How do you let off steam? Do you manage stress with a healthy outlet, or are the pressures of life building up inside you? Here are four types of releases every person needs. Find out if yours are missing, if they are holding you back, or if they are creating a happy and healthy you.

Compartmentalize your stress, focus it, and find healthy outlets.  Here are the four types of outlets or releases you must have. As you look at each one, ask whether yours is missing, or whether it is hurting you. To make your stress work for you, and to succeed through adversity, be sure how you cope does not undermine your efforts to achieve your goals. If you see a need for change, then select a different release, determine to follow through with this commitment, and make a better you.

The four types are on a continuum, where you turn up the valve from 1 to 4, depending on how much pressure is building up inside of you, and how significant the stressors are.

Valve set at 1

Lets off a little steam, a quick, repeating, release you might use throughout the day. This is instantly accessible anywhere, and usually happens in your own mind. You use this when the busy chores or daily schedule starts to get you flustered, and you need a quick recharge of energy. It can be a quick prayer, affirming thought, or a moment to watch the birds fly or the flowers blow in the wind. Whatever will help you gain perspective and feel a moment of strength fits here. How do you blow off steam at level 1?

When I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed from deadlines or inconvenient actions of others, my first response is to do this 30 second exercise. I stop, breath, and say a prayer. I look at something I love that I can see at that moment (picture of loved ones, the clouds, …). Then I identify what thoughts are causing my reaction. Finally, I counter them in my mind. Am I feeling upset because of unexpected events? I remind myself I can adapt, figure out what is important, and get it done.

I used to feel devastated when someone criticized what I did. I was giving other people too much power over my life. Now, I am a better listener. If I start to take offense, I stop and consider what truth I can find in their comment. Then I figure out how it can make me a better person. If I still feel upset, I instantly know that I forgot the most important part: to remember my identity is not determined by the opinion of others. Whatever is not constructive is coming from their own issues, so I refuse to let it influence me. I dismiss it as their own problem. I still remember how amazing it felt the first time I really put this in practice. I no longer hold grudges (though I remember not to ask for criticism from those who only tear down).

Valve set at 2

Gives off more steam in an habitual act of letting it out. This is a way to let your body know you care. Some typical ideas are exercise, playing a video game, watching a favorite show, talking about your day with a friend or spouse, or going out to eat with some friends. A healthy and loving marriage with great communication will also provide regular times of intimacy, which is a great outlet. Do you have a regular outlet that helps you unwind, and is it constructive? Fueling an addiction hurts you and your loved ones, and only spins your life out of control. Make a conscious choice to respond to life in a healthy way, rather than to let life control you. Without a healthy outlet, you bottle up frustrations and pressures and you may find yourself overreacting to situations as you “leak” out steam in an inappropriate manner. You may take out your stress on family, friends, or yourself. If you ignore level 1, then you will feel an unbalanced need for an extended level 2 release. Wanting to relax after a typical day of work is a natural response. Needing the whole night to get over your typical day is not.

Valve set at 3

This is an indulgence. Here you have a larger release that you anticipate and allow to motivate your actions. Are you trying to achieve your goals? Do you set consequences and rewards for yourself? Indulgences are great rewards for finishing projects, changing a habit, or doing something difficult or amazing. They are also great at inspiring you to persevere. Do you have some difficult things to tackle? Get an indulgence in mind and work for the prize. You can make fun plans for the weekend, or plan a special day out at the end of the month. Go get pampered at a spa, or visit a car show. One of my regular level 2 stress releases has become a level 3 indulgence for me since having children. I love curling up with a good book and getting lost in the story. Now, it is hard to find time for reading anything that is not related to my children or my graduate studies (I am finishing up my dissertation). So, I look forward to special times when I get the chance to indulge. I set aside time every week for this entertainment as a reward for all the sleepless hours I spend working on other things.

Valve set at 4

This is a spiritual transforming release, where all your pressures escape in an amazing experience. While this is one of the most important, it can be the most difficult to find. What is yours? It may be a retreat to the woods, a quiet experience with God, a nature walk, a visit to your special spot at a lake, or even a vacation to an exotic resort.

When I first started to live free of my eating disorder, I needed a tangible way to draw powerful strength whenever I felt tempted. I found the beach. I lived so close that I could drive there at any time. I went there whenever I needed to feel God’s arms around me, and to remind me that anything was possible. The thunderous boom of the ocean waves, the strong tides pulling back the sand into various patterns, and the sun glistening on the water, all suddenly and dramatically cause currents of strength to flow through me. I felt incredible, and incredibly loved. The beach reminded me how small my problems were when compared to the universe, and I relaxed as my mind instantly saw an aerial view of life. I could quickly discern what will still be important 5 or 10 years from now, and focus on my commitment to the moment. I used to need this transforming experience frequently. As I grew confident in my new habits, I could use levels 1 or 2 to get me past any temptation. Now, after 15 years of freedom, I am truly free.

There are times in life when a spiritual and transformational experience is essential. Are you burned out, uncertain of your life’s purpose, or struggling to live the way you desire? When you find it, it is something you know is there. Let it give you strength to know that in times of desperation, you have a refuge. What is your shelter from the storms of life? It is during the sad or uncertain times that people tend to start unhealthy patterns, so purpose today to triumph through any pain by deciding your plan of action now. These transforming releases are essential during times of extreme stress in your life. They may be visited quite frequently for a while, and then less often as you progress through your life’s storm. I still draw strength from the beach, and I look at beautiful sunsets whenever I get the chance, but I now live hours from the beach. My visits are mostly a reminder of how my life has changed for the better. I use the memories of past struggles to encourage me in my present.

How do you let off steam? What are your levels 1-4? Are they constructive, or destroying your success? Evaluate your coping skills, plan new ones for your future as needed, and create a better you. You can do it!

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