How to have a 60-Second Stress-Free Vacation!

By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D.

Most of us have read about the importance of stress management. We know we need to manage our stress in order to live healthy, productive lives. The media tells us to eat right, manage our weight, exercise, get enough rest, etc. Many times we respond with "Right after the holidays; I will start my______(you fill in the blank) program right after the holidays."

The problem is that the holidays are among the most stress filled days of the year. The truth is that you can start your stress management program while you are reading this article. Stress management does not have to be a long, elaborate program. To begin, it needs to be fast, effective, and immediately available. Stress will never be totally eliminated from our lives and we actually need some stress in order to be productive humans. The trick is to find your personal optimal stress level. The first step in this process is to develop an awareness that you are feeling overstressed and that you should change something in order to decrease your stress and increase your ability to cope with the situation.

The most readily available tool is your breath. If you can control your breath, you can learn to control your stress. One to two minutes of abdominal breathing can decrease the body’s physiological stress response. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Breathe like you are breathing into your belly, so that the hand on your stomach rises first. Then fill your chest with air, so that your chest rises. Hold for a few seconds and exhale in the opposite manner, letting the chest drop and then the stomach. Breathe in slowly and evenly, hold for a few seconds and then breathe out, slowly and evenly. After a little practice, you can do this breathing without using your hands. You will know how your body feels when you are breathing correctly. Even a few deep breaths are useful in controlling you stress response. Every second counts.

Put up reminders in prominent places to remind yourself to breathe fully and deeply. Breathe when you are at a stop light, standing in a checkout line, or any time you feel your stress level rising. Your breath is always with you and can be used quietly and discreetly in any situation. It is a tool you can always use.

Another fast and simple way to de-stress during the holidays is to use a decoration or a candle as a focal point. Pick a flame or shiny object to observe closely. Look at the way the object changes, flickers, or catches the light. Focus on the object for at least 60 seconds. Let any distracting thoughts just drift through your mind, and return your focus to your selected object. Even a short period of intense observation can let your body suppress the stress response and assist you in managing your reactions.

Stress will never disappear from your life but you can learn to manage it in order to maintain an optimal stress level. Treat yourself to a 60 second stress free vacation during the holidays or anytime.

Be aware of the importance of the events that are leading to your stress. In the hurry and hassle of holiday preparations, it is easy to let the importance of small details be over-magnified. When things start to feel overwhelming, stop, take a breath and ask yourself, will this task seem as important in an hour, a day, a week, or next month when all this is over? Really stop to assess if the amount of effort is worth the result. Will your guests really notice if all the decorations are perfect? Your ability to be fully present and able to enjoy the holiday preparations and events are far more important. So begin your stress management program immediately and have a happier, healthier holiday season.


Published in Natural Triad, December 2004


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