In my monthly 21-day challenge groups, participants have a chance to reflect on not-so-healthy habits that may cause them to get off-track or stray from goals. In a recent group one member was having a particularly rough day (and since we continue to reflect on being on autopilot versus mindful and intentional), she realized food and/or booze was her go-to stress reliever. This is an area close to my heart because for a long time snacking was my go-to tool for stressful situations. I guess you can say the first step is recognizing you do it, and once you’ve realized it, you’ve won half the battle.
Every person has their own triggers and as such, tools that will help deal in times of stress. I’ll give you some of my triggers and the tools that have worked for me (and others I know) and maybe they will work for you…. or at least give you an idea for ways to customize this for you.
I divide stress for me in two groups– stressful situations in which I need to use or occupy my hands to prevent my hands from shoving food in my face and situations where I need to occupy my mouth instead of mindlessly eating while something busy is going on around me. Let me explain:
The “occupying hands” tool comes into play when I’m stressed but not actively involved in something physically stressful but more mentally stressful. Examples include: helping kids with homework (I’m not the one doing the writing but am present and need to continue the nagging and nudging); waiting for something and growing impatient (arrival of out of town visitors traveling in bad weather, the repair guy working on my furnace (do I need a new one and how much will it cost?), a big presentation at work that happens in an hour, boredom (which rarely happens to me anymore but think of those times you might sit in front of the TV and mindlessly chomp on chips), or when prior mentioned out of town guests arrive and you all sit around a table filled with food and talk and for hours. That said, if your tool in these times consists of stuffing your pie hole you should find another way of occupying/calming your mind and hands. This may not include occupying your mouth!!
Some activities that have worked for me (and work in various of the situations above): —organizing/cleaning — for some of you this may be daunting or stressful in itself. For me, it is a release. I wouldn’t start with a huge undertaking (I imagine having a giant mess of a project on your hands would be pretty stressful!) but take a drawer, the medicine cabinet, one shelf of the pantry, one rack of a closet, the freezer, and clean, organize and purge. This also has a fabulous high associated with being productive!
–workout (or put on your workout clothes)– this is two fold. If I don’t feel like working out sometimes being in my gear gets me motivated. If not, I generally don’t pig out on junk food in my workout duds. If I do make it to the mat, we all know that working out releases serious endorphins and reduce stress.
— go for a walk – this is a good one if you’re sitting around with family and mindlessly nibbling. Plus you get some fresh air and a little workout in to boot!!
–change your sensory experience— light candles, take a bath or shower with scented bath soap, make herbal tea, give yourself a manicure or pedicure, use scented lotion.
–occupy the hands while staying “put” — I like this one while in front of the TV or helping kids with homework. Get some fun new crayons or markers and color– yes color — in a coloring book. You can use your kids books or get an “adult” coloring book from Amazon (wow, that sounded x-rated but it’s not!) Do sudoku, word search, doodle, make lists (grocery or gift shopping), play solitaire.
There are other times when I’m otherwise occupied so the “occupy hands” tools won’t work. But I might feel stressed out and want to snack while my hands are busy. These are the times when I need to occupy my mouth and I can’t take a bath or organizing break. Maybe I’m at the office working on a stressful project, paying my bills, or helping the kids do holiday arts and crafts (come on… we all know pinterest projects never come out like they look!) During these times I need my hands free but might want to grab some holiday cookies from the break room, grab a glass of wine, or snack in whatever is in sight. So while I’m totally not a gum person, I have found that gum rules in these situations. I can chomp away, keep my mouth busy and not much tastes good on the palette after mint! This is also a great time to take a break from what you’re doing, get up from the desk and walk around, stretch and get some tea. Or, use the sensory vacation tool (burn a delicious candle and take moment to apply some scented lotion to your hands. Sometimes I find that just putting in some lipstick makes me less apt to snack.
I guess it all boils down to being mindful (am I truly hungry or am I actually stressed?), what sort of tool would help me work through this moment (sensory vacation, using my hands, occupying my mouth, or something else?)
What are your go-to non-food stress relievers?