• May 1, 2012
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Guest Blogger: 15 Ways to Stop Stressing and Start Living by Jill Muehrcke

Jill Muehrcke 2Juliana (Jill) Muehrcke is the award-winning author of many books and articles. Founder and editor of the international magazine Nonprofit World (snpo.org), she has studied at the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan and has a BA degree, specializing in English and psychology, from the University of Washington. Jill is listed in Who’s Who (MarquisWhoswho.com). In her spare time, she enjoys teaching yoga and eating ethnic food. For many years, in several cities, including Seattle, Honolulu, and Madison, she has written restaurant reviews.

Her latest book is Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope.

You can visit her website at www.WakingUpHappyBook.com.

Listen to Jill on the Joy Cardin Show at http://wpr.org/search/ideas_program_search.cfm?StartYear=3&keyword=muehrcke&x=0&y=0.


There are many reasons why you may want to change your life. If you’re in a relationship that’s diminishing rather than enhancing your best self, or if you’re eating the wrong foods, hurting your body, or doing other self-destructive things, you know, deep inside, that you can’t continue on that path. And as you pass through different phases in your life – as you become a parent, for example, or an empty-nester or a retiree – radical adjustments are necessary.

Changing your life isn’t easy. It means learning to know yourself. It means creating yourself anew. Because you’re both the sculptor and the stone, it’s a wrenching task.

And yet every sculptor knows that the piece of art that’s meant to be already exists: It’s a matter of carving its essence from material that’s already there. When asked how the granite bear came to be, the sculptor says, “I just cut away everything that wasn’t a bear.”

Everyone’s life cries out for transformation. If you don’t change and grow, you die: Bit by bit, day by day, your innermost soul dwindles and perishes. The cost of not continuing to grow is ultimately feeling half-dead.

You’re the artist of your own life. All you need do is pick up the tools for change and begin to use them. Each false start is a carving crucial to the final piece of art, paving the way for you to sculpt your greatest creation: the beautiful self that lies within the stone.

Soothe Your Soul: 15 Ways to Stop Stressing and Start Living

By Jill Muehrcke

One secret to a full, joyous life is to have a toolbox of coping strategies to pull out whenever you start feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious. Here are some tactics that others have found useful to soothe and renew themselves:

  1. As frequently as possible, perform a cyber cleansing. Turn everything off – cell phones, computers, everything – and bask in the silence.

2. Use all your senses in the out-of-doors. Look around you and absorb the colors and shadings. Listen to the sounds – birds singing, frogs croaking, wind whooshing through the trees, waves lapping the shore. Smell the scent of the earth after a storm. Hold a raindrop or snowflake on your tongue. Pick a radish straight from the garden and taste the essence of springtime. Feel the texture of the grass underfoot, the icy shock of a fresh stream on your toes. Watch the sky. During the daytime, see how the clouds move and change. At dusk and dawn, notice all the colors of the sky. At night, look at the stars and feel your connection to the universe. Always make time for sunrises and sunsets.

3. Find a form of meditation that works for you. Not all meditation requires you to sit quietly: Many physical arts, such as tai chi, aikido, and yoga, are based on spiritual grounding and being centered. Dancing and running are other examples of activities in which you can deliberately be in the moment, at one with your body and breath. The Dalai Lama has noted that the purpose of meditation is to make space in your brain to overturn old habits and learn new ones. In that sense, you’re meditating when you read these words and practice new ways of viewing the world.

4. Keep in touch with people physically rather than virtually whenever you can. The crucial parts of communication – the real connections – occur face-to-face. Giving and receiving smiles produce pleasurable changes in the brain that don’t happen through technology.

5. Practice single-tasking rather than multi-tasking. What we call multi-tasking is really task-switching. Rather than doing two things at once, our brain is shifting back and forth between tasks. We end up doing neither one as effectively as we could, and we add harmful stress to our lives.

6. Sing or chant, either alone or with a group. Or repeat a word silently to yourself (words that end in “m” or “n” will increase the relaxation response).

7. Do a reality check. If you can’t stop worrying about something, cross-examine that worrisome thought as if you were in a courtroom. What evidence is there that what you’re worrying about will really happen? What would an objective witness say about it? What might other people do in similar situations?

8. Notice your breathing. Count how many breaths (one inhale, one exhale) you take per minute. Try taking fewer, deeper breaths. Five to ten full breaths a minute is optimal, but don’t force it. Accept your breathing as it is. Imagine it as an ocean wave caressing you. As you inhale, imagine breathing in serenity and peace. As you exhale, breathe out anxiety and worry.

9. Move your body. Aerobic exercise and weight lifting are great stress reducers. Sometimes a quick walk, swim, or bike ride is all you need to refocus your mind and relax your body.

10. Schedule 15 minutes a day as your worry time. All your fears, obsessions, and concerns need to fit into that time frame. Don’t let yourself be anxious any other time of day or night. If something comes up, just tell yourself, “I’m putting that onto the list for my worry time.”

11. Feel the feelings in your body. Speak them out loud (for example, “I feel tense and tight.”) Don’t judge your emotions and sensations. Just observe and breathe into them. Appreciate how much your body is capable of doing, how much pleasure it can give you, and how well it manages to get you where you want to go.

12. Limit TV time. Research shows that the more TV people watch, the more anxious and dissatisfied they are. Find less passive ways to fill your time.

13. Take a nap. Time spent sleeping and dreaming is never wasted. High-quality sleeping can help you change your brain chemistry, adding neurons and opening new pathways in your brain, while rejuvenating your body and spirit.

14. Visualize a serene spot. It could be an imaginary place by a mountain stream, in a forest clearing, or on a sandy beach. Or it could be an actual place where you’ve felt safe and comfortable, such as your grandmother’s house when you were little, a favorite vacation spot, or your own bed. Keep that image in your mind so you can return to it whenever you face a stressful situation and want to relax yourself.

15. Practice just sitting still and being in the moment, taking gentle notice of your environment and your body. Remind yourself that rarely is anything so important that it needs to be done right now. Remember that you can’t accomplish any of your goals if you don’t take time to renew yourself.

These and many other tips are offered by the 30 people who tell their stories in my new book WAKING UP HAPPY: A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE (WakingUpHappyBook.com). As each storyteller learns lessons in their life, I add exercises that you can do yourself to create those same changes in your own life.

What do you find most useful when you’re feeling stressed out? Share your stories and ideas at the Waking Up Happy website (WakingUpHappyBook.com). I look forward to hearing from you!

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