These creative ways to reduce relationship stress aren’t just for couples – they’ll help take the pressure off all sorts of partnerships: work, community, volunteer, family, and friends.
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky is an excellent resource for people who are prone to the anxiety, frustration, and even depression that stress can bring. It’s a guide to stress-related disorders, and coping with how stress affects relationships.
Research shows that creative activities – such as walking labyrinths, selling your relationship stress, and massaging your ears – can reduce stress in relationships, increase feelings of happiness, and boost your immune system.
10 Creative Ways to Manage Relationship Stress
I originally wrote about how to reduce stress in your relationship for alive magazine. It’s republished here by permission.
1. Walk a labyrinth – as a couple or by yourself
A labyrinth is a single circular path that you follow in to a center point, and then out again. This focused, meditative walk can decrease tension, improve healing, and strengthen the mind-body connection. And, it’s a good way to reduce relationship stress for couples! Some people have labyrinths in their backyards – and others use finger labyrinths to reduce stress. You can buy already-painted, fold-up canvas labyrinths in many sizes. Or you can paint your own. Finger labyrinths on paper or computer screens can have the same effect as full-size labyrinths.
2. Massage your ears
Medical acupuncturist Nancy Winlove-Smith stimulates the tips of her clients’ ears as part of a stress management regime. “On insertion of the needle in the ear, the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system is stimulated, resulting in a gurgling sound from the digestive system,” says Winlove-Smith. “My clients hear the gurgling, which validates the procedure for them.” To get the same effect – and reduce relationship stress – simply massage the tips of your ears. Winlove-Smith says, “If your partner does the massage, you’ll relax even more because a caring touch also releases endorphins (‘feel-good’ chemicals).”
3. Roll around in the mud
Ever wonder why you feel good when you garden, weed, or toil out in the yard? Researchers from the University of Bristol think the answer is bacteria. Soil contains the friendly bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, which increases the metabolism of serotonin in the brain. Since a lack of serotonin is connected to depression, scientists hypothesize that this bacterium may improve mood, ease stress, and maintain a strong immune system. Landscaping, sowing seeds, and nurturing flowers or home-grown veggies are creative ways to reduce relationship stress, unwind, and improve your mood.
4. Use crafts to reduce relationship stress
You don’t have to paint perfect sunsets, knit flawless hats, or sew meticulous quilts to enjoy the benefits of art therapy. “The actual process of making art can alleviate emotional stress and anxiety by creating a physiological response of relaxation,” writes Cathy Malchiodi in The Art Therapy Sourcebook. Creative activity increases serotonin in your brain, which improves mood. When you’re not attached to the end result (such as a perfectly knit sweater), crafts can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and trigger feelings of calm and peace.
If you know these tips on managing stress won’t work, read How to Stop Relationship Anxiety.
5. Sell your stress
“I used to make beaded jewelry as a way to relax,” says Liz Stewart. “After I was laid off from my stressful Information Technology job, I started selling my finished pieces at craft shows to earn extra cash. After extensive soul-searching, I realized that IT wasn’t the career I wanted.” She opened a beading supply store called Lush Beads. “I now sell beads and supplies, teach classes, sell finished pieces, and do custom jewelry designs.” If you’re dealing with financial stress in your relationship, getting crafty relieves emotional tension – and selling your work can reduce the financial debts that cause relationship stress!
6. Declutter your bedroom and closet
“Clutter creates stress and, in extreme cases, depression,” says eco-organizer Candita Clayton, author of Clean Your Home Healthy. “It’s difficult to relax when you’re surrounded by laundry, work or reading materials because you subconsciously feel like you have things to do.” Feng Shui expert Pat Heydlauff agrees, saying that eliminating chaos increases energy and productivity. To declutter, evaluate your space and eliminate what doesn’t bring pleasure. Donate clothing, decorations, or household items to charity. Reworking your space until you feel happy and relaxed is a great way to reduce relationship stress.
7. Find your exercise personality
“The stress of engaging in exercise that is not of our choosing can outweigh its health benefits,” writes Dr Pierce Howard, PhD, in The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. If you force yourself to lift weights at the gym, you could be doing your body more harm than good. Finding your exercise personality is the key to staying fit – and not falling into the 60% of people who quit a new program within six months. Try new things – Drum Aerobics, Beach Tennis, Yoga Dance – until you find what energizes and de-stresses you.
8. Reduce relationship stress with the hokey pokey
“We’ve found a fool-proof stress-reducer,” says home-based business owner Christina Seine. “When the older kids are struggling with homework, the younger ones are battling over the dinosaur toy, and I’m freaking because an order must go out NOW….we do the Hokey Pokey.” Seine says it’s impossible to be grumpy when you’re shaking your left elbow! “It always ends with us in a heap on the floor, laughing,” she says. Stress hormones are reduced during laughter, allowing immune cells to function better. Plus, laughing promotes a healthy oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange and clears airways. Have you thought about laughter as a creative way to reduce stress in your relationship?
9. Be honest, real, authentic
“The number one stress reduction exercise I recommend is called ‘Tell Them How You Really Feel!’” says life coach Paula Holland De Long. “Pretend that the source of your stress is with you, and express the truth. Be as loud, rude and mean as you can.” Our buried, denied emotions build negative energy in our bodies, which can be toxic.
“When we acknowledge our emotions by telling the truth, we release tension and feel relieved,” says De Long. “Space for positive energy is opened up.” But, be careful of this “creative” way to reduce relationship stress because it could backfire.
10. Fish or cut bait
“Deep down, most of us know what we need to do about stressful situations,” says communications professional Christine Hohlbaum. “But we procrastinate. We ignore our stressors, which can lead to paralysis. This creates even more stress.” Hohlbaum recommends fishing or cutting bait: dealing with the cause of your stress or eliminating it altogether. And, don’t get caught up in finding the perfect solution to your problems. “Simply moving forward puts the ball in motion,” says Hohlbaum. “This leads to more action, which will ultimately solve the problem.”
If these tips won’t help you as a couple, read 10 Warning Signs of a Bad Relationship.
What is your most creative way to reduce relationship stress? I welcome your thoughts below! I can’t offer relationship advice or counseling, but it may help you to share your experience. Writing often brings clarity and insight.
May your relationship be exciting and adventurous, but not stressful or full of anxiety. May you walk with your Creator as a couple, and learn to trust Him as the Source of all love, freedom, compassion, and energy. May you turn towards Him as a couple, may you give your relationship stress over. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.