Plant Positive Seeds: 3 Stress-Reducing Habits

 

Positively Present - Little Deeds

 

Feeling stressed? Yeah, you're not alone. Most of us experience stress, particularly at this time of year when we're reflecting on the months that have passed and looking forward to the typically-busy months to come. If you're stressed, you're probably thinking of in-the-moment things you can do to quell the chaotic feelings (deep breathing, taking breaks, spa-like activities, etc.), but one of the best ways to combat stress is to develop regular habits that keep you calm. Planting positive seeds in the form of stress-reducing habits can greatly reduce your stress level, in part because you don't have to think about things to help you reduce your stress -- they'll already be habits! 

There are tons of ideas for habits that reduce stress -- eating well, exercising, spending time with loved ones, etc. -- but here are three of my favorite stress-reducing habits that you might want to consider adopting. Even if you're not currently stressed, putting habits like this in place can help you when you're facing stress in the future! 

 

START A GRATITUDE JOURNAL

I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard "gratitude journal" in connection with stress reduction, but there's a reason that it's a popular topic in the self-help community. Spending time reflecting on what you're thankful for really does help cut down on stress. Studies have shown that gratitude is good for your health and, on a personal level, I've found that tracking things I'm thankful for on a daily basis really does help me feel less stressed. 

 

PICK UP A BUNCH OF FLOWERS

Surrounding yourself with beauty and nature is another great habit to embrace if you want to stress less. New research shows that people who lived with flowers in their homes for just a few days reported a significant decrease in their levels of stress and improvements in their moods. The simple act of making it a habit to have flowers around can help you stress less! This is a great example of how a small habit -- putting some pretty flowers in your home -- can have a meaningful impact on your stress level. 

 

OFFER TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE

Another great habit to consider adopting is regularly helping out others. Whether it's volunteering for a local charity, assisting a coworker, or helping those you love, helping other people is a habit that will cut down on your stress. It might sound counterintuitive -- adding another thing to your to-do list to reduce stress? -- but studies have shown that volunteering is good for your mental health, and the more stable your mental health, the better you'll be able to cope with stress! 

 

Nobody likes being stressed, but hopefully the three habits detailed above will inspire you to consider incorporating a stress-reducing, positive habit into your life on a regular basis. While deep breaths and mindfulness techniques can help combat stress in the moment, it's a good idea to create regular positive habits that will counteract stress without you having to even think about it. So consider adding gratitude journaling into your nightly routine, picking up some flowers on the way home from work, signing up to volunteer (or any other positive habit that cuts down on stress!) and see how simple, small things can have a big impact on your stress level! 

 

 

On StreetThank you to the Society of American Florists (SAF) for kindly sponsoring today's post! Whether it’s paying for a fellow commuter’s toll, or leaving a generous restaurant tip, “paying it forward” and “random acts of kindness” give people hope and inspire kindness towards others. SAF and the whole floral industry is taking part in this movement. It started with a small idea, that grew into everyone wanting to take part. Floral industry members know the power of flowers — they see it every day in their work. Whether to give or receive, flowers make people happy. For more information on the scientifically proven benefits of flowers including new university research on how living with flowers decreases stress, visit www.aboutflowers.com/research.


Positively Predictive Text: Life Advice from My Phone


Positively Present - Could Be Happy

 

"You are amidst all this drama and you can decide to be friends with your life."

That sentence was written using predictive text on my phone. You may have seen the trend that was popular awhile back where people would use predictive text to write their life stories or finish the sentence "I was born...", etc. It was silly and fun and I loved it. Last night I was playing around on my phone and the sentence above came together with predictive text, inspiring me to wonder, What kinds of advice might my phone have for me?

Obviously the advice isn't completely created by my phone since I choose the initial letter of the sentence and choose from three options predicted following each word, but it's still a fun little adventure to see what the phone (and, in reality, the average person since I assume that the predictions come from data gathered?) will suggest. 

As I've been working on my next book on creativity, I keep coming up against the concept of limitations and how, contrary to what we often think, they can be really liberating. As Kierkegaard put it, "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom." Too much freedom in a creative activity -- writing, drawing, etc., -- can be overwhelming, which is why using the predictive text function is so fun. It limits in a way that's liberating. Plus, it's just fun! 

I highly recommend you give it a go on your own phone, but, before you do, check out some of the life lessons my phone came up with (along with a few thoughts about this predictive-text-driven advice):  

 

Today is the day you can decide what you want.

Ooh, this was a good one! How often do you have an idea / task / dream that you defer to tomorrow? Sometimes it feels like my entire life is just endlessly re-writing the items on my to-do list that I didn't do the day before. Part of the "deferred dream" problem, I think, is that we don't really know what we want. We may or may not spend time thinking about what we want, but true action (and change!) happens when we decide what we want. 

