Slicing huge chunks of stress out of your life can actually be quite easy. But let's face it: Sometimes no amount of planning and organizing can keep stress away. "Down days" are part of life, and there are times when we feel truly blue.
What to do when that happens? Plenty! Here are some soft-and-sunny suggestions to help you sail away from stress.
Next time you feel tired, drink a tall glass of water. I know of no simpler way to feel better in an instant. Those eight fluid ounces of water seep into your system to:
• Replenish moisture in your body,
• Flush away accumulated debris and waste from your cells,
• Assist your digestive process,
• Rejuvenate your organs and help them function better,
• Put the glow back in your skin, and
• Help you resist the urge to eat; we often mistake thirst for hunger.
Binge on Healthy, Satisfying Snacks
When we're stressed, we like to eat. Let me amend that: We have to eat. But over time, I've discovered some delicious alternatives to chips and doughnuts. Here's my list of foods that comfort body and mind without adding up empty calories:
Fresh fruits and vegetables: carrots, corn, beans, greens, bananas, apples, peaches, grapes, oranges, melons, and berries. Add spice and flavor to your bountiful platter of fresh produce by sprinkling it with a spice called Chaat Masala (snack spice). You'll find it in stores that sell foodstuff from India. Made from powdered raw mango, black pepper, rock salt, and coriander seeds, this spice is absolutely delicious rubbed on grilled corn-on-the-cob, too.
Nuts: almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts — all raw or roasted but unsalted, and preferably whole. These are all good sources of protein, which boosts energy and gives a feeling of satisfaction even if you don't eat a big amount. For added taste and energy, you can stir a few of these nuts into a small bottle of honey (all except peanuts, which don't taste great with honey).
Pappadums: The Indian store again! Pappadums are crunchy snacks served before a meal in India. Made from lentils and spices, they can be quite addictive. You can buy a packet of raw pappadurns in many flavors, then either deep-fry or roast them. I recommend roasting, for better flavor and less fat. It takes less than five minutes to roast a few pappadums on your stove: Hold them with a pair of tongs and roast them directly over the flame, turning them quickly; they take only a few seconds to fluff up and become crunchy. If you have an electric range, you'll need to be slightly quicker in turning them over, since resting the pappadums directly on the coil can cause them to become charred within seconds. Though delicious on their own, these roasted pappadums can be pepped up with a generous topping of sprouted mung beans, finely chopped tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers on them.
Whole-grain bread: Rub it with juicy garlic, then dip it in warm olive oil that has been seasoned with freshly ground black pepper. Don't limit yourself to plain olive oil, though; you'll find a bounty of herb-infused oils in good stores, so try out different varieties.
A glass of refreshing iced tea with a bowl of fresh sliced fruit: In the summer months, a cooling watermelon slush is a special treat. Just slice watermelon, add a few ice cubes, and blend in a mixer. Stir in some cinnamon and dust sugar on it if you like.
Five whole-grain crackers, each topped with a smidgen of cream cheese: Fresh celery with cream cheese or carrots dipped in sour cream with dill weed is a healthful and delicious treat.
A small box of raisins. A great source of natural energy, raisins contain disease-preventing plant chemicals and contribute toward fulfilling your daily quota of fruit consumption.
Send Stress Packing with a Touch of Love
When you are tired after a long day and you need some tender loving care, your body craves warmth and touch. So what if you can't afford a spa massage? Here are some terrific do-it-yourself ways to heal your body:
• Moisten a flat cotton pad with warm water and place it below your eyes; it's wonderfully soothing. Cool slices of cucumber over the eyes are greatly comforting, too.
• After you make tea, soak the used tea bags in chilled water for a few minutes, then place them over your tired eyelids for an immensely relaxing experience. The tannin in the tea does the trick. You can also use the tea bags warm, allowing them to cool down to a comfortable temperature before placing them on your eyes.
• Rest a hot water bottle on your belly, chest, or back -- ah, so comforting!
