15. Invoke the Relaxation Response

In his influential book The Relaxation Response, Herbert Benson, M.D., determined in his research that consciously and purposefully invoking the relaxation response through meditation involves the following four basic steps, no matter what your meditation technique:

1. A quiet environment

2. Something to focus on (a sound, an object, a thought)

3. A comfortable position

4. A passive attitude

The most important of the four for inducing a relaxed state is the passive attitude, or not judging oneself and one’s relaxation efforts or becoming too distracted. Having a passive attitude can carry over into many areas of life and can be effectively invoked when you sense stress mounting.

16. Just Say “Oh Well”

When you feel a rage, a surge of irritation, a flood of despair, or a panic coming on, one way to circumvent the surge is to consciously adopt a passive attitude.

How? Two words: Oh well. These two little words are extremely powerful. You spilled your coffee on your keyboard? Oh well. Something is broken, wrecked, ruined? Oh well. Your child talks back? Oh well.

If your child talks back to you, that doesn’t mean he or she shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences, but it also doesn’t mean you have to get all worked up about it. Besides, a serene parent doling out consequences is much more in control than a flustered parent.

If you make a mistake, learn from it. Something happened. You’ll be more careful next time. But “oh well” means you recognize that attaching negative emotions to a mistake will cloud your thinking rather than clear it up. If you aren’t filled with rage, you’ll be better able to respond and react appropriately.

17. Try Some Relaxation Techniques

Throughout the ages, different cultures all over the world have developed their own relaxation techniques. Some involve meditation, some breathing, some specific kinds of movement. Some work quickly; others are meant to take time. Some involve more physical effort but relax the mind. Others involve mental effort but relax the body. If you learn about them all, you’ll be able to pick the kind of relaxation technique that suits you in any given situation. Many of these techniques aren’t designed specifically for relaxation, but relaxation is a side effect (such as with yoga and certain types of meditation).

18. What Is a Body Scan?

The body scan is a popular relaxation technique that involves a mental scanning of the entire body in search of tension and the conscious release of that tension. You can do a body scan on your own, or you can have someone direct you by speaking out loud and naming the parts of the body, in order, so that you are cued when to relax what. You can also recite your own body scan cues onto a tape and play it back for yourself. The body scan is a great way to wind down after work or to calm down before a stressful event. Practiced every day, it can become a way to maintain a tension-free body and a body-aware mind.

19. Try a Body Scan

Different people do the body scan in different ways. Some people like to tense each area of the body in turn, then fully relax it. Others prefer to visualize the release of tension without actually contracting the muscles first. You can imagine breathing into and out of each body part, exhaling the tension one area at a time. Whichever way you choose is fine. You might try several ways to find out which one you prefer.

20. Breathe Away the Stress Response

Many people are in the habit of shallow breathing, or chest breathing. While this allows quicker respiration and is handy for emergencies, shallow breathing doesn’t plumb the depths of the lungs the way deep breathing does. A few slow, truly deep breaths can stop a stress attack in its tracks. Deep breathing also helps to expel more air from your lungs, which is important for efficient lung functioning.

When told to breathe deeply, people tend to gulp in a huge amount of air with a dramatic uprising of the chest. Actually, deep breathing happens much deeper, and it is the stomach and abdomen that should rise and fall, not the chest—and especially not the shoulders. The exhalation is the focus.

21. Breathe from the Right Place

Breathing from deep in your torso is hard to do if you aren’t used to doing it. You used to do it as an infant, but as an adult in a high-stress world, you may have forgotten how. The easiest way to retrain yourself to breathe deeply is to begin by lying down. Lie comfortably on your back and put one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Then, do the following:

1. Begin by breathing normally. Be conscious of your breathing, but don’t try to manipulate it.

2. Now, try to exhale every last bit of breath slowly, making a “sss” sound.

When you think you’ve exhaled every bit of breathe, give your lungs one more push and let out a final “sss” of air.

3. After this deep exhalation, you’ll naturally take in a deep breath, but don’t try to suck in air. Just let your body take it in on its own. Don’t try to suck air into your chest. Just let your body refill. As it refills, try to keep your chest and shoulders still.

4. Exhale again, slowly, as fully as possible.

5. Repeat for ten deep breaths.

Once you’ve mastered the feeling of deep breathing, you can try it sitting up. Again, focus on the exhalation. A good calming breathing exercise is to measure your breathing by silent counting, making the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation.

22. Harness Imagery Power

Feeling stressed? Feeling anxious? Go on vacation. No, don’t leave your desk and head to the airport. You remember your imagination, don’t you? Your imagination is still in your head, even if it’s grown a little rusty from disuse. Stay at your desk, close your eyes, relax, breathe, and use your imagination to visualize the place you would most like to be. Why not imagine wandering down a secluded beach at sunset, the balmy tropical winds rippling the turquoise sea? Maybe you would prefer cuddling in front of the fire with a special someone in a cozy cabin in the woods? Maybe images of the Far East, the rain forest, or hiking a glacier in Alaska invoke a sense of peace in you?

23. Stay Inspired

When life is stressful, the stress always seems easier, more manageable, if the circumstances lift you to heights of positive feeling. Staying inspired is key to maintaining the necessary energy, enthusiasm, and motivation for keeping your life on track, your stress in check, and your goals in sight.

For you, staying inspired might mean a commitment to a beloved hobby, starting your own business, learning something new, taking up an art form, writing a novel, volunteering, or staying in touch with inspiring friends. Whatever keeps you excited about the day, glowing with anticipation, and happy to be alive should be a priority.

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