Handling Stress
Ways of Reducing Stressssss. . .
      (A Recurring Series)

1. Breathe EasilyPuppies 

“Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly,” says Robert Cooper, Ph.D., the San Francisco coauthor of The Power of 5 (Rodale Press, 1996), a book of five-second and five-minute health tips. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.

2. Visualize Calm

Sunset It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has found that it’s highly effective in reducing stress. Dr. Cooper recommends imagining you’re in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain. Gerald Epstein, M.D., the New York City author of Healing Visualizations (Bantam Doubleday Dell Press, 1989), suggests the following routine: Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details—the sights, the sounds, the smells.

Smile!3. Say Cheese

 Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. “Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm,” Dr. Cooper explains. Go ahead and grin. Don’t you feel better already?

4. Stop Gritting Your Teeth
Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being one of them. When things get hectic, try this tip from Dr. Cooper: Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment, and as you exhale say, “Ah-h-h-h,” then unclench your teeth. Repeat a few times.  Relax, dude!
[Warning: I tried this once.  My jaw is where my stress goes, and my (former) dentist told me I was grinding my teeth.  So I made a conscious effort to relax my jaw.  And since my stress had nowhere to go, I found myself getting angry at people, and being short with them.  So I gave that up.  I may shorten my life by a year or two, but I'll have a lot more friends by my bedside when I go.]

5. Compose a Mantra
Devise an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. “Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress,” Dr. Elkin says. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, “I feel calm. I can handle this.”
[Try this, from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Timequake"You were sick, but now you are well again. And there's work to be done."]

6. Be a Fighter
“At the first sign of stress, you often hear people complain, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’” says Dr. Cooper. The trouble is, feeling like a victim only increases feelings of stress and helplessness. Instead, focus on being proactive. If your flight gets canceled, don’t wallow in self-pity. Find another one. If your office is too hot or too cold, don’t suffer in silence. Call the building manager and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.

7. Put It on PaperThis one I use

Writing provides perspective, says Paul J. Rosch, M.D., president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, NY. Divide a piece of paper into two parts. On the left side, list the stressors you may be able to change, and on the right, list the ones you can’t. “Change what you can,” Dr. Rosch suggests, “and stop fretting over what you can’t.”

8. Count to 10
Before you say or do something you’ll regret, step away from the stressor and collect yourself, advises Dr. Cooper. You can also look away for a moment or put the caller on hold. Use your time-out to take a few deep breaths, stretch, or recite an affirmation.

9. Switch to Decaf
Wean yourself slowly, or you might get a caffeine-withdrawal headache that could last for several days, cautions James Duke, Ph.D., the Fulton, MD, author of The Green Pharmacy (Rodale Press, 1997). Subtract a little regular coffee and add some decaf to your morning cup. Over the next couple of weeks, gradually increase the proportion of decaf to regular until you’re drinking all decaf. You should also consider switching from regular soft drinks to caffeine-free ones or sparkling mineral water.Don't shoot me, bro!

10. Just Say No
Trying to do everything is a one-way ticket to serious stress. Be clear about your limits, and stop trying to please everyone all the time.

11. Take a Whiff
Oils of anise, basil, bay, chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose, and thyme are all soothing, say Kathy Keville and Mindy Green, coauthors of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press, 1995). Place a few pieces of rock salt in a small vial, then add a couple of drops of the oil of your choice (the rock salt absorbs the oil and is much less risky to carry around in your purse than a bottle of oil). Open the vial and breathe in the scent whenever you need a quick stress release. 

12.  Take a Hike!

When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;--
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings. . .
"Thanatopsis", William Cullen Bryant

[As recently reported in the New York Times.]  "Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.

"With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty — or, in other words, me.

But an innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park. 

Autumn Ramble

"The idea that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration is not new. Researchers have long theorized that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.

"But this theory, while agreeable, has been difficult to put to the test. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live primarily amid concrete, and that children with attention deficits tend to concentrate and perform better on cognitive tests after walking through parks or arboretums. More directly, scientists have brought volunteers into a lab, attached electrodes to their heads and shown them photographs of natural or urban scenes, and found that the brain wave readouts show that the volunteers are more calm and meditative when they view the natural scenes."

13.  Do a Good Deed!

Good Deeds

      So this morning I'm driving to work, and I merge over (two lanes, because the righthand lane becomes an exit only).  Ahead of me is a pickup truck.  Now sometimes rude people will jump out on you on an entrance ramp.  They cut across the still solid line, then cut you off.  And that irks me, greatly.

