Category: stress management


A young visitor came up with this lovely line playing with all the little poetry words that decorate the side of my refrigerator. It sounds like a recipe for life to me. More often than not people are motivated to move away from the distasteful rather than towards something desired. This phrase has element of both: away from negative words and towards a vision of something sweet delightful and satisfying. Less bitter words and chocolate. Ahhh.

Chocolate means more than the food. All I have to do is think about the word and somehow it evokes contentment. I don’t have to eat it or even have it in the house for this to happen. It is similar to considering a sunset or the sound of water lapping at the side of a boat. Actually now considered,   it occurs to me that a list of contentment producing words or pictures is a  worthy pursuit, especially for times when bitter words arise in life as they will.

Here here  are three visions/sounds/tastes:

Chocolate, sunset, water lapping the shore. Another set:

whipped cream,  egrets in flight, a warm gentle breeze. What are some of yours?

There are a lot of small things I just adore.  I can get immense pleasure from small things. the flip side is that sometimes I can make myself utterly miserable from a really small thing as well. Looking at a crack, that was what I was doing yesterday…. and proceeded to beat myself up a bit about a very small thing even though that is not  productive. A  hundred times or maybe even a thousand I have said to people, “What you focus on gets larger”.  I should listen to my own advice.

Figure out what you could have done differently, practice mentally, move on. That is what I want to do. The trick is talking  myself into doing just that. So here was a chance to practice reframing a small thing.

Get it In Perspective

 Meany me is a title I gave the part of myself that is overly self-critical.  It puts it in a more lighthearted context like the movie character that inspired the title.  I  imagine this character shaking his finger at me saying the mean things you might say to yourself when you make a mistake. It takes the edge off. This is a much better perspective. I really hate meany me and wasn’t fond of the character in the movie either. It really motivates me to do something else.

Reframe Still Further

Then it helps to think of something I am grateful for.  It helps to remember that maybe a missed opportunity was a good opportunity to miss and there will certainly be others. There are always others. It helps to remember what my best friend would say.  

Mental Rehearsal

 I can mentally replay my mistake with the better actions I wish I had made. When people do that it is much more likely they will actually do something different the next time a similar situation arises. The sting of the mistake makes it more likely I will remember to make the change as well. This doesn’t have to be realistic. It can be fanciful or silly at first if I am having a hard time thinking of a good solution.  I can play out lots of different ideas. It makes it all much more fluid. The better idea will arise from this process.

Once that is done, time to forgive myself  and relish the view, the improved one that results from letting go regrets from things I cannot change. So what was it that I got so wound up about? I missed a phone call. It was such a small thing. This embarrasses me. It was just I did not want to.  It was not a flood or a famine or the Phillies losing the playoff after having a winning season all year.  

One last thing:  I ran across this quote today.”Never regret. If  it is good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.” – Victoria Holt. Next time I plan to remember to check for messages when I get out of the tomb with no cell signal.

Four Ways To Reduce Overwhelm

There are what feels like 500 things to do. There is a list…somewhere, maybe on the kitchen counter. I could get totally focused on finding the list. That is the wrong path. A better idea  is to start cleaning something. If I do that, at least something  will at least get  done and I will  feel better,  assuming  I don’t get  interrupted . Unfortunately, the more important tasks remain to be completed so my stress level goes up. This has been the challenge. For me, if it isn’t the list it is finding my keys or my schedule book. When I lose track of these important items, I know I have hit overwhelm.

Once overwhelmed, your mind spins.  Even if you are doing something productive your inner chatter can continue raising your anxiety level or even escalate to panic mode. When your mind is anxious, your decision-making suffers. It is easy to get side tracked and feel as though you have been very busy accomplishing nothing or even worse, to  dissolve into inertia watching television or cruising the internet or even staring off into space. The reasons for overwhelm are individual. That being said, I hear the following reasons repeatedly.

There is just too much information. It gets impossible to make decisions with so much input.

Increased pressures at work: More is expected in less time due to all the wonderful time-saving tools we now have available, most of which are a double-edged sword.

Economic pressure. Its been a long time since there was a raise. While people are glad to have a job, refer back to reason number two. This gets even more gruesome when productivity standards are raised, and the ability to be creative seems to be reduced.

So what do you do to manage these pressures which seem unlikely to go away any time soon? It is time to reset.

1. Breathe. Stop a minute the next time you catch yourself worrying. Notice your breathing. Chances are it is shallow and high in your chest.  Deepen it. Notice the coolness of the air filling up your lungs. Notice the warmer temperature of the air when you exhale.  Just focus on how this feels. By the time you have accomplished 10 slow deep breaths you will feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed. Research has documented that breathing  at a rate of 8 full breaths a minute or less induces alpha waves in the brain, producing a more relaxed state.  Decisions made in this state are almost always better decisions. It starts a positive spiral.

 2.Take  breaks. Do not work through the breaks you are allowed in your workplace. It might feel virtuous or even necessary but you probably are not doing anyone a favor.  Research has also documented that people are actually more productive if they take breaks every two to three hours than if they work straight through.   If you spend most of your work day sitting, get up and move. If you spend most of your time standing or moving, take a seat. Get outdoors if you can. If you cannot, at least move to a window, or somehow find a change in scenery.  Look out to the horizon and change the focus of your thoughts to something pleasant that you are looking forward to. If you have not ever developed a mental vacation spot, design one. Take one of those mental vacations during break time. If you are a social being who wants to chat with someone, talk about something positive and non work related.

 3.  Get enough sleep. That means go to bed on time versus getting caught up reading or working or playing on the internet. For me it means to lie down in my actual bed, deepen my breathing and forget the day-which is easy on a good day. At the end of a not so good day, it means refocusing and letting the day go, since there is nothing that can reasonably be done but take care of myself by getting enough sleep.  Additionally it is a good practice to  deliberately turn your thoughts  towards gratitude. When I practice this, it alters my mood in a positive direction and that is what I want to go to sleep thinking about.  I am thankful for whatever I can be thankful for from the day just past. I am thankful that I can “redo“whatever happened, imagining a better choice and know that next time, I can make that choice.

 4.Reduce exposure to media. There is nothing quite so wonderful for adding to overwhelm as overexposure to media, especially “the news”. While it is true that to be a responsible citizen one would do well to stay informed of the happenings in the local community and  government, most of “the news”: is not really. Since the advent of 24 hour news channels we get a lot of opinion pieces and even whole shows that are largely opinion presented as “news” and a lot of repetition of negativity that people have no way of affecting in any immediate fashion. Chances are your internet browser also entices you to follow links to “must know” information that are lessons in marketing. Before you know it, way too much time has passed. Did you get the task accomplished that sent you to the internet to begin with? I changed my browser to the original Google search page to help me out with that one. Otherwise I may end up looking at a list of ten best and worst celebrity dress choices or what some pundit thinks of my football teams’ performance this year. Do I need to know that? Really?

 What if you practiced at least one of these four strategies to reduce overwhelm today? Chances are you will find your day running smoother and your outlook a little brighter.

On a good day, the list is where I usually keep it, the keys are on the hook, and the schedule book is in my computer bag where it belongs. On a good day, I manage to stay focused. On a good day, I have probably practiced  at least one of these four strategies that definitely reduce overwhelm, and so can you.