6 Things You Can Do to De-Stress When You Don’t Have the Attention Span for Meditation

Featured artwork by Ari. See more of Ari's artwork on IG @Ariigum

I’ve lost count of the amount of times that people have told me to meditate, “take a deep breath”, do some stretches – anything that relates to taking a pause and absorbing this present moment during times of stress. As someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), often I need to keep my hands busy. It’s’ not that these relaxation exercises don’t work – on the contrary I’ve had great experiences with yoga. It's just that my low attention span does make it more difficult and lots of practice is required to achieve level of focus for such mindful exercises.

Yes, I suck at meditation. Yes, I look constipated when I attempt any breathing exercise.

After trial and error, I found many things I could do to get that similar stress relief/relaxation of yoga, meditation, etc. When my attention span is a struggle and I’m stressed, I like to do these things to help it.

1. Take a walk.

Taking a walk during stressful times helps me recharge and clear my head. Often, I have an easier time going back to the thing I was stressing over, whether it was an assignment or a personal matter. There are dozens of proven benefits for walking, including that a 15-minute walk could curb cravings for sweets in stressful situations.[1]

2. Re-arrange items, clothes, anything.

Remember when I said I had to keep my hands busy? There’s nothing more fitting than this. It’s similar to cleaning but often feels less like a chore because it’s organizing. It feels refreshing to see something look neater and more orderly and it helps me in times of stress. It’s perfect for when I want a quick fix...but don’t exactly want to get the vacuum out!

3. Clean room. Or clean something.

I used to see cleaning as a chore. Then I started using it to fend off stress. Sometimes I need a break before dealing with stress again. Researchers at Princeton University found that clutter can make it more difficult to focus on a task[2] – so, I can see why cleaning can help me de-stress.

4. Write it down.

I like to use this Santa Claus notepad I’ve had for ages. When I’m stressed I liked to write everything in my head onto a page; sometimes it’s a novel of my feelings, other times it’s a list of things to do. Whatever it is that I write, I find my head a little clearer at the end of the exercise. The intention is to write absolutely anything until you run out of things to write about.

5. Colouring.

It’s a new decade, colouring ain’t just for kids anymore and there are tons of colouring books out there for adults. I started doing this in quarantine and it’s a healthy, relaxing distraction. I always remind myself that I can’t always force myself to work through stress. Instead, healthy distractions/breaks help me come back to the task more productively than if I were to power through it. Scientifically speaking, colouring can relax the fear center of your brain (the amygdala), which aids in reducing anxiety.[3][4]

6. Exercise, and no it doesn’t have to be HIIT.

What’s a list of de-stressing without mentioning exercise? I know the gym can see like an extra chore, I don’t even go to one. We've heard it before - the benefit of exercise. But exercise doesn’t have to be your traditional burpees and squats. A brisk walk (recall, my first tip of walking), a bike ride, dancing, they all go a long way.

 I focused too much on the benefits of HIIT (“After burn effect!!”) and not enough on what I found enjoyable. I thrive from exercise to de-stress but when it comes to this, it’s actually about finding an exercise I enjoy that also allowed me to relieve stress. And for me that’s mainly walking and dancing.

Captured while on a hike

[1] Publishing, Harvard Health. “5 Surprising Benefits of Walking.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-surprising-benefits-of-walking.

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201607/the-powerful-psychology-behind-cleanliness

[3] Health, Beaumont. “Health Benefits of Coloring for Adults.” Beaumont Health, Beaumont Health Https://Www.beaumont.org/Images/Default-Source/Default-Album/Logo.png?Sfvrsn=d43d7fef_4, 2 Aug. 2016, www.beaumont.org/health-wellness/blogs/health-benefits-of-coloring-for-adults.

[4] Team, Brain and Spine. “3 Reasons Adult Coloring Can Actually Relax Your Brain.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 21 Sept. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/3-reasons-adult-coloring-can-actually-relax-brain/.

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