• Soak a large fluffy towel in warm water. Then wring it out well and wipe your face and arms gently with it. For an even more exquisite sensation, infuse the towel with your favorite essential oil. I love lavender and rose, but you could try chamomile, bergamot, or peppermint.
• Rub warm, herb-infused oil into your scalp. Then wrap a warm, damp towel around your head for thirty minutes. Take a shower afterward.
• Fill a foot bath with warm water, and add two to three drops of mint essential oil. Soak your feet in this bath, and feel the tension drain away.
• Pour two teaspoons of olive oil into a small bowl and add two drops of rose, neroli, or peppermint essential oil. Massage the soles of your feet with this aromatic blend for a supremely calming experience.
WHEN YOU PLAY, STRESS RUNS AWAY
Once in a while, be a child again:
• Jump on a mini-trampoline! It is energizing and uplifting, and it makes you happy like a child. Or, if you're lucky enough to have one around, try a full-sized trampoline. Do all the tricks you did as a kid. Ask a friend to jump with you and fall together. Jump opposite each other and see how high you can go. You'll fall in a pile of giggles. My friend Katie Farnam Conolly says, "Recently, we were visiting with friends who had children — and a trampoline. After all the kids went to bed, we adults got on the trampoline; I became a child again! So did our friends. It was a blast!"
• Get wet! In India, we have a festival called Holi, which is celebrated in a riot of color. Men and women, rich and poor, old and young — everyone is out on the streets throwing handfuls of red, blue, yellow, green, and pink powder on each other, dropping water balloons from terraces, and chasing each other with Super-Soakers. The air is vibrant with energy and laughter. It's a time for letting your hair down, forgetting your grudges, and shedding your shyness. Bring out the child in you: Play super-soaker with your kids today!
• Tie both ends of a good-quality bed sheet to two sturdy tree branches. Once you've tested its security to hold your weight, snuggle up in your hammock with a delicious book. Or curl up with a good magazine, such as Organic Style, Natural Home, or Real Simple. Each issue of these magazines is filled with ideas that will inspire you to live healthfully, naturally, and happily. You'll feel like a child again sitting in your homemade hammock-fort.
• Do a spot of fun gardening with your kids. If you don't have your own, enlist your neighbors' energetic child for an hour or so! Together, prepare a soil-bed or container with soil-mix and water, then get your hands dirty digging holes, looking for worms, pulling weeds, sowing seeds and planting saplings. Reveling thus in the joy of nature, childlike, will nip your stresses in the bud!.
• Do a rumba. Or invent a dance of your own — and call it "Funba."
Try Vitamin S
"S" Is FOR SMILE. A popular Canadian television show for children called Today's Special defines a smile as "just a frown upside down." The simple act of relaxing your face into a smile is an affirmation of hope, a message to yourself saying, "Things happen, and I'm ready to sail through them." Try it the next time you're in a traffic jam or a tough meeting. Take a long, deep breath and smile. Let the smile begin with your lips and spread across your entire face, your whole body, your very being. It takes seconds to practice, it's free, and it makes you feel immediately, infinitely relaxed. Besides, it takes only seventeen muscles to smile, but forty-three to frown — so smiling is far easier to do!
Get Close to Someone
WALK UP TO SOMEONE YOU LOVE, put your arms around them, and ask them to do the same to you. This is called a hug, and it is the warmest, most comforting feeling in the world.
If something is bothering you, phone a friend and have a heart-to-heart. Between picking up the receiver and putting it down, your problem will shrink many sizes. The saving "multiply your joys and divide your sorrows" is the basis of friendship. After unburdening your heart to a friend, you'll feel lighthearted and bright.
Feeling friendless and alone? No problem. Find comfort in a crowd. Popcorn at the movies, plays, concerts, magic shows — with so many irresistible options, you really needn't feel alone. Click on www.citysearch.com for a listing of local events, and get yourself a ticket to smile.
Get Some Comic Relief
They don't call laughter "the best medicine" for nothing. Feelings of mirth and moroseness cannot coexist; when you're laughing out loud, you simply can't be sad.
