Tongue-tied or talking too much? On edge or downright outraged – often at inappropriate times? Most likely the cause is stress. A certain amount of stress is good; it’s a challenge and a motivator. But to celebrate National Stress Awareness Day, we’re here to say enough is enough! Too much can lead to dangerous emotional and physical imbalances – which is why you need stress breakers to overcome the tough moments and open the possibilities for positivity.
Vent your anger. Ventilate your wrath by writing about it. Don’t organize or analyze your thoughts, just write until you have nothing more to say to the maddening person or about the irritating situation. You’ll know when you’ve said enough because you’ll feel lighter and released. The act of writing is a process which literally lets the emotion flow from your body through your pen, down and out onto the paper. It can also clear the air of the smoke and fumes of your anger to restore your perspective: Just how important is the issue you’re angry about?
The allowing attitude. From acupuncture to deep-breath kung fu, the techniques and philosophies of Eastern cultures have always been light years ahead of ours when it comes to mind over stressful matters. To let go of your own tension, try an adaptation of ancient T’ai chi exercise. Settle yourself into a quiet place. Interlock your fingers as if to pray. Point your index fingers upward, leaving space between them. Study the space between them, then allow them to come together. Don’t push them together. Allow them to close slowly on their own. Open them again and feel the breath of your emotions escape through the opening. Then name your stresses. Watch the stressful feelings flow out through your open fingers.
Unwind on wheels. The next time you’re stuck in a cab or delayed train, close your eyes and relax your facial muscles. Feel your back rest against the seat. Then begin consciously to inhale and exhale for a few minutes. At the end of the ride you will feel refreshed and composed. This will work an on-the-move executive, a student heading to a final exam, even for a parent on the way to a PTA meeting if you can just once get out of the driver’s seat.
Take time out. Take time out of your life each week – that is, literally remove it. Let your internal (and external) clock-watching vigilante take a short vacation. Remove or cover all visible signs of time. Take off your watch and turn off your cell phone. Enjoy yourself, paced only by your natural rhythm, not by the imposition of the sixty-minute hour. If you have an appointment, date, or other necessary ending to this exercise, set an alarm. It will signal when it’s time to get back into time.
Keys and cues. Stir up positive memories with a cue word. Begin this stress breaker by reconstructing a time when you felt terrific – when your self-esteem was high and your anxiety low. Remember this grand time in your mind’s eye and feel those feelings again. Catch them, relive them, then find a key word or phrase to name them. Any one- or two-word label will do, preferably the first that comes to mind. Got it? Now, with practice, you can condense the process, key into good times, and cal up the pleasant feelings on cue with your word association.
Adapted from Stress Breakers by Helene Lerner and Roberta Elins