If you are struggling to find healthy ways to cope with your stress levels and you are finding that your coping skills are stretched to the max, it is probably time to set aside your ever-growing to-do list and take some time for self-care. Many people’s image of a person practicing self-care is of a woman with cucumber slices on her eyes, her face covered in a mud mask, lounging in a fluffy robe on a spa recliner, but there are other ways to calm down and find stress relief.
Stress Symptoms, Or, I’m Not Stressed, I Just Want to Take a Three-Day Nap
Whether you are a busy working parent, a college student, or just someone trying to make it through the week, stress and its side effects can creep up and take a toll on your physical and mental health. Stress is your own body’s reaction to situations that feel overwhelming, threatening, or just plain uncomfortable, and initial stress responses may include increased heart rate or blood pressure, tense muscles, and rapid breathing.
Although our bodies and minds are designed to handle some amounts of stress, chronic stress can be damaging and it is important that individuals find appropriate ways to de-stress, not only for their own health but also for the benefit of their loved ones and family members.
Symptoms of stress vary from person to person but being aware of some of the ways stress manifests can help you recognize it in yourself as well as in the behaviors of your loved ones. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Moodiness, easily irritated or frustrated
- Feeling overwhelming or out of control
- Feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, or loss of self-worth
- Avoidance of activities or events that one normally enjoys
- Low energy, fatigue, sleeplessness or wanting to sleep more than usual
- Chest pain, racing heart rate, high blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal pain, stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea
- Aches, pains, tense muscles
- Diminished libido
- Inability to focus, forgetfulness, racing thoughts
- Poor judgment, pessimism, higher levels of negativity
Do any of these sound familiar? While deep breathing exercises, getting enough sleep, physical activity, and relaxation techniques may help, other stress management techniques can also be useful in stress reduction. Below, you will find seven DIY project ideas that can help improve your overall sense of well-being.
Project Idea #1: Banish Clutter and Reorganize the Spaces You See Every Day
Clutter and disorganization can amp up stress levels, and they are also symptoms of stress. One way to tackle this aspect of your life head-on is to dedicate time to reorganize, refresh, and declutter a pantry, closet, bookshelf, or workspace. Working through a cluttered or overstocked area helps you regain a sense of control over your surroundings, and this process can also alleviate some stressors by creating a clean, well-organized space.
As you work through your pantry or cabinets, evaluate expiration dates and items that are collecting dust. Do you really need those ice cream sundae dishes your grandmother gave you that you stuck on the top shelf with the vague idea of having an ice cream buffet at some point? You have two choices: break out the ice cream cartons, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and cherries, or give those dishes away! The same goes for that jar of olives stuffed with blue cheese that you bought by mistake and the salad shooter that you only used once. Organize your most-used items in easy-to-reach locations, label shelves, and containers, and take a deep breath. The next time you need maple syrup, you will know right where it is!
Alternatively, attack your closet with Marie Kondo levels of rigor! That yellow blouse that may fit again one day, that old bridesmaid dress, that itchy sweater, those jeans that you paid too much for but still hate the way they make you look...someone else may love these things and need them. Collecting unused items and donating them to Goodwill or your local thrift shop is a great way to help your own stress levels while providing a service to the community.
The same goes for your bookshelf. Schools and community centers appreciate good used books, and you can make room for your ever-growing to-be-read list while purging books that you are not likely to read (or read again).
Project Idea #2: Make Your Spa-liday Dreams Come True at Home
Few things are more traditionally relaxing than slipping into a warm, scented bath, lighting some candles, throwing on some smooth jazz, and sipping a glass of wine while candles flicker on the ledge. If you want to melt your stress away, try making your own salt soak. Although spa-quality salt soaks can be expensive in retail stores and on cosmetic websites, it is surprisingly simple to create bath and spa products at home.
Lavender is known to be a calming scent, so all you need to do is add lavender, whether it comes from fresh flowers, dried buds, or few drops of essential oil, to a small jar of Epsom salt, and voila! You have created your very own soothing salt soak. Experiment with herbs and essential oils to find the combination that is right for you.
After your bath, you can sit back and rest your eyes with a homemade eye pillow. Mix a scoop of rice and a couple of tablespoons of whatever dried herbs you find appealing. From there, you can go full craft-mode and sew together a custom fabric piece in a basic rectangle (leaving one end open), stuff the little pillow with your rice and herb concoction, and sew it up. You can heat your eye mask for a soothing warmth that drains away tension headaches, or you can refrigerate it to help with dark circles or puffiness. In a pinch, you can even pour the dry rice and herbs into a clean sock and either sew or knot it shut!
Don’t have time for a leisurely bath or lying about on a chaise lounge with an eye mask? Consider a shower bomb instead. Essential oils in scents like peppermint, lavender, or citrus are added to baking soda and water, then shaped in rubber molds to create one-of-a-kind shower bombs. As you shower, the heat and water melt the shower bomb, and the whole bathroom will smell like a spa or a flower-bedecked meadow.
Project Idea #3: Bring a Moment of Zen to Your Office or Tabletop
Creating a small-scale zen garden is something even those without a green thumb can feel confident doing. You can buy a zen garden kit online, but given the simplicity of the design, you may find that you can build one on your own with items in your house or tool shed. Take a box top or shallow wooden dish about the size and shape of a standard picture frame and add a layer of sand that comes half-way up the sides of the container. From there, select a few stones and get a tiny rake (a fork with carefully bent tines works as well). At the end of the day or whenever you need a quick break, trace designs in the sand with the tiny rake for a few moments of zen.
Another way to build a zen garden is by using the same type of box tray or shallow wooden dish and filling it with pebbles, stacked stones (that can be restacked into small cairns as part of the interactive zen element of the garden), and a few succulents. You will have created a mini garden that is low maintenance as well as minimalist and pleasing to the eye.
