Don't Put Lipstick on a Pig: 5 Sure Fire Ways to Reduce Your Stress

Adapted from a a Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash

Recently I was talking to a friend who is facing a lot of stress in her personal and professional life. She is a multi-talented, exceptional businesswoman with a beautiful family, yet she is going through one of those down moments as we all do from time to time.

There was probably a lot of advice I could give, but I didn’t.  Instead I chose to just listen. Sometimes being a witness to someone’s pain or upset is all they need. It is important that we allow ourselves to feel our feelings when we are feeling them. Why?

As the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” Directly translated “the more it changes, the more it is the same thing.”

In other words, if you try to make yourself feel happy when you are sad, the sadness will still be there. That’s like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.

Feel ALL of the feelings, just don’t wallow in them.

Try to get to the root of the problem, then take actions appropriate to shift your mood.

I find it mentally useful to fill in the sentence:

“I will feel better when ______________.”

If that doesn’t do it, try one of these five tips to get back to your “happy place.”

1. Eat something nutritious: Fluctuating blood sugar levels can affect your mood or emotions. Do you ever notice you get angry when you are hungry? Or do you ever become unfocused when you haven’t eaten in a while?

Often, we’ve simply become accustomed to these moods and don’t realize we really need to eat. Therefore, it is often recommended to eat something every two to three hours to regular our blood sugar levels so that we don’t experience highs and lows.

2. Tease Your Nose: Our sense of smell is tied to our olfactory receptors, which have strong input into the amygdala. Our amygdala is the emotional center of our brain. That one that generates that “fight, flight or freeze” response. I call this your reptile brain and if you’ve ever been in a workshop with me you’ve likely seen me act this out. It’s quite amusing.

Essential oils are a great gateway to the limbic system. Unhappy? Diffuse citrus oils like Wild Orange, Bergamot, Lime or Tangerine. Feeling stressed out? Diffuse Frankincense, Lavender or other woodsy smells to help ground you. Can’t concentrate? Diffuse some mint oils like Peppermint, Spearmint, Douglas Fir or Siberian Fir.

3. Change Your Physical Environment: A change of venue or position will change your mood. The results of several research studies reveal that rooms with bright light, both natural and artificial, can improve health outcomes including depression, agitation and sleep. If you can’t alter the room you are in, then get yourself out of the room. Walk to the bathroom, skip down the hall or take a walk outside and flap your arms like a bird. Do whatever it takes to move the energy through your body. At the very least it will make you laugh and laughter truly is the best medicine.

4. Exercise: When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain and trigger a positive feeling in the body. This is the natural runners high that people talk about. Increasing endorphins will naturally change your mood from bad to good in a matter of minutes.  Regular exercise can have a profound positive impact on not only your mood, but your sleep and energy levels as well.  You don’t have to exercise intently to make this shift either. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference in mood.

5. Deep Breathing. The moment we are stressed out or unhappy, we tend to automatically start inhaling more rapidly. This triggers the Autonomic Nervous System or the amygdala I spoke about earlier and your brain triggers the fight, flight or freeze mode.  If you begin to exhale twice as long as you inhale, this will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system, balancing out the stress. Exhaling twice as long lets your brain know “hey everything’s cool, you can calm down” even when it isn’t. However, giving yourself those moments of calm will allow you to take a step back and perhaps react to a situation more positively.

Feeling my feelings in the moment I am feeling them is one of the most important tools that I use to feel powerful, no matter my circumstances.

What causes our feelings to “get in the way” is when we DON’T let  ourselves feel them. Pushing our feelings down only makes them more intense, and causes more disease physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

When we allow ourselves to feel sad, angry, ashamed, guilty, or whatever we are feeling in the moment, the feeling dissipates and eventually disappears. When that happens, you will find yourself with the wisdom you want and options you never believed possible.

(This article was adapted from a new eBook coming soon called “Embrace the Ridiculous: A Pocket Guide to Being A Better You.”)

Jen Coken