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Relationships

A de-stress kit for the changing times

Adapted from De-Stress Kit for the Changing Times by Doc Childre. The kit available free of charge at www.heartmath.org/destresskit.

During this tumultuous time for our nation and the world, we have good reasons for feeling stress and anger—some of us more than others, of course. Going through a divorce, an illness or a death in the family can also be a cause for anger and stress.

Whether the crisis is personal or societal, it requires a realignment process that will take time and patience before we achieve stability. And while we can’t make every challenge that we face suddenly disappear, we can pick ourselves up and stay healthy emotionally and physically as we sort our way through difficult terrain. We can give ourselves the strength and clarity to respond positively and make sound decisions for ourselves and our families.

Here are some practices that can help you reduce your stress and move forward after a major setback.

Communicate and interact with others. Get together with people who can share or understand your experience. Collective support from a group can lift your spirits and increase your ability to find a solution for the problem at hand. The energy of the whole has a multiplying effect. Talking and laughing (even crying) together offers a tremendously beneficial release. Look around for a group that meets to address issues that concern you. You may also find helpful interactive blogs and other services online.

Open your heart. In a crisis, it’s normal for people to try to shut off the overload of their feelings. But without the heart’s wisdom, the mind does not operate very well. Offer kindness and support to others. Volunteer to help those in need, even if you are in need yourself. Acts of caring and compassion will help you to re-establish your footing and reduce stresses that can affect your health. And don’t forget to send out genuine feelings of appreciation and gratitude to your children, family members, friends and pets.

Decrease the drama. It’s natural to vent, especially during the first phase of a crisis. But excessive drama is draining and it blocks solutions. When you catch your inner dialogue looping with fearful projections or you hear yourself dramatizing the downside of a situation in conversations with others, tell yourself: That will not help change what’s already happened. Practice realigning your thoughts, feelings and conversations with ideas that support your needs and action plans. You may not be able to stop the internal drama entirely, but your efforts to do so will become easier as you start to see how helpful they are.

Manage your reaction to the news. Practice listening to the news from the “state of neutral.” In other words, don’t jump to conclusions or focus on worst-case scenarios. Continue to stay neutral throughout the day. Don’t pour your emotional energy into replaying something you heard or read. Be responsible for what you watch and listen to. Manage the amount of news you take in—and steer clear of personalities and programs that stir feelings of anxiety.

Quiet your mind. Whatever your religious or spiritual practices may be, genuinely applying them through difficult times can be beneficial. Quieting your mind through meditation or prayer can help you restore hope, increase confidence and reconnect with your feelings.

Practice heart-focused breathing. Imagine your breath passing in and out through your heart or the center of your chest. Breathing in the “attitude” of calm and balance can be an emotional tonic to take off the rough edges. Do it alone in a quiet place and while walking or jogging. Once you get the hang of it, you can do it during conversations with others as well. “Heart-focused” breathing is being taught throughout the world. It can be especially helpful during a crisis and anytime you experience anger, anxiety or emotional overload.

Sleep. We all need rest during stressful times, but stress makes it harder to sleep—a dilemma that leads many people to rely on sleep medications. Alternative methods are worth trying. For example, breathing in an attitude of calm for five minutes or so before bed is helpful to some. Exercise and stretching helps others. Learn what works best for you. Just remind yourself that “mind-looping” your worries is a drain on your energy—and it doesn’t solve problems either.

Exercise. People who are experiencing anxiety often do not feel like exercising. But physical activity is a great way to spin off the fog and tension accumulated from anger and worries. Physical exercise will not remove the reasons for your stress, but it will strengthen your capacity to manage it.

Avoid comparing. Making comparisons between what’s happening now and how things used to be—or might have been—is a natural response. But it’s more constructive to use your energy in ways that will allow you to regain stability and move forward with your life. Granted, it takes time to vent anger and recover from feelings of sadness. Heartache does not respond to schedules or agendas. Practice recognizing your own patterns of negative thinking. For example, when you find yourself rehashing the past, remind yourself that this is an unproductive mind loop. Read something uplifting. Change the subject to something within your own power to control.

Reduce fear. After the shock of bad news,  it’s normal to feel some fear and uncertainty. Fear can be beneficial if it sparks positive action, but prolonged fear exaggerated by drama produces harmful hormonal and immune system responses. Tell yourself: I understand why I’m fearful, but it is draining my energy, putting my health at risk and interfering with clear decision-making. Commit to a more balanced attitude of practical caution as you move forward.

Engage with your family. Spend relaxed time with family members and friends. Talk to each other about what you’re going through. Don’t bottle up your feelings. Agree to give each other a bit more latitude—and if someone gets snappy or irritable at times, try to not take it personally. Depending on the ages of your kids, they may or may not understand the depth of what you’re experiencing. Be positive around your children. Reassure them: The  times are tough right now, but we can work things out.

Don’t blame yourself. Avoid replaying aloud (or in your own mind) things that you might have done differently. We can all be caught off guard by the unexpected—and the national economic situation, for one, is beyond our personal control. It’s easier to make progress without carrying the baggage of what we could or should have done. Practice writing yourself a heart-felt letter or make a journal entry that acknowledges where you are now and affirms your commitment to moving forward. Realize that you are not alone—and that, together, we as a nation can get through this current crisis, learn from it and be part of creating a better, more sustainable world.

—Doc Childre is the founder of the Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit research and education organization in Boulder Creek, CA. His “De-Stress Kit for the Changing Times,” from which this article was adapted, is available free of charge at www.heartmath.org/destresskit.

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