# How to Live Well

On Dealing with Stress

This post comes by request from MikaCake, who asks for advice on how to deal with stress.

Stress is a problem in most of our lives. It can show up in various forms: financial stress, stress from relationships, stress from work, stress from lack of sleep, stress from a cluttered home, stress from a cluttered mind…

How we deal with stress is incredibly important. The whole principle behind this blog is how to live well. It is what I have devoted my life to researching and it is something I am passionate about. I honestly do not believe you can live well if you suffer from stress.

The following are ways that I combat stress, and my advice on how you can too:

Classical Music
Classical music works wonders for the psyche. I listen to it everyday- while I have breakfast, when I’m feeding the baby, when I drive, when I write. It is not the only kind of music I listen to but it is the only kind that affects me on a deeper level, keeps me calm and manages my stress levels. I find the more I listen to classical music and the more I explore it, the more I enjoy it. I like all of the usual favorites such as Debussy’s Claire de Lune (a wonderful song if you’re in the need of being pacified) but I am becoming a connoisseur of some of the lesser known songs as well (As I write this I’m listening to Sonata in A Major for violin and piano by Cesar Franck). And as I’ve mentioned before, my favorite composer is Chopin. If classical music isn’t your cup of tea, listen to whatever it is that soothes your soul and moves you. Hopefully whatever stressful things in your life will (at least temporarily) melt away…

Here are a few of my favorite classical music albums:

The Most Essential Classical Music for your Baby. Don't laugh. This album is beyond spectacular and not just for babies. In fact, I don't even know why they say this is for babies. This has a wide selection of beautiful songs in excellent arrangements. It is a tremendous value as it has 49 songs for only $9.99 What a collection! Suffice to say my baby loves it and so do I.

Tails of the City by The San Fransisco Saxophone Quartet I know what you're thinking... a saxophone quartet? This album is so refreshing and melodious. Who knew that four saxophones could create such stirring renditions of the classics. Have this playing at a dinner party and your guests will be perplexed- in a good way.

The Match Point Soundtrack
Woody Allen's Match Point is one of my favorite films of the last decade and the soundtrack is stellar. If you are not already an opera lover you will be after listening to this incredible compilation of music.

Yo-Yo Ma's La Voix du Violoncelle
This is an unusual album- very beautiful and haunting. Yo-Yo Ma is a revelation.

Now back to stress combating tactics...

Playing an Instrument

Mine is the piano. Yours could be the violin or the guitar. I even have a friend that plays the harp. Playing a musical instrument is incredibly beneficial for stress. If you don’t already know one, learn one. Many of us played instruments as children, why not pick it up again as an adult? I often find myself sitting down at the piano for Sherlock Holmesian sessions where I go through my (small) repertoire of music. It de-stresses me every time and places my mind in a tranquil state. I try to play a little every day. When you sit down at an instrument the sheer task of focusing and creating music is enough to keep the most stubborn of stresses at bay.

The Tea and Coffee Break

The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose.
~George Gissing

I adore this quote- and it’s so true! Make your tea or coffee break tranquil and special to manage stress levels. Seek out specialty teas and coffees to appease your palate when you are feeling overwhelmed. Create a daily ritual where you sit quietly, use your best china or a special mug (I’m loving my commemorative Royal Wedding bone china tanker at the moment- yes I have it and I’m not embarrassed to admit it!). Put away your blackberry- turn off the TV or move away from your computer. Sit with a book or the weekend newspaper you didn’t get to read yet or if your mind really feels on overdrive don’t read at all- Sit in your favorite chair or by the window with the best view, just focus on your steaming cup and tune your mind to happy repose.

Go Slowly and Mindfully

I used to rush around- it didn’t matter where I was going- I was in a rush! One day I found myself in the grocery store, quickly dropping items in my cart, then stressed out that the line to pay wasn’t moving fast enough. Luckily I caught myself. What was I so stressed out for? Where was I rushing off to? It was almost as if the mere act of picking out groceries wasn’t worth my time so I was in a hurry to move on to some future project- some better thing. I had to remind myself in that moment that the only time is now. Now I try , no matter what I’m doing, to do it mindfully- to move slowly and with purpose. Eliminating the false pretense that whatever the future holds is better than what you are currently doing is a powerful way to eliminate stress.

My meditation practice is very personal to me, but since Mikacake specifically asked about it here it is… I like to sit still with my eyes closed for a minimum of five minutes every night. During this time I just breathe and think thoughts of gratitude. It can be a very positive and moving experience. I also find it helps me put whatever is stressing me out into perspective…

These are the techniques I most frequently employ to deal with day to day stress. I would love to know… what are yours?

Be sure to watch this week's video where I give a review of my Kindle. See the video by clicking here , looking in the sidebar of this blog, or by visiting: www.youtube.com/TheDailyConnoisseur

The Winged Feline pictured above is in Bronze and dates back to 700 - 575 B.C., Spain. She can be found at the Getty Villa in Malibu.


