5 Go-To Stress and Anxiety Relief Ideas

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How do personal development leaders attain stress and anxiety relief?

I used to think successful life coaches and thought leaders never dealt with ongoing stress and anxiety relief challenges. Why would they need to if their lives are perfect? (And how can someone possibly be a life coach or contribute anything meaningful in the space before they have attained a perfect life?).

Now that I’ve been in this space for years, I can confirm that a lot of us do have a secret weapon, sort of. And no, it’s not mindlessly scrolling Instagram whenever we’re feeling anxious). It’s a combination of balancing deep inquiry with distancing techniques when necessary. No one has it all figured out, but the better you know yourself and your patterns, the easier it becomes to work through challenges and find lasting stress and anxiety relief.

3 questions to get to the root of your stress and anxiety to find relief

What thought triggered this feeling?

One of the first things I share with people that circumstances don’t create feelings. There’s a step in between, and that’s your thought about the circumstance.

For example, you might experience a circumstance of your husband not unloading the dishwasher. He just inexplicably removes the one pot he needs to make his oatmeal and leaving everything else. Not saying that this happened to me this morning or anything…. 

The feeling you might notice is frustration, which maybe you experience physically as tightness in your throat or chest. You might (reasonably) conclude that you feel frustrated because your husband didn’t unload the dishwasher. BUT there’s a thought that happens first, and this is the root of changing our experience and how we show up in the world.

If you feel frustrated, it’s probably because of the thought you have about the circumstance. Something like “he doesn’t listen to me” or “he doesn’t respect me” or “he doesn’t care about me”. It sounds dramatic when you say it out loud, doesn’t it?

Is it true?

Next, after you’ve identified the actual thought, you can examine whether it’s true. And thus, whether your feeling and subsequent response makes sense and works well for you. 

Maybe it’s true that your husband doesn’t listen to you. Perhaps it’s also true that he has a 7am meeting and was in a rush. It’s even possible that his breakfast routine has nothing to do with you. 

Ask yourself if your thought is accurate, AND ask yourself what else might be true. Notice how your feelings shift. Perhaps even towards compassion, if you recognize that it’s possible that your husband is just overwhelmed, and not out to get you.

What can I do (or not do) right now?

Now you know the circumstance, the thought, and the feeling that got you here. You’ve examined the thought, and you know the alternatives. At this point, you get to choose your response. Continuing with our dishwasher example, some options might be:

a) freak out on your husband
b) brood quietly and slam the occasional door until he asks what’s wrong (if ever)
c) unload the dishwasher yourself
d) brainstorm ways to divide labor more effectively

Depending on your thoughts, you’ll have a different feeling. And you’ll choose a different action, which gives you a different result. Ta da!

Sometimes, though, the circumstance is too big to immediately untangle all the corresponding thoughts and feelings. In cognitive behavioral coaching, we would employ a technique called distancing to allow you to focus on something else in the short-term until you’re feeling more grounded and calm. 

In those instances, there are some fun activities I like to do myself. I recommend them to clients as well for short-term stress and anxiety relief.

Semi-unique ideas for stress and anxiety relief

1. These Rainbow Scratch Paper Stencil Kits

Are these geared towards children? Yes. Are they amazing for giving your hands something to do when you’re feeling anxious but can’t really go anywhere and you’re a grown-up? Also yes. My husband and I just call them “scratchies” and we love how they bring out a goofy childlike energy when we use them.

I saw my friend’s kids playing with these when we visited recently, and I knew I needed to have them. It’s relaxing and fun, even if you’re not an artist at all (there are stencils!) and it’s a way to create something you don’t have to take too seriously. I’m not a gambler, but there’s also something very satisfying about scratching the chalk paint layer off that kind of reminds me of lottery tickets. In any case, it’s much cheaper than playing the lottery, and more creatively satisfying. Just note the chalk paint scraps go *everywhere* so put a towel or something under your work station to make them easier to scoop up and toss away when you’re finished.

2. This weekly planner to organize life

I like that this is undated so you can really start anytime – I’ve done the “bujo” thing in the past and it just was a lot for me to draw out my stuff every month. So this year I pivoted and just bought a pre-printed journal where I fill in my own dates. I like this one a lot because it comes with prompts to get you thinking about your big goals and daily habits to get you there. It also contains stickers(!!!) which was very exciting for the part of me that is evidently drawn to childlike things.

So this is kind of a way to feel a bit more productive and in-control when maybe other areas of your life are feeling less so – you can take some time to reflect on the prompts or add new forecasts to your journal, so you’re still accomplishing something and staying focused on what you’re doing in the moment, giving you some distance from The Thing That’s Bothering You until you’re ready to address it. I have the rose gold color!

3. Irreverent adult coloring books (like this one and this one)

It actually takes a really long time to complete one of these pages, and that’s exactly the point. It forces you to focus on color and balance, and therefor prohibits you from focusing on your obnoxious uncle’s comment at Christmas dinner. I like to use these colored markers more than colored pencils, but that’s just me. One drawback, they bleed a little – so put another piece of paper under your art to protect the other designs. Because you’ll obviously be framing them, right?

4. Paint-by-number kits (like this one if you like sunflowers! Who doesn’t? I also am a fan of turtles so this one caught my eye)

A friend of mine gifted me a paint-by-number set a few years ago when Alex and I had moved to Chicago and I had left most of my art supplies, including paints and canvases, at home in Philly. I was sad to not have my art stuff and I was so focused on being annoyed about it that it didn’t even occur to me that I could still paint, or create, even when I wasn’t in my normal environment. The paint-by-number was such a wonderful gift and such a great idea for stress and anxiety relief, because like many of the other products mentioned here, it forces you to stay focused on what you’re doing in the moment, and gives you a bit of a time-out from rumination that keeps you in the anxiety spiral.

This one obviously only works if you have a tub. But it’s such a huge physical and mental reset and a key tool for stress and anxiety relief. A client joked recently that she barely recognized herself because she decided to take a bath in the middle of the day during the stressful holiday season, and my response was that I was actually doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. 

It’s easy to dismiss a bath as an overused self-care reference and just ignore it completely. But that physiological disruption of a hot bath (or a cold shower if you can stand it) allows us to create distance from whatever is troubling us in the moment. It forces us to focus on our immediate experience within the body. Once that space is created, we can see more clearly and respond more effectively.

The long-term solution for stress and anxiety relief

The distancing approach has a powerful purpose when used correctly for short-term stress and anxiety relief. Ultimately, though, for long-term stress and anxiety relief, we have no choice but to dig into the root cause of chronic issues. That might be having a calm, but assertive dialogue with your spouse. Talk about your shared expectations, and where you need to realign. Taking a bath and doing a paint-by-number won’t solve an underlying issue in a relationship. But it will give you something to focus on while your brain examines what’s really going on beneath the surface. Try it out, and let me know how it goes!

Photo of Emily Shutt wearing red scarf

Emily is a mindset coach and writer specializing in the habits of Millennial and Gen Z high achievers in the areas of money, relationships, lifestyle and travel.

She holds the PCC designation with the International Coach Federation and has been featured in multiple media outlets.

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