 

The best way of making it work is to do it. 

Alright. So this isn't the most life-changing bit of advice (just a tad cliche, wouldn't you say?), but it is pretty accurate. There's often such a chasm between want we want to happen and what we want to do to make something happen. Sometimes this lack of action is a good thing -- a sign that we're not on the right path and should reconsider -- but avoiding the work is the reason most of us don't have what we want in life. If you want it, do it

 

After a while, it seems like a good idea.

Hmm... I'm not sure if this is (good) advice, but it is relatable. Every bad idea starts out with uncertainty, but the more times I make the same bad choice, the more I start to rationalize it. The more time that passes, the more reasons I can come with for why something might actually be good for me (no matter how obvious the evidence to the contrary). I guess the advice here would be to consider how it was in the beginning and remember that we're really good at rationalizing so it's important to pay attention. 

 

Waste your hours on your phone, but it’s not worth your time. 

Obviously spending less time on your phone is good advice, but let's focus on the second half for a minute. Worth your time. That's an important thing to think about. How do you spend your time each day? Are the activities you engage in (and the people with whom you engage in them) worth your time and effort? It's always a good idea to check in with yourself and make sure you're spending your time wisely! 

 

Get it back to you.

Oh, interesting! I like to think of this one as a reminder not to let other people dominate your story. We're all meant to be the lead characters in our own stories but, depending on who you surround yourself with, you might find your story being dominated by someone else's drama / needs / etc. This ties in with the notion that self-love isn't selfish. If you get yourself in a good place, you can be good for others. 

 

You know how to get out of your way.

This bit of advice is so important. Not everyone knows how to get out of their own way, but most of us have a good idea of what we're doing that's not helpful to the people we want to be. We make choices that aren't healthy or helpful for a variety of reasons, but we frequently know which choices are "bad" for us. Pay attention to what's not working and work on changing it. 

 

Optimism is a little better than the other side.

Intriguing! This one is powerful to me because sometimes I feel like people think that optimism is some cure-all magical potion that will make everything in life perfect. In fact, it's just a mindset that helps to make everything a little bit better -- the highs a little higher and the lows a little less low. It's not a panacea. It's just a little bit better than choosing negativity. 

 

It’ll probably be better tomorrow. 

Yes, yes, yes! When you're going through a difficult day (or days), it can seem as if things will never get better (even when you've been through difficulties before and know, logically, that things have to improve!). I like the "probably" here because, let's be real, sometimes things aren't better tomorrow, but, in my experience, I've found that time -- whether it's getting through the night or through a tough season in life -- does improve things. Keep going. 

 

Stop being what you don’t want to be.

Well, this is certainly good advice! It's not always easy to implement (isn't that the case with all good advice, though?!), but the first step is knowing what you don't want to be. A lot of the time we focus on what we want to be, which is great and can help us move forward in a positive direction, but what about what we don't want to be. Knowing that can be really useful too! 

 

After everything, you could be happy.

I don't know why, but this one made me tear up a little bit! There's something so hopeful about it and yet the "could" makes it seem like happiness is still uncertain. It also makes it seem like happiness is a choice, like it might be chosen from a bin of options for how you could be in the future. I like the sadness that I'm reading in this one, even if it's meant to be hopeful. (It's not "meant" to be anything other than what you want it to be, I suppose!)

 

Make it easier for yourself.

Another good one! How often do we make it harder on ourselves than we need it to be? How often do we stay in negative situations because we're afraid of the unknown? Or set ourselves up for failure by making choices that might feel good in the moment but will later lead to regret? As someone who tries to stay in the present, sometimes it's hard to set up the future so it'll be easier on me, but this bit of advice made me think about what I can do now to make life easier on my future self. 

 

I hope you have something to learn today.

Not so much advice, this last one is more of a statement, but it's still a good one. I'm personally obsessed with learning. What I'm learning about shifts depending on where I am in my life, but I'm always striving to know something now that I didn't know the yesterday. The thought of not continuing to grow or learn -- or the notion that their wouldn't be something to learn (brought to mind by the word "hope" here) -- saddens me and reminds me to make an effort to keep pursing knowledge about myself and the world. 

 

I had a lot of fun making this post and I'd highly recommend playing around with the predictive text on your phone (and it's now coming to Gmail, too!) to see what kinds of insights you can uncover. While the phone does provide some limits and ideas, the end result ends up telling you more about your own inner dialogue than it does about the inner workings of the device in your hand. Give it a go -- and if you come across any inspiring words of wisdom, leave 'em in the comments below! 

