Looking over this list you may think to yourself, “this just looks like work!” You are absolutely correct if you haven’t already started building these habits. My grandpa used to tell us that anything we put altruistic effort into will come back to us ten-fold. This has been a personal truth for me and my family so I urge you to keep it in mind while re-connecting with what dissolves stress. Keep in mind, what is our concept of relaxation today? Most of our “techniques” we think are stress relievers are tied to instant gratification. The relief they offer is as fleeting as they are accessible.

One moment you’re immersed in your favorite Netflix series and the next you are painfully aware of how you’ve avoided what really needs to be done. How is this relaxing? We all know we need to build better strategies for overcoming the stressors in our lives, but where do we start? Our ancestors have some compelling under-rated answers.

Storytelling and Reading to Strengthen Compassion and Stress Relief

Storytelling served our ancestors as an aid to remember the important parts of humanity. You and I both love to hear a good story. We share stories of what happened over the weekend when we come back to the office as a way of sharing our experiences and being exposed to choices and consequences that aren’t our own. They inspire and provide a great deal of relief for the listener and the speaker. Many ancient stories have been lost to time or have successfully been recorded in books.

When was the last time you peeled open a printed mash of papers and lost yourself in the stories of long past?  Reading novels can improve your brain connectivity and function far beyond what our electronic devices and televised series can offer.  42% of college graduates exit the university environment to never read a book again. Our perspective on reading must change if we want to overcome our ingrained sense of reading equals work. To look at reading in a more positive light is to see it as storytelling.

Why should you climb above the aversion to reading that school-work has accidentally created? At Emory University, researchers found that our brain’s resting state connectivity after flipping pages of fictional novels was significantly heightened.

These qualities of immersion built by you are far superior to being told a story from outside your own mind. Reading ultimately helps us build compassion, develop empathy for protagonists and antagonists alike. Find books with fleshed out narratives that compel you to go beyond your normal stream of thought.  Reddit offers a great community (a subreddit) that focuses on helping people find fiction and reading that fits their interests.  I recommend you take a moment to find the next novel that will help build your brain connectivity, and in the end, fortify a great pro-active barrier to the stressors circling our day.

Painting and Creativity as Play

Trying to complete the next Mona Lisa is anything but stress relief. But how about finger painting? Now we’re talking. Seeing creativity as an opportunity to go back to grade school years helps pull you away from what ails you.

Creativity is often attributed to some sort of in-born talent.  If you have it great. If you don’t? You’ll probably say something like, “I’m not creative so I chose a career in accounting.” You most certainly can be an accountant and be creative. Creativity is a learned skill that takes practice. Each one of us has a creative side whether tended to or left wild in a back lot.  View your time spent being creative as play time! LunaBath’s sister site focuses on building creativity skills. Check it out!

Wonder why kids have an easier time at learning and growing their skill sets?  It’s because they don’t have the dense concept of work nagging them while they “play” even if their play is actually a hidden way to get better at something.

The recent phenomenon of adult coloring books exemplifies our inborn want to be creative. The goal of using art materials to make isn’t to be the worlds next top artist.  It’s to connect with our past as makers and creators and find a greater sense of confidence in ourselves. I’m handing the reins over to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love, to explain why everyone at their heart is an artist;

…all of your ancestors were creative — all of them. You and I and everybody we know were descended from tens of thousands of years of makers.

The entire world, for better or for worse, has been altered by the human hand, by human beings doing this weird and irrational thing that only we do amongst all our peers in the animal world, which is to waste our time making things that nobody needs, making things that nobody needs, making things a little more beautiful than they have to be, altering things, changing things, building things, composing things, shaping things. This is what we do. We’re the making ape. And no one is left out of the inheritance of that. That’s our shared human inheritance.

And another really strong piece of evidence is that every human child is born doing this stuff innately. It’s an instinct. There’s no child that you put crayons and paper in front of who doesn’t get it, what you’re supposed to do. No four-year-old boy was ever sat in front of a pile of Legos and said, “I don’t know, I’m just — I’m not feeling it.”

I guarantee a surge of relief if you give yourself the chance to play with art materials like a kid does. You never know where it may lead you, but you can be sure that it will help build your armor to deflect stress.

Walking in Nature for Inspiration and Resetting the Brain

Those who left footprints before us spent significantly more time out doors. Most of the time not out choice, but out of necessity. We cant go back in time and survey the moods and health of our ancestors but we can craft a theory stating in some ways their outdoor experiences led to fulfillment that is being slowly forgotten. Let’s take a look at our lives and be honest about how nature affects us.

