In yesterday’s post, I talked about the negative impact of stress on our bodies, mood and behavior. In ticking off some of my own current stressors, I forgot to even mention the pets. This morning I decided to finally take the one dog to the vet for miscellaneous issues. Speaking of needing to chill, that dog has anxiety attacks in the car and knocked over my coffee before we even got there. 30 minutes later, we left with $118 less than we had when we walked in and an estimate for more than $400 for needed repairs. So I am adding pets to the list of things that cause me stress.
In a stress relief class I took at work, we learned various techniques for dealing with stress. Since I am just coming off a particularly stressful week from a work and kids’ schedule standpoint, I thought it was the perfect time to try one out. Here are some of the methods we learned about:
- Exercise. I know this one is effective, but it seems like a lot of work. I saw my loophole when our instructor pointed out that if you feel like you have to exercise, it could end up being another source of stress. Perfect, cross this one off the list.
- Meditation/deep breathing. During our class, we actually did dim the lights in the room for a couple minutes, close our eyes and truly focus on breathing slowly through our noses (apparently that part is important), visualizing the stress leaving our bodies. This breathing has some sort of physiological impact, and I kid you not I felt much more relaxed afterward. Our instructor has started offering Meditation Mondays for 15 minutes in a conference room; I have yet to go, but I’m considering it.
- Laughter. We learned that the body does not care whether you’re laughing in response to something funny or you’re forcing your laughter; it has the same physiological effect. We watched video of laughter groups in India where people gather in the morning to participate in laughter exercises, and we tried it out in our class. Besides the fact that it’s extremely loud and you feel ridiculous, I just didn’t feel any different afterwards.
- Music. Not surprisingly, I gravitated toward this one. I envisioned making a playlist of mellow songs that I could enjoy, but my reading told me that the music should really be either wordless or in another language; otherwise your brain starts to engage and it defeats the purpose. That was disappointing, but I persevered.
After entering “relaxation” on iTunes, I was surprised to be presented with abundant choices, mostly either nature sounds or piano music. Since all the piano “songs” sounded the same to me, I chose five based on the titles (I have no idea how these could possibly have been derived): “Sleep Music for Relaxation”, “Stress Relief”, “Serenity”, “Meditations” and “Relief From Stress and Anxiety.” I tested out the songs on the train, coupled with closing my eyes. This served the double function of drowning out the loud people on the midday train (as I was taking yet another half vacation day). Interestingly, I had to switch my the “Marathon” playlist I had made for my work friend, which happened to be playing Nelly at the time, and it actually had an almost instant impact of making me feel more relaxed to switch to the piano music.
After several minutes of making a conscious effort to relax, breathe and let my brain go to mush temporarily, I did feel less stressed. I did question whether I actually was less stressed or if I was just willing myself to have my new technique be successful, but maybe it doesn’t even matter. I think the main goal is to put your brain in a more relaxed state of mind, no matter how it gets there.
Interestingly, while I was pondering this whole topic, my son told me the other night that he had made a new playlist called “Calm” during his access (homeroom) period at school. He rattled off some of the songs by the likes of Jack Johnson, John Mayer and James Taylor. I asked him why he chose that particular topic for his playlist and he told me that access period is really loud, and since they’re allowed to use their iPods he could put his headphones on and drown out some of the noise with calm music. What a clever boy! He did put “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who on his list; I question how calming that one is, but I hate to discourage him from enjoying the classics, so I let it go.
Based on my son’s logic, I would therefore argue that you need not necessarily listen to piano music or ocean waves to feel less stressed. Sometimes using music to drown out all the noise around you can have a positive impact, as well.
My own plan is to keep my little 5-song playlist on my iPod and perhaps take a few minutes on my train rides home to decompress and let the stress drain from me. Yesterday, however, I used my train ride to write this blog right before I went to deal with a recent traffic ticket, pick up two kids from two different schools, run home to let both our dogs and a friend’s dog out and then head back to the high school for my daughter’s last cross country race of the season. Sigh.
In case you’re interested in experimenting with laughter therapy, here is a clip of what it looks like.
Filed under: Parenting