Preempting the New Year’s Resolution Madness...
Be Less Stressed
By Kayla Lemar
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
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!