We get in ruts when striving to better our careers and our lives.  On occasion, we must unplug not only from our ambitions but also from our electronic devices. You would be hard pressed to find someone who regrets going outside on a pleasant day.  Gregory Bratman did a recent study on a group of people who were split into two paths.  One group took a path through a natural environment and the other was channeled through an urban setting. Before and after the walk, the researchers examined brain activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain responsible for examining your own emotions and thoughts.  The volunteers who walked through nature scored much lower on brooding over negative thoughts than those who were asked to walk along urban activity.  This was also measured in a reduced blood flow to the prefrontal cortex indicating their body had chemically let go of what ailed them.

For those who don’t have easy daily access to nature, it is even more important that they take the time to seek out a day-cation away from their urban lifestyle.  Your mental health depends on it! This guide from Yoganonymous is incredibly helpful for getting the most out of your outdoor adventures.

Gardening to Grow Relief from Stress

Gardening is another skill that is primed for stress relief but gets shelved because of popular opinion. You can ask most people and they will concede they simply don’t have a green thumb. The popular story being, “I’m so bad at growing plants that I killed a friend’s cactus while they were gone on vacation.” Gardening is not a talent or natural gift – rather it must be learned! Those who keep a garden successfully learned from their parents or from attending community classes to help build their abilities. What a wonderful way to tackle two obstacles at once – make new friends and learn how to garden properly by taking a community class or participate in online forums like Houzz’s garden forums.  I have personally used their forum to brush up on gardening skills. The community is full of experts who have a passion for helping those who want to start getting back to soil.

Mary O’Brien is a researcher and Doctor at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London who works with cancer patients to improve their well-being during treatments. She identified a helpful strain of bacteria that make their homes in fertile soil. Patients who were exposed to this bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae exhibited increased levels of serotonin – a chemical found naturally in our body that soothes muscles, enables transmitting of our nerve cells and helps regulate our body to promote happiness!

“Gardeners inhale these bacteria while digging in the soil, but they also encounter M. vaccae in their vegetables or when soil enters a cut in their skin,” says Matthews.  “From our study we can say that it is definitely good to be outdoors–it’s good to have contact with these organisms. It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”

I wear the dirt under my nails after gardening as a badge of honor. Little did I know I may have been introducing helpful bacteria little by little into my system.

Cooking up A Stress Busting Meal

We are becoming increasingly reliant on easy fixes for our hunger. In 2016 over 50 million Americans choose fast food every day over cooking at home. I’m one of those 50 million on occasion when stress and lack of preparation get the best of me. We spend on average 27 minutes a day preparing food, down from the 60 minutes in 1965.  This means today we are spending 55% less time in the kitchen creating something on our own. Our lives have certainly become different from our 60’s culinary crafters – but I’m not confident that our work-load has changed. Our options to eat away from home certainly have.

53% of Americans feel they can’t cook as well as their parents! This lack of confidence in the kitchen creates all sorts of new stressors that affect our financial prosperity and our own physical health. When we rely on fast food we allow a company to prepare our meals for us. Some businesses do a great job of finding local healthy ingredients but there most certainly is an added cost that ultimately can lead to more stress.

What happens when we cook in the kitchen?  I won’t stand by the idea that buying from a grocery store is going to net you better ingredients. Many grocery stores find their produce and protein from the same production farms used by restaurants and fast food. But something else much more important happens when we cook a meal at home. Sure we save some money, but what is heaviest for consideration is our health.

A recent study by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health shows that those who eat at home consume fewer carbs, less sugar, and less fat compared to those who rely on restaurants and fast food for their meals. We invite our friends and family into our homes to show off our culinary best-ofs and encourage storytelling that benefits our mental health. We all have a need to connect with others, why not let a meal be the center stage for a performance of well-being?

Need to brush up on your cooking skills? I highly recommend watching Alton Brown’s series Good Eats.  The series is available for purchase through Youtube or Amazon. Not only is Alton animated in his explanations to cooking well – but they are incredibly educational! Watch this video to learn what Gordan Ramsay considers the bare-minimum essentials in your kitchen. Set aside a small budget and get yourself to your local restaurant supply store or Amazon for great pricing on the tools you need to transform your kitchen into a veritable classroom guiding your path to eventual stress relief!

We hope you enjoyed this post – all of us at LunaBath wish you the best.  Remember, above all else, love yourself so you may better love others.