where your brain goes into problem-solving mode. And don’t worry about the learning curve if you’ve never picked one up before. There is a game out there for everyone, whether it’s an action-packed first person shooter, a dog walking simulator, or a puzzle-platformer. Ask around, get some suggestions, and give it a shot.
You know those quizzes you always see people sharing on social media? The ones about what kind of sandwich you are, or where you would be sorted into imaginary school houses? It can be annoying to see these in your daily feed, I know, but these quizzes accomplish the main rule of the mini vacation, they force you to think about something else. And, since most of them are structured in a seemingly nonsensical way (the spaghetti you click on chooses what dog breed you were in another life) it makes your brain process it in a different way than just picking the answer for yourself. And, if you’re sick of the ‘what are you’ quizzes, there are plenty of sites out there that pay for you to complete surveys and watch experimental ads. Granted, it’s not a lot of money, and you can only take surveys that match your demographic, but it’s a little escape you can use to pretend you’re also being productive.
Again, when it comes to occupying yourself, movies and television just don’t cut it. At least, not when you’re trying to quiet your mind. In this instance, reading doesn’t require the same level of interaction as a video game, but it still requires an active participant. In other words, a book won’t finish itself if you walk out of the room. The simple act of reading engages your brain by asking you to visualize something that isn’t there. Using just words, the book paints a picture and you fill in the rest. I understand that finding time to read can be hard, and I fall asleep almost every time I pick up a book, but not every reading mini vacation needs to be Don Quixote. Sometimes it’s just reading an interesting article on your phone. Sometimes it’s sharing in flash and micro fiction among other readers. We all do a lot more reading in a day than we realize, but adding an extra incentive to find it, can give you more of those moments away.
The Power of Silence
Okay, so, up until this point I’ve been suggesting things that can override or drown out your busy brain. So how can silence stem the tide of daily worries? It doesn’t. In fact, it could be said that it opens the floodgates. It’s the opposite approach. The advantage here, however, is that you’re giving yourself time to think. One of the worst things about a busy lifestyle is that you feel like you’re staying afloat, but not swimming. You’re keeping up, but not getting ahead. You’re juggling a million projects, but never finishing anything. Sometimes, if you can take a moment to just lie down, in a dark room, and let the worries flow through like a gust of wind, it can help to organize your thoughts and clear everything out. This is different from sleep, because sleep is another necessity. You need to get to sleep so you can get up and do everything again. In this instance, you’re taking time out of your day to specifically disconnect. To resolve that no one can contact you, you’re not going to do anything other than lay there until whatever amount of time has passed.
If you’re thinking you don’t have time to do this, consider this. I started an incredibly stressful job a few years back. I was on auto pilot, doing what had to be done, but finding no joy or hope in anything I was doing. During this time I would often text my wife during my breaks, sending nothing but doom and gloom. While I awaited her responses, I would pace about the parking lot, until one day I decided to venture further. I discovered that the distance around the property, to walk it, was almost exactly the length of my break. So I started walking. I chose a place at the midway point that was the farthest distance away from my desk back in the building. A small corner of the parking lot, separated by a crack in the asphalt, and decreed that this was my sanctuary. Here I didn’t have to worry about a ringing phone. I didn’t have to worry about questions I didn’t know how to answer. And I didn’t have to answer to anyone. And I would stand there with my eyes closed, for a few minutes of the walk, just breathing in the air. Leaving that sanctuary was never easy, but I always looked forward to seeing it, and it always helped me. Over time I learned and grew until I no longer struggled so much at work, and the need for the sanctuary subsided. But I still take walks on my breaks every day the weather permits. Sometimes the thing we need most is just one moment of freedom in the day. One moment of silence where there is nothing external adding to the inferno of our minds. However small, however brief, it makes a difference.
What's Your Favorite Way to Relieve Stress?
As I suggested in the beginning, there is no surefire way to defeat stress. And maybe you are the kind of person who benefits from herbal teas and muscle-quivering yoga. And that’s great! But if you’re not that kind of person, consider the mini vacation. Give your brain a break by giving it a task. When you finish and come back to reality, you’ll feel refreshed, like you’re emerging from a cave after a long storm. And, if not, maybe you’ll have something pretty at the end.