Lisa D. said...

I completely agree about the classical music! I often listen to Debussy or Mozart on my iPod at work when things start getting out of hand. =)

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I employ and applaud all of your suggestions...
it took me many years to figure this out.

If I had read your blog when I was in my 30's I could have saved myself a lot of experimentation!

I listen to CBC 2...a classical station
it fills me with joy.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post! I just read (over the weekend) this quote in Anne Barone's Chic and Slim Techniques book (under the Musique Technique): "In 'The Mozart Effect', Don Campbell writes that "slower Baroque music (Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli) imparts a sense of stability, order, predictability, and safety and creates a mentally stimulating environment for study or work...New Age music he says, 'For people living a highly mental structured life, such music helps them to unwind and float freely.'".

Music is definitely powerful. : )

My husband and I have been taking tea around 4:00 each day when we are home at that time. The other day he actually asked, "when is teatime?". Yesterday we enjoyed pain au chocolat with tea--today was homemade strawberry shortcake. It is a ritual we are definitely enjoying and using as a de-stresser. xxBliss

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Jennifer:
This post deals so well with something which has become part of everyday life for so many people. The advice you give is, we are sure, very sound and you have made your suggestions in such a sympathetic and very engaging way that what you say is not only helpful for those suffering from stress, but is also a very good mantra for living life!

Fiona Ferris said...

Thank you for the music suggestions. I love good soundtracks so have ordered Match Point. I have 'baby' cds I listen too. Linda Ronstadt did one which is not classical music but so relaxing.

Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

Thanks for all of these suggestions. I have just recently started to do some deep breathing and meditation before bedtime. It is so relaxing and I sleep so deeply when I do it. I also need to practice being more mindful do my everyday tasks like your example of grocery shopping and standing in line. I am going to me more mindful and slow down a bit. Great post today!

Lacey R said...

I love this post! I love classical music. My favorite music has always been from the Baroque and Romantic periods (Bach, Handel & Chopin mostly) but lately I have been favouring Debussy. Lovely songs. I don't know what it is about Bach songs, but listening to it (and learning to play Bach) always seems daunting at first, as it is so complex, and then one day you 'get' it.

Your post couldn't have come at a better time as yesterday I felt so stressed about such mundane things, more than usual. I need to slow down and not always be in a rush to move on to do the next thing, and the thing after that, etc. No wonder I'm exhausted by the end of the day and feel like I have no energy left! Thanks for the reminder to slow down.

KBG in DC said...

Sometimes the best way to destress is not to slow down, but to speed up. Exercise! Go for a run, get friends together for a game of volleyball, have a vigorous romp in the sack with your sweetie, do some yoga. The endorphins produced during exercise act as a natural "feel good" drug and really, how can you think about the little things when you're running up a steep hill.

Some other things that work for me:

Get out in nature. Feed the ducks or squirrels, get some sun, breathe fresh air. Nature has a way of bringing "big picture" perspective to your own small problems.

Take a bath. The better it smells, the more relaxing it is.

Call a fun friend. One who makes you laugh. One for whom the glass is always half full.

Get a pedicure. Try to get it at one of those places with the massage chairs. One where they actually do a good job on the foot massage part. Two spa treatments for the price of one equals instant "Ahhhh."

Get a hug. From anyone. Hugs make stress disappear, if only for that instant.

Loving your blog!

BigLittleWolf said...

Some excellent suggestions. But I would also say that dealing with stress - some sources of stress (serious medical issues, divorce, unemployment) calls for professional help. We may not always have the means to seek it, but stress takes a dramatic toll on the body, and these heavy-duty life events will take years off if we don't address the symptoms of the stress and the causes.

What else helps? Communities like this - reaching out, listening in, realizing there are others with whom we can exchange and share.

All helpful - along with that music, that cup of tea, and maybe a lovely walk...


yoga teacher said...

Well, of course I'm going to put in a plug for you-know-what! According to yoga philosophy, there 8 limbs to a yoga practice, and I remind my students that only one of them is devoted to the poses; breath takes precedence with two! Take whatever class challenges you, then remember to exhale.
An inhale without a subsequent exhale releases stress hormones (think about when someone makes a right turn in front of you from the left lane!). The exhale dissipates the adreneline and cortisol, and allows our shoulders drop down from our ears.
And thanks for the music suggestions. Going to check out the classical sax right now.

Pug1 said...

Hi Jennifer!
I would have to say the part I like about this post is SLOWLY AND MINDFULLY. I've been working on this....for me.. stress is not living in the present moment. When I get stressed it's either thinking about something ill from the past or thinking about a possible challenge in the future. UGH! Nothing which I can change or control!!!
Michele xo

Marika said...

Thank you so much for this post, Jennifer! You have some great suggestions that I am eager to try :) I love your idea for a special tea or coffee break. I used to have tea with family almost every day as a child - perhaps it's time to reinstate that tradition <3

Anonymous said...

