Distraction sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s overlooked as a viable relaxation technique and a healthy coping mechanism—simply stepping away from a stressful situation and then returning to it once your anxiety level has decreased.
Caregiving is stressful. For those times when it becomes too much, reading, music and structured creative activities are excellent ways to take a mental break until you feel strong enough to face the stress with fortitude and strength.
The next time you need a quick respite from your daily worries, try one of these effective distractions to give you some temporary peace of mind.
What better way to escape your stressful thoughts than sinking into another time, place, world or reality than a book?
Explore future worlds with author Andrew Krivak
Andrew Krivak’s “The Bear” will transport you to an Edenic future of calm streams, towering forests and windflower-covered mountainsides. Take in a deep breath of fresh air as you turn each page.
Award-winning science fiction by Becky Chambers
Two-time winner of science fiction’s most coveted award, The Hugo Award, Becky Chambers’ masterful storytelling can relax any wandering, anxious or tired mind. She’s the author of the popular “Monk & Robot” series and the earlier acclaimed modern science fiction masterpiece “Wayfarers” series, with another novel on its way.
The modern-day Walden by Sylvain Tesson
Reminiscent of a modern-day Walden, “Consolations of the Forest” celebrates slow living, eliminating modern distractions, and returning to the basics and ourselves.
Tolstoy’s last published work, “A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul,” is the one he considered to be his most important contribution to humanity. Structured to be read one day at a time for 365 days, Tolstoy offers daily insights that will leave you so busy pondering the words of inspiring thinkers – such as Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Emerson, Goethe, Lao-Tzu, Rousseau, Ruskin and Thoreau, as well as passages from the Talmud and the Bible – the stress will melt away.
Poetry is also good for relaxation (and the soul)
Poetry inspires the reader to stretch their imaginations as they wrap their minds around the alternative meanings entwined within a poem’s poignant stanzas. Below are some notably relaxing books of poetry:
- “Selected Poems” by William Wordsworth
- “A Thousand Mornings: Poems” by Mary Oliver
- “The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats”
- “Rhythms and Roads” by Victoria Erickson
Music is as old as humanity itself, and scientists are now beginning to decode ways we can leverage music to naturally guide the mind’s vibrational energy (i.e., brain waves) into a relaxed state.
A recent research study investigated which type of music induces the most relaxed state by asking participants to listen to a playlist of songs while the researchers monitored indicators of stress (blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels, etc.) for each participant.
These researchers found that a specific song – ”Weightless” – decreased participants’ overall anxiety by 65% and reduced their physiological resting rates by 35%. A team of musicians and sound therapists intentionally designed the harmonies, rhythms and bass lines in “Weightless” to slow a listener’s heart rate and blood pressure while also lowering stress hormones like cortisol.
In fact, the song “Weightless” was so effective in this study that the researchers heavily advised against listening to it while driving. (Listen to “Weightless” by Marconi Union free on YouTube, or you can find it in most music streaming apps. There is also a free 10-hour version of “Weightless” if you want a longer listening experience.)
The other songs included in the study are:
10. “We Can Fly,” by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)
9. “Canzonetta Sull’aria,” by Mozart
8. “Someone Like You,” by Adele
7. “Pure Shores,” by All Saints
6. “Please Don’t Go,” by Barcelona
5. “Strawberry Swing,” by Coldplay
4. “Watermark,” by Enya
3. “Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix),” by DJ Shah
2. “Electra,” by Airstream
1. “Weightless,” by Marconi Union
You can also download the same songs from this free public Spotify playlist.
Structured coloring activities
Research in art therapy interventions suggests that structured coloring activities – such as adult coloring books or pages – can reduce stress and anxiety by bringing on a mindful, meditative and attentive state. These activities are more calming than free-form coloring, drawing or painting.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, although coloring is not considered art therapy per se, it does provide a safe ground for “controlled, contained use of art for self-soothing purposes,” whereby users can externalize their focus and redirect unhealthy internal dialogue.
Many adult coloring books include mandala patterns, which research has found to be particularly effective at reducing stress, especially if the patterns are round-shaped.
Adult coloring comes in all sorts of topics and designs, and you can try your hand at it for free. Licensed Professional Counselor Jaclyn Alper, MA, LPC, provides numerous helpful adult coloring resources on her website, including 10 Great Websites with Free Adult Coloring Pages.
If you want to purchase an adult coloring book, Alper offers things to consider when purchasing and even offers a curated shortlist of popular adult coloring books:
The Anxiety Relief and Mindfulness Coloring Book: The #1 Bestselling Adult Coloring BookShop Now $9.95
For some, the concept of “staying in the lines” makes adult coloring more stressful than calming. If this is you, one of the books from the “Angie’s Gentle Mood Menders” coloring books series might be the perfect fit. The coloring books in this series are designed for crayons and wide-tipped markers. (Find the seven-book series on Amazon).
Remember that relaxation techniques are skills. As with any skill, your ability to relax improves with practice. Be patient with yourself. Don’t let your effort to practice relaxation techniques become yet another stressor.