Is it just me, or does it feel like life moves at breakneck speed from mid-November until the end of the year?  Between planning celebrations, shopping for gifts, traveling, entertaining family and racing betwixt and between, there is not much time to catch your breath.  And the opinion trend of holiday merchandise now hitting the stores along with the Halloween candy doesn’t help to put on the brakes.  So now that it is January, are you able to leave your stress behind with the crumpled wrapping paper and expired egg nog?

Joking aside, stress is epidemic in our society.  All of us–adults and children–can benefit from learning and using simple strategies to relieve stress.  In honor of 2010, here are my top 10 stress relievers–in two easily digestable installments.

1) Just Breathe.  Deceptively simple, but powerful.  Breathing from deep down in your belly–actually using the diaphragm muscle that runs along the bottom of the rib cage–fills your lungs more fully and can stop the nervous system’s response to stress-related arousal dead in its tracks.  Anyone can do it, but it takes practice to use this style of breathing.  Like anything else, it is best to learn a new skill BEFORE you need to use it, so make deep breathing a part of your every day “repertoire” and it will be second nature when you feel the stress-o-meter kick up a notch.

2)   Chill-ax.  That’s relax for those of us born before 1980.  Start by using deep breathing exercises and build on those by learning strategies to relax your muscles and clear your mind of stressful thoughts.  There are lots of resources and materials out there to help with this, whether it is instructions in a book, a recording with guided instructions, or working with a professional.  Guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation are two popular relaxation techniques that are not difficult to learn.  For a few recommended resources, see the resources link on my webpage (www.drkimdwyer.com).

3)  Take care of you.  Physical illness can contribute to stress in many ways.  When we are sick, most of us aren’t as good at managing stress.  Being sick also can create nw opportunities for stress through missing work and not giving 100% to other responsibilities.  To complete the vicious cycle, long-term stress can contribute to and create physical ailments, while weakening our immune system.  Further, putting off treatment and preventive care can lead to added stress and worry.  Do your best to take care of your health in order to keep medically related stress in check.

4)  Blow off some steam.  Having  a healthy physical outlet can help us direct our stress-related energy.  Nobody needs me to preach on the importance of exercise.  Find an exercise regimen that you can fit into your schedule and that matches your physical abilities and interests.  Stick with it to channel your stress-energy into physical fitness.  Be creative when thinking about exercise–dancing around the living room with your two-year-old could be a very effective workout, and might be a lot more fun to me than sweating in the gym!

5) Find your mantra.  Don’t expect me to give you a mantra, you have to do that on your own.  Find a short, positively worded and empowering statement that will counteract whatever your mental monologue repeats when you feel stressed.  If you are apt to say to yourself “I can’t do anything right!”, perhaps you can counter that with “I can meet the challenges today is bringing me.”  When selecting a mantra, try not to resort to sarcasm.  Repeating “I love my job, I love my job” when confronted with legitimate coworker and boss issues is not an effective mantra.  Brings to mind George Castanza’s father screaming “SERENITY NOW!” on Seinfeld.  Make your mantra something truthful, honest, and believable.  It should help you focus on what you have control over and on the positive actions you can take in stressful situations.

Still thirsty for more?  Stay tuned for numbers 6 through 10!

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