 

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How to Cope with Resurfacing Trauma


Positively Present - Pain

 

If you've been following the news at all lately, you've probably heard about a high-profile sexual assault accusation. You've probably also heard about how, as a result of this high-profile case, many women are faced with the unsettling experience of having to revisit their own sexual assault experiences.

I am one of those women. I don't want to detail my personal experience here, but, having gone to school in the exact environment as the one discussed in the high-profile case (and having been assaulted by someone who went to the same high school), I'd say that this particular situation has been unusually upsetting for me. What happened to me took place over a decade ago and, while I thought I'd moved on from it, these past couple weeks have reminded me that, given the right conditions, trauma can resurface unexpectedly. Old wounds can open even if you think they're healed. 

While I'm not, by any means, a professional, a mental health expert, or a therapist, I do have some personal experience dealing with trauma and recently I've been through the task of figuring out ways to cope with it when it resurfaces, so I thought I'd spend a little time sharing what's worked for me. If at all possible, seek the help of a professional when dealing with trauma because they can assess your unique needs, personality, etc. But if you want to know what's worked for me personally, keep reading. 

 

IDENTIFY THE TRIGGER(S) 

The first step of coping with resurfacing wounds is identifying what's bringing them up. Sometimes this is quite obvious -- like, for example, the current news cycle -- but a lot of the time it isn't so clear. The strangest things can be a trigger, and these will be different for everyone, based on the traumatic situation and the individual's personality. The key to identifying triggers is paying attention to what's going on around you when you feel upset or unsettled. Listen to your body: Are your muscles tightening? Are you holding your breath? Are you clenching your jaw? Is your heart beating faster? These are just some of the physical cues that can alert you to the fact that something has triggered recollections of a traumatic experience. The more you practice paying attention to your body, the quicker you'll be able to identify these responses -- and the sooner you can identify them, the sooner you can address what has triggered them (and hopefully move past the difficult emotions). 

 

NOTICE TO YOUR RESPONSES

After figuring out what the trigger is, it's important to pay attention to how you're responding. (Yes, this is similar to the first part, but it's not linear path. Identifying triggers and responses goes hand-in-hand and sometimes you can figure out one before the other.) Taking notice of your physical and emotional responses can help you in two very important ways: (1) it will allow you to address your reactions directly and (2) knowing your responses can be useful in the future to help you quickly assess how you're feeling and what you're experiencing. Knowing your personal responses can alert you to distress, giving you an opportunity to address the distress earlier. Trauma Pages has a useful list of potential physical and emotional responses, but there are many possible experiences and a professional is essential for helping you identify yours. Here are a few of the ones I've experienced recently, but these can vary greatly from person to person. 

  • Changes in appetite (not eating or overeating)
  • Sleep changes (not sleeping or sleeping too much)
  • Stomach troubles (mind and gut are connected!)
  • Increased anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Emotional mood swings 
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Detachment or disassociation

 

REMOVE THE TRIGGER (IF POSSIBLE)

This bit of advice might seem obvious. Like, of course you should remove the trigger if it's upsetting you! But it's not always that easy to do. For example, I knew as soon as this high-profile assault case came to the mainstream media that I should stop looking at the news. It was obviously the direct cause of my distress. But there was also a part of me that didn't want to look away, that wanted to see what was going to happen, that didn't want to be out of the loop. Closing the apps, not clicking links, was harder than I'd thought it would be, but, overall, I've done the best I can to keep my focus on what's best for me. Avoiding difficult things is usually not good advice, but there's a difference between being informed and being impacted to the point of distress. You do what's right for you, and do whatever you can to put your mind at ease. 

 

SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP

If at all possible, I highly recommend seeking professional help when a past trauma resurfaces. The right therapist can, quite literally, be a lifesaver. If therapy isn't possible (or if, like me, you can't afford it), you can revisit and use tools taught to you by a professional in the past. I went back to my old notes on therapy sessions and reminded myself of techniques that my therapist taught me and put them to use over the past few weeks. If you haven't been in therapy, I'm guessing you can find techniques and tips online (but do your research and make sure you're getting good advice from a professional -- don't just try any random thing that some blogger wrote!). You might think you can do it on your own -- I know I like to think that -- but the objective, professional guidance of an expert is essential for making sure that you're not doing more harm than good. 