      Now I can tell this pickup driver would like to merge in, and I'm already out in this lane.  (The traffic pattern let me merge in, but not him -- I didn't lane-jump.)  So I gave him the little hi-beam flash: "I see you; c'mon over.")  And he does, and then a little wave of acknowledgement.  "Thanks, buddy."
Happy Motoring!
      And then I felt a rush of what I guess must have been endorphins, but what I would have classified as warmth, happiness, or contentment.  Because a) I did a small, kind deed, and b) because it was recognized.

Are You Still Stressing? 

     Still?  I thought all that was over now.  Unfortunately, stress is a part of life.  What we have to do is learn to cope with it to the best of our abilities.
      So, from time to time, we offer you some tips on stress reduction.  Now you know how I feel about smart phones, in general.  (Hint: they're stealing your soul.)  But then again, I love the Merriam Webster app.      
      So apparently the Google feels bad about about stressing you out, and wants to help.  Here's an article from the New York Times listing some apps that can help you meditate and "be mindful".  (They're free to start, then -- if you like them and want more -- they'll start to charge.

     An excerpt from the article:

The app that’s helped me, my family and friends relax the most is Calm, which is available free — a nice, relaxing price! — for both iOSand Android. This app contains a number of guided meditation sessions that last from just a couple of minutes up to about 20 minutes. The idea is to use the app once a day at the same time.

Each meditation track is spoken in a calming voice and contains straightforward advice in cheerful tones — not “do this, do that,” more “think about sitting somewhere where your back is supported well.”

I’m generally wary of meditation apps because they sometimes weave in too much mystic talk for my taste. But Calm instead contains guidance like “Concentrate on your body.” The sounds for the meditation tracks are calming, too, and you can choose which you prefer, like gentle waves, rain in a forest or relaxing music.

The app is beautiful to look at and easy to use, thanks to clear instructions and menus. It also contains a fair amount of free meditation content. But if you pay to upgrade to the “pro” version you get meditation programs aimed at increasing confidence, creativity and other positive traits, in addition to calmness, and more content is added regularly. The pro version costs about $10 a year, though you can buy shorter subscriptions.

Are Feeling Rejected? 

     You applied to fifteen schools, but didn't get into three.  That's a pretty good percentage!  But one of those three was the school you had your heart set on -- a bit of a reach, sure, but why not?  And now you feel like your career path has cratered.  You are a total loser!

      Hey!  Not so fast!

      Consider the following Op-Ed piece that appeared recently in the New York Times(printable copy here)  Or grab it off my bulletin board in the hall.

But for too many parents and their children, acceptance by an elite institution isn’t just another challenge, just another goal. A yes or no from Amherst or the University of Virginia or the University of Chicago is seen as the conclusive measure of a young person’s worth, an uncontestable harbinger of the accomplishments or disappointments to come. Winner or loser: This is when the judgment is made. This is the great, brutal culling.

What madness. And what nonsense.

Peter Hart was a loser.  Until he went to one of those other schools, and, voila -- was a success!

Peter didn’t try for the Ivy League. That wasn’t the kind of student he’d been at New Trier High School, in an affluent Chicago suburb. Most of its graduating seniors go on to higher education, and most know, from where they stand among their peers, what sort of college they can hope to attend. A friend of Peter’s was ranked near the summit of their class; she set her sights on Yale — and ended up there. Peter was ranked in the top third, and aimed for the University of Michigan or maybe the special undergraduate business school at the University of Illinois.

Both rejected him.

He went to Indiana University instead. Right away he noticed a difference. At New Trier, a public school posh enough to pass for private, he’d always had a sense of himself as someone somewhat ordinary, at least in terms of his studies. At Indiana, though, the students in his freshman classes weren’t as showily gifted as the New Trier kids had been, and his self-image went through a transformation.

Don't let the whole admissions game tear you down.

FOR one thing, the admissions game is too flawed to be given so much credit. For another, the nature of a student’s college experience — the work that he or she puts into it, the self-examination that’s undertaken, the resourcefulness that’s honed — matters more than the name of the institution attended. In fact students at institutions with less hallowed names sometimes demand more of those places and of themselves. Freed from a focus on the packaging of their education, they get to the meat of it.

Feeling better now?  I hope so.  But wait.  Mom and Dad have something they want to add.

Dear ___________,

On the night before you receive your first college response, we wanted to let you know that we could not be any prouder of you than we are today. Whether or not you get accepted does not determine how proud we are of everything you have accomplished and the wonderful person you have become. That will not change based on what admissions officers decide about your future. We will celebrate with joy wherever you get accepted — and the happier you are with those responses, the happier we will be. But your worth as a person, a student and our son is not diminished or influenced in the least by what these colleges have decided.

If it does not go your way, you’ll take a different route to get where you want. There is not a single college in this country that would not be lucky to have you, and you are capable of succeeding at any of them.

We love you as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky, all the way around the world and back again — and to wherever you are headed.

Mom and Dad