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The Art of Stress Relief

Take the time to combat mental and physical fatigue by investing in yourself.

The world grows increasingly stressful every year. It never seems that there’s enough time to check everything off our to-do list. It can be easy to try and convince yourself that if you hustle now that you’ll relax later in life. But the reality is that life doesn’t slow down unless you take the initiative to make it happen. In this issue of Cityview, we want to explore different methods of relieving stress that are easy to implement in your everyday life, and healthy habits in the grand scheme of things.

Hobbies, Happiness, and Health
In our busy lives, it can be difficult to make time for hobbies and interests that we love. But according to a 2015 study published in The Society of Behavioral Medicine by Matthew J. Zawadzki, Ph.D. and Joshua M. Smyth, Ph.D. and Heather J. Costigan, B.S., engaging in fun hobbies on a regular basis can actually lead to better overall health and happiness. In the conclusion they wrote that “leisure appears to have a consistent within-person benefit on a person’s daily health and well-being; when individuals engaged in leisure, they also reported better mood, more interest, less stress, and exhibited lower heart rate than when they were not engaging in leisure activity.”

A hobby could really be anything extracurricular that you do that brings you pleasure. But for the purpose of slowing down and relieving stress, we decided to focus on some hobbies that might bring more peace to your life than, say, Fantasy Football:
Houseplants & Gardening: Gardening and cultivating plants has always been a popular hobby. However, it’s been particularly trendy in the past couple of years as younger generations discover the joys of growing things. This is truly a hobby that has something for everyone. Even if you don’t have a naturally green thumb, there are plants that require little to no care (including sunlight). You can choose to keep your plants outside and research landscaping options, or you can bring the outdoors in with a few houseplants (which have also been found to help purify the air inside of your home and apartment). One of the best places to visit if you’re looking to break into the world of plants is Stanley’s Greenhouse. This family-owned garden center and plant farm is a staple in South Knoxville. They have a beautiful variety of plants for both indoors and out.

Arts & Crafts: Letting your creativity run wild can be one of the most fun ways to relax and relieve stress. Finding an art or craft that allows you to calm down and forget about life’s stressors for a few minutes is one of the best ways to hit the reset button. This could include everything from watercolors to woodworking to hand-sewing quilts. Pinterest is a wonderful place to start if you want to explore various art and craft mediums before purchasing supplies at a craft store. Some find repetitive mediums like knitting to be relaxing, while others might prefer something more improvisational. If you don’t believe that you have a creative bone in your body, and you’d rather follow someone else’s lead, there are lots of classes in the community where you can follow a tutorial. Some, like Painting with a Twist, let you paint with friends over a glass of wine!

Music: Many find listening to music very relaxing as an activity. It can be easy to think of music as that thing that just starts playing over the radio when you get in your car, but intentionally sitting down and putting on one of your favorite albums can be renewing for the mind. Of course, some music will undoubtedly be more relaxing than other music. But what that means is entirely up to you. Try exploring some of your preferred genres to see how the music affects you. After you’ve identified some of your favorite pieces, create a playlist on your favorite music platform and try just sitting, closing your eyes, and enjoying. If live music is more enjoyable for you, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy live performances in Knoxville.

The Medicine of the Outdoors
The majority of typical nine-to-five, Monday through Friday jobs don’t take us outside into fresh air. If you find yourself working in an office all day, staring at a computer, it might be time for you to get outside. Harvard Medical School released research in 2018 that claims getting out into nature has a direct impact on your anxiety, stress, and depression levels. The study even shows that “calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.”

Everything from the visuals of nature to the soothing sounds of the outdoors contribute to this impact, but it’s important to make your outdoor treks a part of your normal routine in order to experience its full benefits. Thankfully, East Tennessee has no shortage of options for spending time in the outdoors. Our beautiful corner of the world holds everything from public parks and greenways, to nature preserves like Ijams Nature Center, to being just a short car ride away from the Great Smoky Mountains. But don’t think that you have to go big for the outdoors. You can reap the benefits of spending outside in whatever capacity best suits your life. One excellent way to add it into your routine is going for a short walk during your lunch break, or a quick trip around the block before or after dinner in the evening.

If other obstacles in life might keep you from spending time outside, there are ways you can still reap some of the benefits! You can actually purchase Vitamin D lamps that replicate the same benefits you receive from basking in the sun’s rays. Listening to ambient nature sounds can also aid in boosting your mood and relieving your stress. But of course, it’s important to remember that to be truly beneficial, these practices need to be a part of a regular routine.

Actively De-stressing
One of the best ways to relieve stress and boost your mood is most likely one you’ve heard a time or two. Staying active and implementing regular exercise into your routine is a proven way to not only take care of your physical health, but also to take care of your mental health. And believe it or not, a little bit can go a long way. We had the opportunity to speak to Orange Theory Fitness instructor and private yoga instructor, Emily Hildreth about the benefits of an active lifestyle on one’s stress levels. Hildreth says that her goal is for her clients “to view fitness as a cathartic outlet to work through the anxieties and stress in their lives, not as just one more thing to add to their incredibly long list of things to do… Self-care is beneficial even if it’s only 10 minutes long.” And fitness can come in many different packages.

Hildreth finds both workouts at Orange Theory Fitness and yoga practices to be excellent options for anyone who might be looking to add fitness into their life. Orange Theory Fitness, specifically, is where “everyone will inevitably get an amazing workout no matter if they are just starting fitness or are Iron Man competitors.” Hildreth has been a trainer there for over four years, and can speak firsthand to the versatility of the workout routines. “As personal trainers, we give everyone the modifications or challenges needed to tailor the workout for the individual. So everyone is welcome, and no, you do not have to be a runner.” While Orange Theory Fitness may be an excellent option for you if you’re looking for a more fast-paced fitness option, Hildreth also advocates the many benefits of regular yoga practice.

“Absolutely everyone can practice yoga! Yoga is a frame of mind. The asanas, or postures, are simply a part of a greater scope of what yoga can offer the individual. Meditation, breathing techniques, mantras, or a sound or word to facilitate your goals, whether that is acceptance, patience, forgiveness, etc. are all yoga,” says Hildreth. “It’s a way to shift our crazy mind chatter into an intentional and focused state that we can access anywhere and anytime. Yoga is for everyone: physically fit, wheelchair bound, elderly, and children can all practice and benefit from yoga.”

Find Your Bliss
The key to relieving stress isn’t to try every suggestion in this article. Find what works for you, your schedule, and your lifestyle. You may not be one to hike Mount LeConte to relieve stress, but you might be one to make a weekly trek to the yoga studio. You may not find relief in hand embroidery, but you could enjoy listening to a record and drinking a cup of tea. Whatever method of stress-relief sounds the most fun and relaxing, give it a try! Make it a part of your regular routine as much as you possibly can and start reaping the benefits.

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