  

ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL HOW YOU FEEL

One of challenges with unexpected triggers is that you're taken by surprised. Unlike right after an incident has happened, when you might feel as if it's alright to be upset, there can be a tendency, when triggered, to have thoughts like: That was a long time ago; why am I upset now? I should be over this by now. I'm just making it worse by thinking about it again. Stop being so dramatic. Pushing away your feelings never goes well. Sure, it's not a good idea to ruminate on them obsessively, but it's not helpful to discredit them or tell yourself you should feel differently than you do. You're allowed to feel how you feel. You don't always have to act on your feelings, but it is helpful to acknowledge them, allow yourself to experience them, and do what you can to move toward a more positive mindset. 

 

REALIZE NOT EVERYONE WILL UNDERSTAND

People who haven't been through what you've been through, even if they're empathetic, aren't necessarily going to understand how you're feeling or why you're feeling it. As a result, they might say or do the "wrong" things. They might not realize that the smallest thing -- someone I love saying, "I really don't think he did it" about the high-profile case, for example -- can be devastating. You can do your best to communicate how you feel, but, even when you do, people might not understand (or respect your requests not to bring up certain topics). This leads you to choose one of two options: (1) avoid those people or (2) accept that you can't control others and know that, even if they aren't malicious, their words might hurt you, but the benefits of your relationship outweigh the pain caused. The choice you make here is going to depend a lot on the relationship and situation, but you can counteract these negative interactions by also spending time with those who understand and empathize. 

 

EXPLORE EMOTIONS CREATIVELY

Creativity is my personal lifesaver. Without it, I don't know how I would survive. I know a lot of people don't think they're creative or don't understand how creativity could help with mental distress, but, from decades of experience, I know that it works. The benefits of creativity are multitudinous, and they are worth considering when an old wound has resurfaced and old traumatic events feel like they're happening all over again. Creating something can bring you back to the present, can serve as an outlet for exploring your emotions, and can even lead you to knew insights about yourself and the situation. Whether it's writing, drawing, painting, cooking, or any other creative activity you can engage in, doing something creative can be really helpful when coping with trauma. 

 

PRACTICE SOOTHING SELF-CARE 

"Self-care" is such a buzzword these days, and I personally think its use can be a bit problematic at times. Taking a bubble bath isn't going to fix deep-rooted mental health issues. "Treat yourself" isn't going to heal emotional wounds. That being said, I think self-care can be a nice addition to the rest of the advice listed above, particularly when you're having a difficult day. One of the tricky things about self-care is that it's very personal. What soothes me might not sound at all soothing to you. Here are some self-care practices that work for me (but if these don't appeal to you, just think about things that make you feel calm, happy, loved, or relaxed and do those things):

  • Creating something (writing or drawing)
  • Taking a bath with an absorbing book
  • Watching funny films, shows, or videos
  • Playing with my pup, Barkley
  • Talking with an empathetic friend
  • Having a dance party with happy tunes
  • Writing in my gratitude journal 
  • Practicing some yoga with Adriene

Everyone has a different definition of "soothing." For extroverts, surrounding yourself with people and noise and stimulation might be useful. For introverts, alone time, reflection, and quiet might be preferable. The key is to do what feels right for you, not what falls under the mainstream notion of "self-care." 

 

AIM FOR FORGIVENESS

Forgiveness is a tricky topic because so many people equate forgiving with condoning. You might think that if you forgive someone for doing something awful to you that they get let off the hook. You might associate forgiveness with giving something to someone else, but it's actually much more about you than it is about him/her. Forgiveness is something you give yourself. As Tian Dayton wrote,

We forgive, if we are wise, not for the other person, but for ourselves. We forgive, not to erase a wrong, but to relieve the residue of the wrong that is alive within us. We forgive because it is less painful than holding on to resentment. We forgive because without it we condemn ourselves to repeating endlessly the very trauma or situation that hurt us so. We forgive because ultimately it is the smartest action to take on our own behalf. We forgive because it restores to us a sense of inner balance.

Everyone's situation is unique and, for some, forgiveness might not feel like an option, but I've personally found that every time I've experienced something traumatic and chosen forgiveness, I've felt a lot better. Forgiveness isn't accepting the behavior or denying that pain happened (or might still be happening). Forgiveness is freeing yourself from being connected to the person that hurt you. Forgiveness is freedom for you and, ultimately, doesn't have to involve anyone else. 
 
 
 
As a reminder, I'm not a mental health professional. The advice listed above comes from my own personal experience and might not work for you. If you're experiencing trauma (or the resurfacing of old traumas as a result of this high-profile assault case or for any other reason), I recommend seeking the guidance of a licensed mental health professional. Experts can assess your personal situation and provide insights and advice that works specifically for you, which you just can't get by searching online. Trauma is a complex mess of pain, but, with the right tools (and the help of a professional!), it is possible to overcome it, or, at the very least, learn tactics for coping with it.