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Preempting the New Year’s Resolution Madness...
Be Less Stressed

By Kayla Lemar
Teen Scribe

Maybe your mom just had a baby—a wonderful baby, that poops and slobbers and hogs attention.  Trig could be on your course list for fall, which means serious rejection potential for that academic scholarship.  Maybe you just have poor time management skills.  Or home life could be rough.  There are lots of things that cause stress in our lives: major life changes, difficult family situations, and routine When-am-I-ever-going-to-get-out-of-this!? cycles.  This month’s top New Year’s Resolution adults make is to be less stressed.

Whenever possible, control what causes your stress.  I stress myself out by making too many commitments (often to things I do not enjoy but feel obligated to) or expect more than is possible out of my day.  With stresses like this, use logic and weed away the stress.

Sometimes life happens, and stress isn’t in our control.  Then it’s time to actively engage in relaxation.  Relaxation is the act of resting your mind, body, and spirit; making space for nothingness; and mastering the art of “being”. 

No one knows the way you relax best.  If you don’t yet know yourself, there are plenty of suggestions below.  My only strong recommendation is to make a habit of taking 15-20 minutes each day to focus specifically on relaxation.  Depending on which ideas you implement below, it might be a good idea to focus 15 minutes on your mind, 15 minutes on your body, and 15 minutes on your spirit, or some other time variation, so long as you make personal time a practiced part of your life.

For the mind, positive affirmation does wonders. So you didn’t find that summer job?  The weather man decided to pull out 105-degrees out of his pocket during band camp?  It’s okay; focus on things you can control and do well on. Congratulate yourself for going to the library this summer and learning fabulous new facts, facts that might win you the next interview.  Tell yourself, “Good job!” for remembering to ice two water bottles for band practice.  It may sound cliché (or weird), but when I’m feeling down, like nobody notices, and nobody cares, I actually do pat myself on the back.  Yes, I physically take my hand and pat my shoulder and say, “Kayla, you did a good job.”  I know, crazy! But it works.  Congratulate yourself on those small accomplishments.

Compartmentalizing helps you organize your mind, just like you do your bedroom, to make it free from emotional clutter that causes stress. Imagine your mind full of boxes.  Label your boxes with all the stressful things you are thinking about.  Then imagine putting those stressful things in those boxes, and storing them on a back shelf.  Open one box at a time, when you are emotionally ready to work on that box.  When you’re done, store it away. 

Practice mindfulness, the art of doing what you are doing.  Focus all your energy on what is at hand: the pencil scratching out your summer English essay, or your foot against the black and white ball at soccer practice.  Mindfulness is a way of honoring what you are doing, and honoring yourself.  None of us can do all things at once.  Compartmentalizing your mind and focusing on one thing clears out chaos.  Is there anything better to focus on than what you are doing?  No, so be mindful. Mindfulness helps us appreciate where we’re at instead of exhausting our imaginations with plans for the future or lists for what we need to accomplish later.

Meditating is another way to focus your mind.  I once completed a Psychology assignment that required fifteen minutes of meditation for a week.  After talking with classmates, I learned that almost everyone has a noisy mind, and fifteen minutes of silence drives most of us crazy.  However, if you can train yourself to be quiet then the meditation’s calm helps sustain peace the entire day.

How do you meditate?  Well, it’s an in-depth study, but here are some starting suggestions.  You can pretzel-cross your legs and pinch your fingers together like they do in the movies, or you can just find a comfy chair to let yourself sink into.  Lying flat out on the ground works just as well.  Close your eyes and count your breaths.  Count them slower and slower.  You can imagine as you inhale that the color purple is seeping up through your feet into your head, and when you exhale it slowly recedes.  Or you can keep your eyes open and focus on one point off in the distance until your eyes blur or your thoughts stop.  Really, there’s no right way to meditate for relaxation purposes, as long as you’re relaxed.  (Obviously, I’m no yogini.)  The trick is to force your mind to stop yapping, and give it a rest. If you fo-pah, no biggie.  Just try again.  Like anything, meditation takes lots of practice.

Music can help facilitate meditation, particularly instrumental or nature sounds.  But even when you aren’t meditating, music is known to have therapeutic effects and can work like an emotional analgesic.  Some of my favorite artists are Ludovico Einaudi, John Belt, and Misty Edwards.

Relaxing your body is another important part of relaxation, and might be the only kind of relaxation that works for you if you are a doer and find it impossible to be inactive for fifteen minutes.

Exercise helps “work out” stress.  When you exercise the body releases endorphins, natural “feel-goods".  Exercise also stretches out bothersome muscle tension, a physical side-effect of stress.  You can even work out excess sugar and fat that makes you cranky or groggy when you shouldn’t be. 

Make sure to pick an exercise that you enjoy.  Remember, this is for relaxation, not perfection.  Don’t kill yourself over a new-fangled fanatical workout routine or push yourself so hard you go bust.  For relaxation, you want to listen to your body, and work it out slow, gradually climbing up the endurance and strength ladder.  Make it fun!  I enjoy bikes, roller blades, swimming pools, and jump ropes better than Tae-Bo workout videos.

Yoga is a slower meditation-based exercise with many variations you can explore.  Yoga stretches are fantastic because you can pause for quick 2-5 minute yoga breaks during the day and finish feeling rejuvenated, with the motivation to work mindfully for the next hour.  There are simple yoga positions for beginners, which are easily found through almost any online search engine and also in books at your local library.

Maybe end your exercise routine with some progressive muscle relaxation, which—for you doers—will stretch your potential meditation endurance.  To progressively relax your muscles, lay down or relax yourself over a chair.  Focus on each muscle in your body, one at a time, working through your hands then arms then head and neck and down through your body until you feel like Digory and Polly in Uncle Andrew’s wood between worlds.  Focus on that liquid warmth that seems to ripple underneath your skin. 

If you’re an overachiever having a rough time on the relaxation pathway, start simple. Hobbies are another great way to reduce stress because they promote mastery.  Did you know that mastery releases serotonin (another natural “feel good”) into your brain?  That’s right, whenever you master something, whether it’s that easy brownie recipe, a puzzle, or a game of Solitaire, you feel good about yourself.  For over-achievers like me this is hard to take; we always want to challenge ourselves.  But sometimes it really is better to choose a few activities that don’t force growth, but rather facilitate the art of being and enjoying life. 

Some of my own fifteen-minute break hobbies include puzzles, painting, guitar, piano, collages, coloring, singing, Spider Solitaire, Mahjong, Sudoku, and reading.  Pick a strength or find an activity that you can do for fifteen minutes or less throughout the day when you need a breather.

For spiritual relaxation, follow your spirit instead of everyone else’s ideas on what is highly spiritually evolved.  Focusing on love and its source in my life brings me the greatest peace.  Taking regular spiritual time helps rejuvenate your inner being and connect you with the world around.

Hopefully by starting these habits now while you're young, we can avoid the New Year's Resolution madness in the future.  Happy relaxing!

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