Project Idea #4: Looking for Less Zen and More Tomatoes? Plant a Garden.
Experts have long been advocating that folks get outside when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and what better way to take advantage of the outdoors than by planting a garden? Even if you live in an apartment or area without much outdoor space, a container garden or rooftop garden can still provide that combination of soil, sun, and seeds that proves so rejuvenating.
There is no need to plant an extensive crop, erect a greenhouse, or even build raised garden beds. Focus on one or two types of plants, and keep your garden simple so that it can be a stress-free zone. Horticulture therapy has gained the respect and attention of psychologists as well as agriculturalists, and most gardeners can tell you that there is a quiet joy that comes from producing one’s own herbs, vegetables, fruits, or flowers.
Project Idea #5: Sew You Say You Are Stressed?
Even if you eschew needles and you have never even considered owning a sewing machine, many different kinds of sewing and knitting projects are proven stress-busters. Consider joining a quilting group or taking up quilting. Do you own more than your fair share of old T-shirts you never wear but cannot quite bring yourself to throw out? Do yourself a favor and use them to create a unique quilted throw or wall-hanging.
Perhaps cross-stitch or knitting is more your speed. Tons of cross-stitch kits exist on Etsy or other online retailers, and you can select designs that reflect your aesthetic, whether it is colorful and eclectic or more subtle and traditional. Likewise, knitting or crocheting is a great way to keep your hands busy and your mind relaxed, and surely someone in your life is looking for a beautiful new scarf?
Project Idea #6: Paint Your Stress Pink (or Blue, or Green)
Paint a wall, just one wall, in a vibrant color that is too saturated for a whole room but that has always appealed to you. The act of taking action to change just one aspect of your everyday surroundings can push away negative thoughts and refocus your energy in a positive direction. A cheery yellow, a peacock teal, even a deep ocean blue can bring life and interest to a room. And since you are only painting one accent wall, there is no need to stress about having enough paint or choosing the exact right color to complement the drapes. If you hate it, paint over it and try again!
Not quite ready to redecorate but still like the idea of painting? Get a set of acrylic paints and inexpensive paintbrushes, a handful of smooth stones, and get to work painting the rocks with uplifting messages or simple designs. This low-stakes project is a great one to do with kids, and you can extend the fun by “hiding” the rocks around the neighborhood or in your own garden.
Or skip the walls and the rocks and paint your own design! Paint by numbers kits come in a wide range of styles and subjects, but you can also feel free to paint outside the lines and create your own abstract or impressionistic art.
Project Idea #7: Create a Glittering, One-of-a-Kind Diamond Art Masterpiece
If you have never heard of diamond painting, you are in for a treat. Crafters and hobbyists the world over are discovering this new art form, and hundreds of diamond painting kits exist to suit any theme, style, or color scheme. Every diamond painting art kits includes individual bags of diamond beads (also called diamond drills, the beads are actually deeply pigmented rhinestones made out of resin), a DMC-coded canvas with your selected scene, and a diamond applicator pen. Kits also include a wax pad (used to pick up the diamonds with the applicator tool), a grooved diamond tray, and a set of tweezers for detail work.
If you are new to the concept of diamond painting, you will be well-served to access a good beginner’s guide to diamond painting from a respected retailer like VizuArts. You should also know that there is a thriving community of diamond painters eager to share tips and the results of their own diamond painting craft projects. Diamond painting art kits come in sizes that range from 20 x 20 cm (8 x 8 in) to some as wide as 90 cm (36 in), and most diamond art kit prices top out at around $50 when you use coupons or find good online sales.
In terms of stress relief, crafters may find that the “mindless mindfulness” required in activities like cross-stitch and diamond painting is an excellent way to allow your body and your brain ease into a more relaxed state. In fact, studies have shown that, for some people, activities like structured coloring (e.g., filling in a mandala or completing a pre-selected art design) can relieve stress and anxiety more than free-form artwork.
Beyond Projects: Managing Stress As a Way of Life
The seven project ideas above are all good ways to pull yourself out of your day to day worries and focus on something that requires enough attention to allow your brain to relax but not so much focus that you become even tenser. As you look for ways to relieve stress, consider the following suggestions to help you on your journey to managing stress in a way that is sustainable and productive.
Find time to exercise and/or get outdoors. This can be as simple as taking a walk around the block, doing some jumping jacks in your bedroom, or attending a community yoga class. If you want to combine exercise with the stress-relieving balm of being in nature, go for a hike in the woods or take a kayak out on a nearby lake.
Put down the third cup of coffee or that fourth glass of wine (we are not judging). Eating a balanced diet and enjoying alcohol and/or caffeine in moderation are the building blocks of living a healthy life. Chronically poor food and drink choices add to stress levels by knocking your hormones out of whack and generally making you feel physically and emotionally drawn.
Practice mindfulness through your choices of projects, by meditating, or simply by taking time to close your eyes and breathe. Western scientists and physicians have finally gotten around to studying and supporting what eastern philosophers have known for centuries, namely, that having the ability to manage your thought patterns can help improve every aspect of your life.
If you are struggling, ask for help from your social network. No, not on Facebook or Instagram, but rather from your friends, family, or even co-workers. Knowing the signs of stress can help you deal with pressures in a healthy way, and seeking support is a good way to signal to others that you have enough trust in them to share your own struggles.
And don’t forget to put down your phone, turn off the news, and limit your exposure to negative people or events. Yes, you need to be aware of what is going on in the world, but that does not mean that you have to be glued to every digital update to stay in touch.
Take some time to acknowledge and manage your stress, pick a project or activity that appeals to you, and just...breathe.