Just Thinking

Creative Alternatives to Chocolate Therapy When You’re Feeling Stressed

Recently I volunteered as chaperone for my son’s robotics team when they travelled to Louisville, Kentucky for the Vex World Championship. Go Moosen! I’m not really a natural born traveler, and I wanted to make sure that I had some strategies in place to deal with the stress of travel and competition without abandoning the healthy lifestyle changes I’ve adopted.

If you’re anything like me, stress is one of the biggest enemies of your healthy lifestyle. Many of us turn to “comfort foods” to help deal with emotionally tough days. I’ve personally been known to polish off an entire bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms on a very stressful day.

Not the king size bag.

Not the family size bag.

No, my friends, I’m talking about the party size bag.

When emotions are high, it’s hard to keep sweet treats and other comfort foods in their proper, healthy portions. That’s where creative alternatives can help.

As a confirmed emotional eater, in the past I’ve tried to simply avoid eating when I’m stressed, bored, tired, cranky, or sad. In case you were wondering, it wasn’t sustainable. What I really needed to do is replace comfort food therapy with a healthier alternative.

The key to creative alternatives was to find things that keep my mind just occupied enough to distract me without adding to my stress by requiring too much concentration or decision-making. Projects that keep my hands busy are especially useful, and those that involve repetitive movements can be very soothing.

I’ve listed a few of my favorite alternatives below, along with the one that got me through the plane ride, airport layovers, and long competition days!

Gardening

Gardening isn’t very portable, so it’s not a great travel stress strategy, but it’s great for the kind of stress that hits you closer to home.

Weeding sounds more like a chore than a relaxing activity to most of us. Plucking the weeds from a flowerbed or vegetable garden is the kind of activity that requires just enough thought, while leaving room to reflect.

I love metaphors, and getting rid of the unwanted plants and giving the ones that I love more breathing room and a greater share of the sprinkler water can be a great reminder to let go of the weedy things that are taking up my time and energy that don’t really belong in my life.

And getting my hands dirty can be very therapeutic. It reminds me of my childhood, and digging in Sean’s flowerboxes with his mom’s serving spoons. These days I usually use a trowel to dig with instead. It’s still awesome.

Walking

Walking is magical when it comes to stress relief. I’m not talking about walking for exercise which looks and feels a little different.

I like to focus on breathing deeply, and noticing the little things around me. I don’t worry about speed, but let the rhythm of my steps calm my nerves.

I like to pay special attention to the pretty little things I might normally overlook, such as flowers, patterns, clouds, and textures. Often I stop and take a photo with my phone when I discover something especially lovely.

Pausing to see things through the lens of my camera reconnects me with what’s beautiful in the world. It also refocuses my energy on gratitude. Sometimes I post the pictures on Instagram to share my pretty little discoveries with all of you (#whatisawonmywalk).

Handicrafts

Coloring Books

Over the past several years, coloring books for grown-ups have become more common. The patterns and pictures are much more intricate than in traditional coloring books, and creating something beautiful is always a great way for me to relax and refocus. I like to use colored pencils or fine tipped markers, and I love to pick colors that soothe or energize me depending on my mood.

Play Dough

Aromatherapy clay is another of my favorite hands-on ways to soothe away stress. Lavender oils can be added to this recipe for a soft, stress-relieving dough to squish. I’ve even taken a batch to church for the children in my Sunday class to play with during the lesson.

Tying Myself in Knots

Either one of these would have been a great alternative for my trip, but instead I turned to a hobby that I hadn’t picked up in a few years. When I was a teenager my aunt taught me to crochet blankets. My grandma later showed me how to crochet lace on the edge of a pillowcase. Such a pretty little hobby!

I wanted a project that would be easy to carry around with me, and quick to complete. The last thing I need is another half-finished project! My mother-in-law has made us cotton washcloths in the past. I’ve always loved them, so I turned to my good friend Google for a couple of patterns to try out.

These were my favorites if you want to give them a try!

There are many free patterns online for simple projects, and the end products are great to give away as gifts. That is if you don’t end up falling in love with them yourself. I love it when the side-effect of my stress-relief is something useful instead of an inch or two of added circumference to my waist.

When things get a little bit stressful, it’s natural to turn to our favorite comfort food (peanut butter M&Ms anyone?) but we can stick to our healthy lifestyle goals with just a little planning. Although I still love chocolate, keeping it in it’s proper portions is honestly is worth the effort!

What’s your favorite healthy alternative to stress management?

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