Though there’s no doubt that technology has changed our lives for the better, too many of us are spending the vast majority of the day staring at one screen or another. Computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions — fixating on these screens has become second nature. This, combined with the normal stressors of life, has led to a nation of overwrought, overstressed human beings. It’s time to (figuratively) pull the plug and make a concentrated effort to spend at least an hour a day engaging in some low-tech, stress-relieving activities.
Here are five ways to do just that:
Coloring isn’t just for kids anymore! If you’ve been to a book or craft store in the last couple of years, you’ve no doubt noticed the proliferation of coloring books aimed at adults. There are a few reasons why coloring is making a comeback, but most experts point to its stress-relieving qualities as the force behind its popularity.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala explained how coloring works to alleviate the effects of stress: “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”
Much like meditation, coloring allows us to focusing on what we’re doing in the moment, thus ceasing to focus on our worries. It also taps into our imagination and is especially effective for those of us who are intimidated by a blank page. Coloring in the pre-drawn designs allows us to be creative without the pressure.
While there are distinct differences between the two disciplines, both yoga and pilates are fantastic ways to ease stress while getting a little bit of a workout. Stress can manifest in our bodies, often through headaches, stomach aches, digestive issues, back pain, muscle tension, dizziness, and rashes. Fortunately, yoga and pilates provide the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate your body by releasing tension.
Both yoga and pilates place great focus on breathing. This oxygenates the blood which triggers a physiological response in the body that naturally decreases stress and anxiety. They also allow you to concentrate your attention solely on your body, clearing your mind of problems and distractions. You can reap all the benefits of meditation without sitting still!
It’s amazing what organizing your thoughts into a journal can do. For instance, journaling can:
- Reduce stress: By writing about stressful events and negative emotions, you can come to terms with them. This gives you time to calm down and reduce the impact of these stressors on your physical health.
- Know yourself better: Writing routinely allows you to identify the things in life that bring you happiness, as well as those situations and people who are toxic.
- Effectively solve problems: Generally speaking, humans solve problems from an analytical perspective. However, sometimes the answer is best found by employing creativity and intuition. Writing helps to unlock these more unorthodox problem-solving abilities.
If just sitting down and writing isn’t your forte, consider using a few prompts. What are you grateful for? What never fails to make you smile? What can you learn from your biggest mistakes? How have you grown in the past year?
A study by Mindlab International revealed reading to be a one of the best ways to lower your heart rate, relieve muscle tension, and reduce stress. During the study, scientists increased the stress level and heart rates of a group of volunteers through a range of exercises. Then the participants engaged in typical stress-relief activities like listening to music, walking, playing video games, and reading. The group who read found their stress levels reduced by 68 percent. In fact, in most cases, the subjects’ stress levels were lower than what they were before the test began.
So, grab a book or magazine and set aside at least 30 minutes to read every day. Make sure you’re reading in a quiet place where you won't be interrupted. And remember, reading only helps you relax if you pick something that doesn’t upset you. Try to stick to novels where you can escape into another world, or nonfiction regarding activities that you enjoy (like your hobbies).
Did you know that getting crafty is also a great way to loosen up? Low-key repetitive physical activities ease tension through progressive muscle relaxation. Crafts like knitting, crocheting, macrame, and cross-stitching are perfect examples of this, thanks to the repetitive needlework or knotting.
A 2013 international survey of knitters showed a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy. More frequent knitters reported higher cognitive functioning, while knitting in a group impacted perceived happiness, improved social contact, and communication with others.
Of course, you’ll need to get past the learning curve before you’re really able to reap the benefits (e.g. lower heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels), so if you’re looking to relax short term, make sure it’s an activity you’re already familiar with.
Stress comes in many forms, and sometimes the best way to shut it down is to take a hands-on approach. It’s not always easy to ditch the screen in this technology-driven world, but the benefits of doing so are totally worth it. So, grab a book, your journal, some colored pencils or yarn and get to it — your body will thank you in the long run.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter@LizVGreene.