in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat
in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a every,
amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude
and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless
through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window,
or the noise of some traveller's wagon grew in those seasons
like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work
of the hands would have been.
-Henry David Thoreau
first rule of being human is that we will receive a body. Whether
we love it or hate it, accept its many parts or reject them, it
is ours for the entire journey this time around. Caring for our
physical body enhances our well-being and our participation in
root, we are a treasury of kinetic melodies, endless variations
on the complex motor sequences we have mastered. The simplest
activities of daily life, such as walking and eating, are wondrous
orchestrations. While submerged in our senses, we enter into this
rich trovethis majestic and bountiful private pleasure-palace.
body is your teacher. Through it you learn what is necessary for
survival and for growth. You have been with this teacher since
birth, but how observant a student have you been? Within the circadian
twenty-four hours are ninety-minute cycles in which your energy,
focus, creativity, physical comfort, and strength wax and wane:
have you detected your own rhythms? Have you explored a variety
of ways to maximize physical pleasure? Do you sometimes push your
limits of physical comfort? Have you ever taken a journey through
your body, recording what you don't fully accept, where you hold
stress, which parts you haven't been taking care of? Have you
grieved your body's painsthe leg that broke, the site of
stitches, the chronic knee pain? When did you last get a massage,
or give one?
human body is constantly exposed to stressorsthose internal
or external stimuli that exert a constraining force, altering
our physiological or psychological equilibrium. Ongoing unmediated
strain leads to stress. This condition often arises in response
to blockage in the flow of intense emotional energy through the
body. Common symptoms of stress include physical tension or tightness,
restlessness, sleepiness, and eating or sexual disturbances.
we experience these reactions chronically, our resistance breaks
down, and we become physically or emotionally ill. With regular
exposure to unmediated psychological stressors, we begin blaming
others for our feelings of increased frustration and failure.
Entering a declining spiral of emotional volatility, we become
more irritable, isolated, argumentative, noncommunicative, and
Stress Inventory I define stress as_________________________
common sources of stress for me are__________________________
common responses to stress for me are________________________
cope with stress by___________________________________________
ways to produce less stress include___________________________
Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
adults in our culture have been socialized to take on whatever
comes their way. We engage in project after project, problem after
problem, ignoring early warning signs of stress until we hit overload.
Then we try frantically to create a boundary with anger or tears
or physical illness. When our internal stress status reaches this
danger zone, another person's actions or words will feel invasive.
time you approach the point of danger and wish to avert the downward
spiral, try this two-part exercise. First, begin decreasing the
stressors in your day-to-day tasks, your family and interpersonal
relations, and your work and financial matters. Establish priorities,
learn to say no, give something up, delegate, and plan your responses
in advance of tough situations. Second, in a clear, stress-free
moment, sit down and list the things that calm and comfort you,
no matter how silly or embarrassing they may seem. Then activate
your list, starting at the top.
relaxation and active workouts can help release the blocked emotional
energy from your body. The prerequisites
for relaxation are: a quiet place, a comfortable body position,
a passive attitude of letting go, and a point of focus. The quiet
place can be either an inner retreat you escape to when the external
world seems crazed or an outer site filled with tranquility. The
point of focus can be your breathing, a silently repeated mantra,
or the word one, yes, or relax.
quick stress reliever is sighing: take a slow, deep breath in,
and release a sound as you exhale. Stretching your bodyespecially
your neck, shoulders, back, and calves—can dissipate stress in
minutes. Frequent short, quiet time-outs will also work wonders.
Or create a private sanctuary within that you can easily access
by closing your eyes and breathing deeply. For ongoing stress
reduction, develop a network of friends or colleagues with whom
you can talk openly and honestly whenever you need to.
workouts require a bit more time, yet serve a twofold purpose:
they relieve pent-up stress while preventing the build-up of additional
pressure. Try walking, running, swimming, gardening, yoga, dancing,
tai chi, or any other activity you love, and make it a regular
part of your week.
and being touched are among the most effective antidotes to the
buildup of stress. The reason is that human touch is a direct
conduit to the emotions. We speak of "being touched," meaning
our emotions have been stirred. We keep "in touch" with others
to remain emotionally connected to them. When we are in a "touchy"
mood, we feel extreme emotional sensitivity. We remark on a loved
one's "special touch," meaning his responsiveness or distinct
manner of relating.
many ways, touch is our most immediate experience of the world:
our skin is said to be our largest sense organ, our eyes touch
incoming light, our ears hold the sounds in our midst, our noses
and mouths welcome aromas and tastes. When we are well touched
and in touch, hostility dissolves.
The Surgeon General has determined that hugging is good for your
is practically perfect. The only maintenance required is frequent
use, which inflicts no wear or tear on moving parts.
are no batteries to replace, no periodic performance checkups,
no insurance premiums, and no monthly payments of any kind. Energy
consumption is low, while energy yield is high. Plus it is inflation-proof,
theft-proof, nonfattening, nontaxable, nonpolluting, and, of course,
fully returnable. And . . . hugging is all natural. It is organic,
intrinsically sweet, and 100% wholesome. It contains no pesticides,
preservatives, or artificial ingredients.
best person to hug is anyone.
best place to hug is anywhere.
best time to hug is anytime.
go in the moment by reframing a tense situation also reduces stress
accumulation. Bless the slow driver in front of you; she is reminding
you to stop hurrying. Enjoy the long line at the supermarket;
it gives you time to share a moment with a stranger. Recite poetry
or sing a song while on "hold" during a phone call. Do whatever
you can to convert stress into a smile.
are like otters of the universe, playfully exploring our sensuality.
Fully attuned to our selves, paying attention to everything we're
registering, successfully reducing stressors, and coping effectively
with stress, we are able to transform reality into a wondrous
Reclaim your priorities. Start saying
no to more of what you don't want, and yes to what feels good.
Exercise regularly. Pick your pleasure:
yoga, tai chi, running, walking, dancing, swimming, Jazzercise,
cycling, roller blading,
ice skating, or martial arts.
Learn simple, stressless exercises.
Try a relaxation response, a regular practice of sighing, quickstretches,
or retreats to your
inner personal sanctuary.
Allow more touch into your life. Let in hugs, massages, healthy
sexual expression, tickling,
play wrestling, or
expertly shape the day's events. Seize
the opportunity to shift stress into a smile.
Donald. High Level Wellness. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1977.
Epstein, Michael, and Sue Hosking. Falling Apart. Sebastopol,
CA: CRC Publications, 1992.
Ashley. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1971.
Healing and the Mind. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
Jose. Silva Mind Control. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977.
Victor La Cerva, MD
La Cerva 2000