Bust your stress with game therapy, cooking, dancing and more…
Anxiety isn’t “all in your head,” regardless of what people say. It’s a full-body, physical experience. Like many of us, I suffer from oft-suffocating anxiety. It can make it difficult to go about my day-to-day life, let alone pursuing hopes and dreams and that stuff. Through many years of trial and error (and more than one therapist), I have developed a bunch of tools for coping, and most are actually fun! Perhaps you’d consider dabbling in game therapy? Storytelling? Or something a little more…er…intimate?
I stumbled upon these organically, just by paying attention to what quells my stress demons rather than amplifying them. But they all have scientific backing.
Here are some things I do to cope with anxiety.
1. Engage in Video Game Therapy
Don’t you want to go to here?
I like Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector, but you do you. I personally enjoy escaping into a two-dimensional world of colorful, clean line drawing populated by adorable cats who eat, play and leave me virtual fish I can use to purchase more food and toys for the make-believe cats. The stakes are low, while the New York City real estate value of my calming Neko Atsume house would be way high.
That said, game therapy needn’t be peaceful to be effective. First-person shooters and other games on the less chill side of the spectrum have also proven to have mental health benefits, so go with the violence if that floats your boat.
2. Break Out the Board Games
Wanna play? Games are good for you.
Your cellphone and PlayStation don’t have a monopoly on effective game therapy. The old-fashioned kind have serious mental health benefits as well.
3. Talk to Yourself
Photo by Annie Engel via iStock.
It may seem silly, but articulating your stress can be very helpful. Whatever is worrying you may lose some of its power once named, and you may get some relief from physically expelling that name from your body. I give myself pep talks, comfort talks — hell, sometimes I just calmly run through my overwhelming to-do list. Sometimes I do this in the guise of “talking to my cat,” who is a great listener. I’m apparently not the only one who finds therapeutic benefit in this practice.
4. Watch Cute Videos
Our brains release oxytocin — often called the “love” or “bonding” hormone — when we see kittens or puppies or human babies or whatever makes us go, “Awwwwww!” We should all keep websites of cute pics and videos bookmarked on our browsers for easy access when feeling anxious or down. It’s not just procrastination; it’s proven to be good for us.
5. Cook Something
Chopping makes you feel good. Photo via iStock.
Cook something…or otherwise create within whatever medium you enjoy. Do something different from the work or life business that currently has you feeling stuck. The mental reset may be useful, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with Making A Thing will hopefully further enhance your state of mind. Plus, you know, you’ll have the food or whatever it is you made, so make it something you actually want. Experts have studied and noted the relaxation and stress relief that come from cooking therapy.
6. Tell a Story
Photo via Getty Images.
Tell a story or ask someone to tell you a story. Something as soothing as a bedtime story, whatever that means to you. Just briefly focus on something made-up and pleasant to slow your heart rate and recharge before going back into the harsh real world. Spend some QT thinking about a duck trying to cross a biiiiiiiig pond before supper, or some other ridiculously gentle situation. (Yes, I like low-stakes duck adventure stories. Whatever. Don’t judge me.)
You can also make your story a little more adult, perhaps even a narrative about your own sources of stress? This needn’t be a reality-show interview-style confessional. The great thing about stories is that you can encode memoir into metaphor and still enjoy therapeutic benefits (maybe you are that duck and the pond is your job search). Storytelling helps resolve conflicts and reduce depression in both kids and adults. Feel like just reading a story instead? That reduces stress too.
Photo via iStock.
Move in whatever way is viable for you. Yes, hitting the gym is great, but you can also just go for a walk or dance around at home or stretch or do whatever kind of motion you can handle. Endorphins are your friend and can help keep stress hormones at bay.
Like the sign says. Photo by Nutmeg Designs.
When I have anxiety attacks, my breathing is one of the first things to get messed up, often without my even realizing. It’s all downhill from there. Take long, slow, deep breaths. I like to breathe in through my nose for three counts, hold it for three counts, exhale through my mouth for four, and then inhale for four, repeating the cycle for however long feels right, but there’s nothing magic about that exercise. The main thing is to take the time and space to not worry about anything except breathing, and to do that fully. It can help reset your system.
9. Clean or Organize Something
Photo via iStock.
When I clean, really clean, it’s as if I am also scrubbing my soul. A messy home increases stress. When I put my house in order, it feels like my whole life will follow. Maybe that’s messed up in its own way, but it doesn’t change the fact that cleaning and organizing your space just feels good. Dishwashing can be a mindfulness practice. If you’re working and don’t have much time, just clean your desk. Oh my god, a clean desk. I’m visualizing it and I feel better already.
10. Have Sex
Photo via iStock.
Have sex with someone else or by yourself. Either is effective.
11. Listen to Music
Photo via iStock.
I tend to find an alert sense of peace and well-being in intense, percussive music. (Perhaps this is why I was able to bliss out among thousands pogoing to Rage Against the Machine at Rock the Bells a few years ago, whereas the New York subway gives me panic attacks.) Heavier live music events are some of the rare occasions in which I’m energized rather than terrified by a crowd, and I don’t think it’s simply because concerts are more fun than commuting is. My whole body chemistry shifts.
So will yours, regardless of what genres get you going. Listen to a favorite album start to finish. Sing along. Make playlists for yourself or friends on different things. Listen, engage and feel the fog lift a bit.
So, yeah, from game therapy to sexual healing, hopefully something here will help bust your stress. Now go forth and chill out.