stress toolbox

The 5 Must-Haves For Your Stress Toolbox

The holidays are the perfect storm of events and activities that can leave us feeling like a fat sheep drenched in water. The best way to get through the chaos is to fill your stress toolbox with tools that actually work. So, as you move out of this year and into the next, take these tips along with you:


A few newsletters back, I mentioned the stress management technique called 5 Senses Breathing. With this technique, you are using deep breathing along with getting in tune with your senses. When it comes to stress, we don’t always recognize how deep into it we are until we take inventory of how our body is feeling.  Recognizing your body’s subtle nuances will help you catch stress earlier so that you can also intervene sooner before it gets out of hand. So start checking in with yourself from head to toe – are you having muscles aches or headaches? Do you feel tension in any particular part of your body? Really take the time with this one to inventory every area of your body, you’d be surprised where you hold your stress. If you’re not sure, try this technique:

Starting at your feet, tense up your muscles in your feet and then release. Repeat again.  Notice the difference between how they feel tensed up vs relaxed? Now move your way up to your calves; and then your thighs; and continue all the way up until you are tensing up every muscle in your body and then releasing it. Take note of those areas where you were like, “Aha! I felt that tension!”

Recognizing that you have stress is like your map to figuring out what else you need in your stress toolbox. Keep it on top at all times.

Build Resilience:

One of the best ways to build resilience against stress is to perform regular self-care.  Think of it like duct tape in your stress toolbox – it’s what holds you together.This can be anything from taking a 5-minute rest break to reset and recharge to getting a weekly massage or anything in-between.  Society sometimes tries to make us feel guilty over taking care of ourselves but if you were in the midst of a plane crash and the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, whose do you put on first – yours or your child’s? Yours!  Because if you pass out trying to save your child, what good will you be then?  Not taking care of yourself or your stress means you have less to give to your work, your family, and those you care about. Here are some of my favorite self-care techniques:

  • Stargaze at night
  • Watch the snow as it falls – take notice of the fall patterns, how the flakes stick to the trees, how they feel against your skin
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Get a massage
  • Take a hot bubble bath
  • Go for a hike in the woods and soak in the quietness
  • Go to the beach and listen to the waves crash and the seagulls squawk. Study the grains of sand and notice how each one is unique.
  • Take time to exercise – it burns off the crazy and makes you more focused


Why do you think history books are written? So that hopefully, we don’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  Same is true with journaling through your days.  Write out things you’re grateful for, things that haven’t gone so well, and ways you might be able to adjust should a similar situation present itself again.  But just like history books, journaling about your days only helps if you read back through them.  Remind yourself what the past month, year, decade has looked like, how you responded to certain situations, and what you learned from the experience. Writing is like a tape measure in your stress toolbox – it helps you recognize the height, width, and depth of your stress, but more importantly, to measure it against all the good you have going on in your life.

Don’t Argue With Reality:

Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real.  We tend to worry about things that aren’t true or haven’t even happened yet.  Instead of thinking the worst, take a step back and check in with what is really going on. Go back to the measuring tape in your stress toolbox and the “measurements” you wrote down. Is what you’re experiencing measuring up to the truth? Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s true.

That includes mean things people say. Have you heard the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.”? A person having verbal diarrhea all over you probably has nothing to do with you at all. .  If someone says something to you that is hurtful, ask yourself, “Is that really true?”  Chances are it’s not. Don’t dwell on the lie.  Focus on the truth instead AND:

Take 90 Seconds:

According to Jill Bolte Taylor, it takes your body 90 seconds to process and release an emotion. She says, “Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.” Her suggestion? Observe your emotions without judgment and allow them to dissipate. If we go back to our stress toolbox analogy, it’s like any good carpenter will tell you: measure twice, cut once. Make sure you know how you want to approach a situation or person before you act out on it.

Using these tools takes practice.  Your first step is to add them to your stress toolbox. Second is to keep them handy and refer to them often.  The more you utilize them, I promise you, the better you will feel and the less stressed out you’ll be.

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