Yes, it isn't easy to burst into laughter when you're about to burst with anger or tension. But that's not the idea. Laughter works when you use it to provide little outbursts of mirth so that stress never gets a chance to build up. Seek laughter therapy, not when you're distressed, but when you're already happy. On a day when you feel energetic and creative, take time to make room for more laughter in your life:
• Take some old issues of Mad Magazine to work. During your tea break, clip out the most giggle-inducing cartoons and put them up on your bulletin board or your door. Change them around often so that you aren't stuck with stale jokes that no longer evoke laughter.
• Tote along a fun photo frame to the office. Print out a funny quotation and tuck it into the frame. Place this at your desk to entertain yourself and others. (I've put up Robert Benchley's words — "A freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece, or per word, or perhaps" — to keep my sense of humor alive as I type those query letters by the dozen.) These days, you can buy "talking photo frames" that will let you record a joke or funny saying. This can be especially fun if you and a friend both have talking photo frames; you can sneak in and record new jokes on each other's frames so that they never get old.
• Surf the Internet for good, clean jokes — then mail a couple of them to your colleagues.
• You can start a humor file, into which you jot rib-tickling one-liners and jokes. When they start feeling stale, you can always give your file to a friend who's feeling blue.
• If you have a few moments to yourself, think back to a really funny incident from your life. Then entertain your colleagues with it at lunch. Instant popularity, too!
• When you go to the library, stop by the humor section and borrow a hilarious book or movie.
• Do your visits to the bookstore always follow the same pattern: Head for "Religion and Philosophy" or "Fiction," grab a latte, settle down for two hours, move out? Next time, take a detour: Spend a few minutes in the humor section. You'll find it refreshing.
• Keep comic books by your bedside.
• Create a comic-book-filled "basket of laughter" by the fireplace. On snowy evenings, cozy up in a rocking chair with cocoa and kids, and laugh the evening away.
• Change the message on your answering machine to an upbeat, humorous one.
• Give playful captions to your family photographs.
• Learn to laugh at yourself. If your stress has caused you to be less than friendly, organized, or creative lately, explain your behavior to your colleagues or family with a fun quote on a placard, such as the often-quoted anonymous poem:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
And so am I.
Lighten up. You'll brighten up.
Feel Better with Verse
Let's face it, sometimes fun and laughter feel just "too chipper" for comfort when you're stressed. Does this mean you should delve into a depressing piece of literature? Yes and no.
Experts say that reading a poignant, emotional poem when you're feeling low is actually a good idea because it "agrees" with your mood at the time. However, do choose verse that has a note of optimism and hope — a comforting, positive one. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., author of several books on creativity, said, "Sometimes, even one word is enough to open a window on a new view of the world, to start the mind on an inner journey." At the end of a tiring day, a poem can rock you into relaxation.
To find inspirational, healing poems, turn to poets such as Robert Bly, Rita Dove, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or look up recent Pulitzer Prize-winning poets on the Internet, for example, Maya Angelou. The following verse by Emily Dickinson is also quite uplifting:
"Hope" is the thing with feathers — That perches in the soul —
And sings the song without the words — And never stops — at all —
If a poem stirs something in you. try to write or paint your emotions. Don't think you "can't write" or are "not an artist." Write from the heart, and the words will come. Let your pen or paintbrush move freely on the paper or canvas; the beauty of your own creation might take you by surprise.
Beat the Blues with Jazz
A melody floating through the air is unseen, intangible. And yet it triggers a definite, concrete response in the human body. In rhythm with the melody, we start to release "happy chemicals" called endorphins, which have a profoundly healing effect on the mind. That is why spiritual teachers such as Dr. Deepak Chopra are collaborating with musicians to create music that heals. As I write this, I'm listening to light, fluid tunes from The Magic of Healing Music, an album created by Bruce BecVar for Dr. Chopra.
While Western music is generally designed to build to a crescendo then bring release, "new age" or spiritual music doesn't have a frenzied feeling; it is slow and gentle. So when you're in the mood for relaxation, listen to laid-back notes; they heal.
