A friend recently asked me if I had any tips as to how she could break out of a cycle of chronic stress. She wrote:

I have been trying to rearrange my priorities to put relaxation (exercise, alone time, time with friends) higher on the list.  I was doing better, but I seem to have slipped again.  I just can’t seem to break out of the cycle of chronic stress. There has to be a way to break out of this pattern of behavior.

I have read and re-read this letter thinking of my friend. I have had her on my mind. Does energy follow thought? In this vast universe, do my simple thoughts and regard for her filter back to her somehow? I hope it does. I believe our connections are vital and may be the one true source for stress protection.

Stress management is an oxymoron. You don’t manage stress. That is like saying you manage measles or chicken pox. What is needed is stress immunity. To obtain immunity, you must get vaccinated. You inoculate yourself with small doses of stress, allowing your system to mount a response.It requires avoidance and limited “re-exposure”. You cannot slam your system with 38 doses of polio vaccine and avoid side effects. You might even give yourself polio. Stress can kill you.

While what I “DO” will not bring lasting relief from stress, certain acts can decompress. The obvious ones are daily exercise, a good night’s sleep, eating healthy, prayer or meditation, laughter. These are grand, general categories. The problem is that they require TIME, which is in short supply. Also, they often have as a pre-requisite, a lack of stress. Take sleep for instance……how to you get the sleep you need to feel rested if you are so stressed out and preoccupied you cannot sleep? The Catch-22 of stressful living.

Of course, most of us have the stress reducers that are essentially destructive. Like the crack addict, they give an INSTANT sensation of less stress but ultimately compound it. Food and overindulgence in junk food is the biggie. We stuff ourselves with crap. Instant pleasure….sighs…..then we think….why did I just eat that!? Alcohol is the next biggie. Actually, any of the things that alter your state of mind. Sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping…….could be alot of things. But ultimately…..we reach that point where we say to ourselves……”Why did I do that?” The stress gets compounded. We get tricked.

Geniune stress reduction cannot be put on like a coat. It starts within. It is a learned state. It can’t be captured or purchased. But, each kernel of genuine stress reduction is synergistic and exponential. Some of the things I do are tiny, but they add up.

  • I love power naps. I think they work well for people who are poor sleepers because there is no expectation to STAY asleep. It’s a nap. Short. I can fall asleep, dream and wake. It is 15-20 minutes of disconnection from the grind.
  • I love hygiene. It sounds silly but a few moments plucking eyebrows, shaping fingernails, putting on lotion, shaving legs, flossing teeth can feel fantastic and it makes a tiny deposit in the bank of relaxation. These are things no one else can do for you (unless you pay them real dineros).
  • I love a simple snack. Not a binge. A single piece of chocolate. A few raspberries. A slice of sharp cheddar cheese. A fraction of indulgence. A treat.
  • I love magazines. They are ridiculously expensive and essentially trash, but I love glossy adds and creative things. Food magazines or architectural magazines are best.
  • I like smells. Candles. Clean sheets. Incense. Fresh flowers. Perfume. Fabric softener.
  • I like puzzles. Solitaire with real cards. Sudoku. Word finds. Jigsaw puzzles…..the 500 pieces ones you work on for days.
  • I home packed lunch. I make it. It is fresh. I am freed from the lunch hunt. I save $10. I can sit and eat my PB&H and chips and read my silly book.

I hope my friend can find some tiny indulgences to satisfy her internal hunger for peace. If we tend to this place every day, albeit briefly, we can eventually have a lush, tranquil place of refuge.  It is the tiny incremental steps that get us through the mine field of life and to the sanctuary in our souls.

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