STRESSED? REFRESH THIS SUMMER WITH NEW CHOICES

Summertime: Hot, sunny, lazy days to enjoy the outdoors. Its a time to pause and refresh from the tension accrued during the year; an opportunity to put life's stressors on the back burner; and hamburgers and hot dogs up front. But how do you shed stressors?
Surely the summer brings responsibilities to which one must attend, accompanied by stress. However, summer means more pleasant weather, which affords us the chance to use nature as a backdrop for relieving stress. Take the time to sit outside several times per week following work. First, attend to your breathing. The stress a person experiences is often reflected in his or her breathing. Usually, it is "high-chest", rapid and shallow. Although consciously attending to an involuntary process such as breathing can cause it to seem awkward at first, it can also help you produce and regulate a pattern more indicative of deep relaxation. Such a pattern can occur from a process known as diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing diaphragmatically allows you to release accumulated tension from your body while interrupting the stressful breathing that only adds tension. Follow these easy steps:

  1. Make yourself comfortable in a lounge chair outside.
  2. Take three deep, complete, cleansing breaths.
  3. Begin diaphragmatic breathing by extending your lower abdomen (your belly) while you inhale. Breathe only by moving your abdomen-- not your chest. Place your hand on your abdomen between your navel and the lower part of your sternum. As you inhale, you should feel your hand rise slightly and fall when you exhale, as your abdomen contracts. Keep your shoulders, chest and the rest of your body completely still.
  4. Inhale through your nose for about three seconds, then exhale through your mouth for the same period of time. After several minutes of this breathing, begin a pattern that can help you mentally rehearse more positive outcomes: Learn to construct visualizations.

By viewing yourself differently in a stressful situation to which you have responded unsatisfactorily in the past, you learn to associate new ways of feeling and behaving. By practicing, you will discover that when a given stressful situation occurs, you will have greater flexibility-- more choices-- concerning how to react by accessing the alternatives you previously rehearsed. To begin constructed visualizations:

a- Following the first few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing, allow the muscles of your body to relax, systematically from head to toe. Feel the relative "wave" of relaxation flowing through the muscles of your body.
b- Visualize another "you" breathing more slowly, looking relaxed without tension lines, eyes closed. Step into that other "you" and experience what he or she is feeling.
c- Visualize a scene in which you generally make a choice of behavior that is not in your best interests. See yourself, clearly, rejecting that choice of behavior and doing something else instead. Take all the time you need to focus on what is different and beneficial about this new choice. Then step into that scene and experience what that "you" does.
d- Visualize yourself simply abstaining from engaging in something you do that is self-defeating or limiting in a particular way. See yourself looking and feeling relax- ed as you do so. Then step into that scene as you have done in the others.

e- Visualize yourself in a social situation, looking confident and at ease, making comments and gestures that evoke feelings of warmth and respect from those with whom you are associating. Step in to this scenario, as well. In creating this series of visualizations you are practicing applying the positive choices of comfort and strength in a variety of contexts that occur in your life. It is important to utilize as many sensory characteristics in your visualizations as possible-- color, brightness, size, movement; and other senses such as, sound and physical sensations. Remember, as your visualization comes into focus, to step into it so you are actually in the experience and it is occurring right now! For those individuals who find it difficult to visualize, simply describe in words to yourself what you would like to be able to visualize about each unique situation...and watch what happens.

Use any new choices that occur to you in their appropriate contexts. Enjoy the pause that refreshes.