Lessons Learned in Mexico about What Actually Decreases Stress and Anxiety

Di Philippi - Stress Management in MexicoA couple years ago I went on an amazing vacation in Mexico. What a blessing!  It was an R&R trip, practicing what I preach about the importance of self-care, downtime, and balance in life.  I ultimately spent a lot of time BEING rather than DOING.

But what surprised me were all the things I learned on that trip about ways to reduce stress and anxiety…ways that have little or nothing to do with going on a trip to Mexico….

Lesson #1: Learn how to relax – force yourself if necessary 

So many people tell me they just can’t relax.  Even if they can find the time, they can’t seem to really relax.  They’ve forgotten how to relax.  In our super busy world, I think we all have forgotten this to some degree. 

Imagine a couple days in Mexico with nothing to do other than take a walk or sit in a lounge chair.  Sounds like a dream come true, right?  Well, I bet you would find (like I did) that it’s not that easy.

It’s hard to unwind from the supersonic speed with which we fly through our daily lives.  There’s a lot of adrenaline flowing constantly as we are so busy DOING all the time.  The body and the mind find it hard to slow down suddenly… so you can “BE” rather than “DO.” 

I had to force myself to sit and BE. I went through a phase where I got restless, antsy, bored, and wanted to DO more.  So my mind got busy analyzing everything and everyone around me. 

And I was easily Di Philippi - Stress Management in Mexicoirritated by little things.  I thought to myself “Get a grip, Di!  You’re on a beautiful beach in Mexico.  How can you be irritable or bored?!?”  

What I learned is to force myself to just sit there, to force myself past the discomfort of the adrenaline withdrawal.  It would have been easier to use alcohol or food or nonstop sightseeing to keep distracted and busy.  

To just sit and be with yourself and your thoughts is not as easy as it sounds. 

Just do it.  Force yourself if necessary to just sit for a few minutes.  I challenge you to try it and let me know how it goes.

Lesson #2: Appreciate What You’ve Got

mexico_kittenA couple of stray cats wandered around our hotel complex.  When I encountered this kitten, I felt so sad for this poor, scrawny, underfed, homeless (and oh so cute) little creature. 

My next thought was how easy my own cat has it!  A warm and loving home, food and water provided, a soft place to sleep. The same is true for you and me! 

Whether you think you’ve got an easy life or a hard life, how can find a way to appreciate the good things you do have?  Focus on those things and stress and anxiety automatically decrease.  (Scientific research on gratitude supports this by the way.)

Lesson #3: Nurture Relationships

Relationships with those in our lives can sometimes  be stressful. But our relationships can also decrease stress if we choose the right ones and we nurture them.  All humans are wired to crave connection.  If we don’t feel connection in a relationship, it causes stress.  Feeling connected decreases stress.

It was so great to have time with my husband where we could just talk, laugh, and be with each other.  We talked about silly things, about important things going on in our life, and talked about our dreams for the future.   We both felt the connection.

I saw some research recently showing that the average married couple spends an average of 5 minutes a day in meaningful conversation.

That’s not enough to create connection.  Whether it’s with your partner or friend or family member, how can you find a way to nurture your relationship?

Lesson #4: Make Peace with Your Body

I noticed how walking around all day in a swimsuit made me acutely aware of my body and other people’s bodies.  You can’t help but notice.  I had to work hard sometimes to bring my thoughts back to loving and accepting myself exactly the way I am.  And not over-focusing on body size, type and shape.

mexico_modelOn top of that, one day a camera crew showed up with professional models doing a photo shoot directly in front of my lounge chair!   REALLY?!?  A gorgeous professional model right in front of me?!?  An added challenge.

For most of us (especially women) it can be quite a process to make peace with our body.   But loving and accepting your body is one sure way to move toward peace, contentment and less stress.

Lesson #5: Take a Break from Decisions and Responsibilities

They are a great contributor to stress and anxiety.  Of course, we all have responsibilities and we make dozens of decisions each day.  But I took a break from those for awhile.  The biggest decisions were whether to sit by the beach or the pool, and which restaurant to go to.  Not deciding what to make for dinner, going to the grocery store to get it, and then making it.  What a luxury!

How can you find little ways to give yourself a break from having to make a decision?  Or give yourself a little break from the usual responsibilities (like get a babysitter and go to Starbucks to read a book for an hour)?  Small breaks from these day-to-day pressures will make a difference!