I remember a cold, rainy evening when I was in a mood as gray as the weather. On impulse, I went out for a drive. For a while I listened to a CD, but even that didn't help; I was just too restless. Suddenly, I knew what to do. I rolled up the windows, switched off the CD, and began to sing — first softly, then boldly. What came out wasn't Celine Dion, but the simple act of opening my lungs and my heart and singing for my own pleasure was immensely therapeutic. I returned home humming.
To me, music isn't simply about listening to songs or singing them. It is about creating harmony in your living spaces. Take alarm clocks: Aren't they the very antithesis of harmony? Do you relish their harsh trrrring or persistent beep in the morning? To me, those sounds feel shocking, as if I've jumped straight out of bed into a lake of icy water. An excellent way to set the tone for a lovely day is to buy an alarm clock that wakes you up to a sweet melody, or the gentle sound of wind chimes, or a simple bird song. Then stretch, like a satisfied cat on a lazy afternoon. Savor the pleasure of lying in bed just a minute or two before you plunge into another day.
Incidentally, a poll on the popular Website www.wordsmith.com revealed that "mellifluous," which means "sweet-sounding," is the most loved word in the English language.
When All Else Fails, Give Thanks
Sometimes life seems so unfair that you can't stop asking, "Why me?" "Why this?" "Why now?" Usually there are no satisfactory answers to these questions, and nothing seems to be able to pull you out of the depths of depression. When that happens, turn inward and become your own source of solace.
Breathe deeply and give thanks for being alive. Feel grateful to have the use of your limbs and vital organs. Say "happy me, lucky me" — even if you feel exactly the opposite of happy and lucky. Say, "I am thankful..."
• For the tax returns I have to file, because it means that I am employed.
• For the mess I have to clean up after the party, because it means that I have the gift of friends.
• For a floor that needs mopping and windows that need cleaning, because it means I have a home.
• For this difficult situation, because it is an opportunity for me to make a wise decision and emerge stronger.
In her book Undress Your Stress, Lois Levy reminds us to "stop and give thanks whenever we are feeling low.'' Be grateful for something. — one thing. I don't care what it is: eyesight, sunshine, ice cream, e-mail, breathing. Try it; it works.
Let me leave you with some healing thoughts on Aikido, a Japanese martial art that teaches harmony. Kicks, punches...and harmony? Sounds paradoxical, doesn't it? But the explanation is beautiful: An Aikido master moves to protect not only himself but also his attacker, redirecting the latter's energy so that he loses the desire to fight.
The Aikido principle, I think, can be more than a martial art; it can be a way of life. Without donning a uniform or lifting a leg to kick out, we can learn to beat back stress — an enemy that torments us all. How? The key is that Aikido teaches gentleness and compassion. It helps you mobilize your energies in such a way that you empathize with the enemy; you begin to understand why an unpleasant situation has arisen. And to understand, said a wise sage, is to forgive.
To bring home this point, let me tell you the story of Lord Buddha and the drunken elephant. Legend says that Lord Buddha's cousin, Devadatta, felt extremely jealous of the Buddha's rising popularity and plotted to kill him on several occasions. Once he forced an elephant to drink alcohol, beat it until it was crazed with anger, then let it loose toward the Buddha. Everyone around the Buddha ran away in panic, but the Buddha, seeing this drunken, crazed animal, felt nothing but pity and love for the creature. So strong was this feeling that the raging elephant could feel its power. To the amazement of all, the elephant stopped charging and lay down humbly at the Buddha's feet.
Fast-forwarding many centuries to the present day, I understand that it takes far less than a raging elephant to throw us into a state of panic. But if we remind ourselves that we're all blessed with the ability to understand and forgive, we'll be able to deal much better with the fiercest of stresses.
