Death, divorce, or disease may top
the list of major stressors, but a pileup of minor hassles can be just as stressful.
Those petty annoyances and irritations - like waiting in line, getting
overcharged by the dry cleaner, or tripping over your kid's skateboard for the
hundredth time - can leave you tense or frustrated. But like death and taxes,
minor hassles are equally impossible to avoid.
What you need are ways to buffer their
impact. One survey found that people most frequently shield themselves
against these kinds of stresses by:
- Sharing their feelings with a spouse
or romantic partner.
- Sharing their feelings with friends.
- Completing a task that gives them
- Getting enough sleep.
- Maintaining good health.
- To further offset the emotional
damage wrought by minor hassles, think of things that are going right.
- Did you hear any good news today?
- Did you arrive anywhere on time
- or earlier than expected?
- Did anything you were expecting
to receive arrive on time?
- Did anyone pay you a compliment?
Focusing on the positive in this way
is good psychological protection against the effects of chronic stress.
Ways to Reduce Stress
Sometimes stress is subtle. But
very often, stress practically hits you in the face. When that happens,
practice these easy techniques.
- Get some physical exercise. A
quick walk around the block frees your mind from what's bugging you, gets
your blood circulating, and boosts flagging energy levels. Regular exercise - with a green light from your doctor - is even better.
- Take a warm bath or shower, which
tends to relax tense muscles and calm nerves.
- Talk over your troubles with a
friend, relative, or professional counselor. A "sympathetic other"
can sometimes help you to see a problem more clearly - or help you think of
- Count to ten when you're so upset
you want to scream. It buys you time, so you can reflect on what's bothering
you and calm down.
- Pour yourself a cup of warm herbal
tea. Sip it slowly and savor its soothing warmth and aroma.
For Stressful Events
If you've ever mentally rehearsed
a speech before you gave it, you may already have some idea of how advance playacting
can help you prepare for stressful situations. (Athletes, musicians, salespeople,
and actors do it all the time.) The idea is to imagine yourself
feeling calm and confident in an otherwise stressful situation, so you can relax
more easily when the situation arises. Here's how it's done.
- Close your eyes and unwind, releasing
every bit of muscular tension your body has accumulated.
- For a minute or two, concentrate
on simply feeling relaxed.
- For the next minute or so, think
of yourself actually doing whatever you're practicing for, rather than observing
yourself doing it.
- Concentrate again on feelings of
- Visualize the event once again,
and re-create as many details as possible. (What is the setting? What
are you wearing? Who else is present?)
- Imagine yourself continuing to
feel calm as you successfully handle the anticipated situation.
- Imagine a positive outcome - your
boss congratulating you on a job well done, your spouse volunteering to pitch
in around the house, and so forth.
Use this technique to prepare for
any stressful situation - your performance review, a confrontation with your
spouse, or other tense occasion. Practice twice a day for 5 minutes each
time (preferably when you first wake up in the morning and when you're
ready to go to sleep at night). Imagining that you're confident and successful
increases the likelihood that you will be confident and successful in real
life, because you're creating new mental pictures of yourself. After practicing
regularly for a few weeks to prepare for various events, you'll be able to relax
when the real situations occur.
How To Relax,
Muscle by Muscle
Contradictory as it may sound, you
can learn a lot about relaxation from tension. By alternately tensing
and relaxing your muscles, group by group, you can induce a wonderful sense
of head-to-toe relaxation.
Dubbed Progressive Deep Muscle Relaxation
by Edmund Jacobson, M.D., who invented the technique, this exercise requires
only a few minutes to master and is an efficient way to release accumulated
tension. (It's often called Progressive Relaxation, for short.) Here's
how to perform Progressive Relaxation.
- Sit in a chair and close your eyes.
Rest your forearms on the sides of the chair, palms downward.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Concentrate on whatever muscle
tension you may be feeling, but do nothing about it.
- Command yourself to "tense"
and tighten a muscle group for 5 seconds, then tell yourself to "relax"
and let the tension dissolve for 30 seconds. Follow this sequence for
each body part listed below.
- Bend both arms at the elbows
and wrists. Make a fist with each hand. Relax.
- Press your back against the
- Tighten your abdomen. Relax.
- Lift and extend your lower
- Tighten your jaw. Relax.
- Squinch your eyes. Relax.
- Tuck your chin against your
- Continue to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Concentrate on the overall sensation
of relaxation and allow your body to go limp like a rag doll. Let your
head and shoulders drop forward.
- Imagine you feel energizing warmth
flowing through your body.
- Slowly open your eyes and not how
refreshed you feel.
NOTE: Don't hold
your breath during the tensing phase, and don't tighten any region of the body
that's weak or injured.
Laughter's medicinal powers have been
recognized for centuries. The ancient Greeks believed laughter was an
essential part of the healing process. And studies now show that laughter
can promote better blood circulation, stimulate digestion, lower blood pressure,
and prompt the brain to release endorphins and other compounds that reduce pain.
So don't be surprised if some day you hear your doctor say, "Take
two aspirins and call me with a joke in the morning." To get your
healthful daily ration of giggles and guffaws:
- Pretend you're viewing your surroundings
through the lens of "Candid Camera." Focus on silly and offbeat
things people do. This helps you lighten up and brightens your outlook.
- Take some time each day to read
or listen to something funny - the comics or a taped comedian, for example.
- Don't just smile - laugh out loud.
- When confronted by a rude salesperson
or an overbearing co-worker, imagine them wearing nothing but a diaper - they'll
seem less intimidating.
- Try to incorporate good-natured
humor in meetings, memos, and conversations. Humor helps to develop
trust, sell ideas, and strengthen relationships.
- Always keep humor upbeat and positive.
Laughter generated at someone else's expense is counterproductive.
- Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself.
- And remember, he (or she) who laughs,
No to Stressful Thoughts
When nagging thoughts or worries stand
in the way of feeling good, a technique called thought stopping is an effective
way to eradicate them. The trick is to recognize negative thoughts, then
reduce their impact.
Here's an example: You're so
distressed by a petty remark a co-worker makes, you can't concentrate on anything
else, and you dwell on it for hours. Here's what you do.
- Isolate the stressful thought.
- Close your eyes and focus on it
- Count to three.
- Shout "Stop!" (Or, if
others are in earshot, imagine a stop sign, a flashing red light, or the word
"stop" in bold letters.)
- If the thought's still present,
repeat steps 3 to 5.
- Resume normal activity, feeling
You can use this technique anytime
you find yourself obsessed with negative thoughts. (If work problems dominate
your thoughts, substitute an "off duty" sign for the stop sign in
the exercise described above.)
Year of Health Hints"
by Don R. Powell, Ph.D.