Your post was wonderful. Agree with hostess of the humble bungalow's comments.
This may interest you or your readers. WCPE.com or theclassicalstation.org is a listener supported,non-commercial radio station devoted to classical music that can be listened to on the internet. Enjoy!

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Lisa D- Love Debussy and Mozart for that matter :)

Hostess- Thank you so much! What a compliment :)

Bliss- regular tea time is so wonderful! I would love to do that with my husband. He would really appreciate it too as it might remind him of home in England... Glad to hear you are enjoying it xx

Jane and Lance Hattat- Thank you indeed xx

Fiona- Match Point album is incredible. Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Lisa- Meditation before bedtime does help you sleep deeply. I've been doing it for years and can't live without it now...

LR- so glad the post came at a timely moment :) Love to hear others love classical music too. So afraid it might become a dying appreciation xx

KGB- Wonderful suggestions! Perhaps I should do a part 2 on this post. Exercise is an excellent way to combat stress. I've been walking a lot recently- marvelous x

BigLittleWolf- Yes absolutely. I only touched upon a few ways I like to handle tension and stress but of course for major issues it is always helpful to seek professional help. Although a cup of tea is so much cheaper ;)

Yoga Teacher- You are so right! I forgot about yoga which is a major stress reliever for me along with chi gong. I haven’t done it very much since my baby has been born which is probably why it wasn’t in the forefront of my mind when writing this post. Great advice. Thank you!

Michele- I couldn’t have said it better myself. Stress is not living in the present moment. Realizing this is a lifelong effort for me but I think you get better at it every day… cheers! Xx

Marika- It’s a lovely tradition. I love going to England particularly for their observation of tea time which is such a delightful moment in the day xx

Mary- Thank you! I will look into classicalmusic.org I love classical KUSC in Los Angeles- is that the same thing? They are doing a drive right now and I plan on contributing this week. Thanks for the tip : )

Barbara von Enger said...

I play the piano - go for extended walks in nature - sit in the warm, happy sun. I find cooking is a natural way for me to also de-stress. Another way is to not log into emails for a day or three.
And whilst in the unspoiled nature I take my camera with me to capture life's most precious moments.

Corrine said...

Recent research does indeed confirm all the negative repercussions of stress. Any approach is helpful as long as you don't "stress" over finding the perfect stress reliever:)

Because classical music is based in mathematics and structure, the listening provides the brain the same order. I read a research paper several years ago published in a Psychological journal that described this phenomena. I have always listened to classical music, my GM, a concert pianist, was my teacher. Makes me want to play again, it's been too long.

Rose said...

sorry for my long absence, it's been a stressful time so this list is perfect. I too love the Match Point soundtrack and film (I think they are incredibly under rated). Music is always a comforter for me, it gives me solace and sometimes courage too. I like classical for nerves, Clare De Lune and the like but also thinks like Laura Marling, acoustic, spare folk. I also think you can't go wrong with Nina Simone- a life affirming lady!

Cindy said...

I'm not a fan of classical music. My idea of de-stressing is going to spas and hang out with friends :D

nina said...

I found classical music during my divorce. It was the only music that did not bring baggage with it, i.e.: memories... it was totally objective, disconnected form any past experiences.. I started with Mozart, and with the years I have accumulated quiet a bit of knowledge, and a better distilled taste. I can actually sit through a concert, listen to Handel's Mesiah, and enjoy opera!! Never thought I could tell Vivaldi from Verdi! I love it. It was my way to sanity... I used to sit in the dark and listen to Mozart's Symphony no.40 over and over and over... until my teeth stopped grinding... Classical music is a great distressor, so much so they paly it in ICU's and burn units..

Love this blog!!!!

nina said...

By the way, iTunes has a radio menu, and within it classical music. I tune in to a French channel that palys delightful music and have it on at work all the time!

Ms. Purple said...

I once have been close to a burn out and well, I had to change my life:

First I cut working time - less money, less career, but hey, is this so important?
I got rid of all the clutter...
And then changed my living habits, eg. all cupboards are now hanged up to the wall so cleaning around the feet falls away...
I also got rid of people who take more energy then they give...
And I have checklists for so many To Do's, eg. Spring Cleaning the house, Christmas Preparations or what to pack on vacation which help me a lot.
My online calender reminds me early enough, eg. buying birthday presents or doing christmas preparations...

Now I love to start the day, I have also those minutes for the nice moments in live, eg. listening to a street musician... and the time for afternoon tea with homemade cake, instead of buying expensive cakes somwhere late at the airport... and even more time for travelling around the world - and I'm far away for spending so much money on that than before as I know have the time to go on a cheap bus or train-ride (and watch the nature) than taking a stressful flight for shorter distances...
And Yoga or Meditation and classical music are an inexpensive way of releasing stress!