I Wish You Peace
THOUGHTS FROM LYNN SMITH, INTERVENTIONIST FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS, 40
I am a very blessed individual who has had a fulfilling and purpose-driven life. I work outside of the home as an interventionist for college students, performing a form of counseling called Motivational Interviewing. Our main focus is the drinking habits of eighteen to twenty-four year olds, helping them to see how their habits can negatively affect their lives. My passion is to make a difference in someone's life each day, and this job allows me to do just that. Since I have such a rewarding and fulfilling career, I believe my stress level at work is kept to a minimum.
I am also a very busy mother and wife. My husband has an hour and a half commute each way to work. I try to take as much on as I possibly can family-wise, so he doesn't have to. With that said, I am the one who worries about each person's appointments, school functions, extracurricular activities, and social schedule as well as the general running of the home. I may be blessed in the limited amount of stress in my career but the stress for the home life and trying to juggle both a career and loving family life more than makes up for it.
Normally, my time to de-stress is after the family is in bed. That's the only period of time I have to reflect on myself, my day, and my life. The one thing that allows me to have the most inner peace is to brew a pot of naturally organic loose tea, it's called comfort tea. It's a wonderfully sweet aromatic, spearmint type tea. As soon as I smell the minty aroma, my troubles instantly begin to melt. I am a candle person and have several different types of aromatic groupings through out my home. To add to my calming environment I love to light a few, smell the aroma, and watch the flames flicker. I put on CDs that are instrumental, such a George Winston (piano) or Kenny G (jazz). These add to my calming environment. This de-stress time allows me to get "my house" in order. I try hard to have a clean and organized home for my family and have noticed over the years that, more importantly, my personal "spiritual house" has to be in order so that I can be the best person possible for all those around me.
These things together allow me to reflect on all the wonderful gifts and joys of my life. Once I begin to realize just how much I have, my stresses just don't seem to be important anymore and slowly disappear. I have always felt that attitude about life is very important and once I have complete control over that, then I can face even the hardest situations with a smile, and the faith that the problems really aren't problems after all.
Chapter Summary and Resources
• Life's small discomforts can add up to create big stress. Don't let stress build up!
• Cut down on your commitments.
• Don't procrastinate. To help you do this, there's a popular Website, www.flylady.com; the everyday wisdom you'll find there will help you do your chores in a systematic and organized manner.
• Make life comfortable. Shop for essential items that make daily living easier. Good starting points: Home Depot, the Container Store, or even the yard sales in your neighborhood.
• Tame the time monster. Ask friends to share their successful time-management tips. Attend a workshop on the subject of managing time. Visit www.stresstips.com for scores of resources on dealing with various aspects of stress.
• Calm stress with good nutrition.
• Rub stress away with a healing massage. A good book to read is Instant Calm: Over 100 Easy-to-Use Techniques For Relaxing Mind and Body, by Paul Wilson (Plume, 1999).
• Smile. The moment you smile, you start to heal. For inspiration, read All Smiles, edited by Bruce Velick — a feel-good book that features smiling people from all over the world (Chronicle Books, 1995).
• Get close to someone. Catch up with a friend and go out to the movies. Think about joining a group where you'll meet people. "The Art of Living" is one such class. Inspired by the teachings of spiritual master Sri Sri Ravishankar, the Art of Living Foundation is a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate the effects of stress from your system. The six-day Art of Living workshop promises: "More energy, more clarity, more love, more happiness, more celebration, more depth, more silence." Offered in more than 140 countries, there is sure to be a course near where you live. For more information, visit www.artofliving.com.
• Heal with art.
• Give thanks.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. ©2001.
Radiant Body, Restful Mind
by Shubhra Krishan.
Designed to enliven and enrich one's life, each section includes tips on clearing clutter, expressing creativity, preparing facials and scrubs, enjoying the natural world, nurturing relationships with friends and spouses, and creating personal, sacred space in one’s home and life.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book. Also availalbe as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Shubhra Krishan was a news correspondent for India's biggest network and an editor at Cosmopolitan (India) before moving to the United States with her family. Her articles have appeared in many national magazines. Shubhra works in the marketing department of Maharishi Ayurveda, a company in Colorado Springs that produces and markets ayurvedic products, including their popular Raja’s Cup (a coffee substitute).