Relaxation For Stress Junkies

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Here are some effective and non-traditional ways of keeping sane. They are a thumbnail sketch of a larger training available to groups and work sites.

Stress management trainings abound these days. If you are like me, you have probably sat through several trainings. Unfortunately, the useful tips often do not lead to long-term changes. Why is that?

Why Traditional Stress Management Trainings Fail

While conducting sitting in on workshops that are mandated for participants, you can hear people voice the reaons before the training even starts...

"I haven't got time for this."

"If I had time to relax, I wouldn't be going crazy."

If people had more tools that didn't take more time out of their cramped schedules, they would be more likely to make the changes they need. Below you will find some practical suggestions that you can consider downloading from this web site or introducing into your home or work place. These non-traditional tools can be make a real difference in your life.

Stress is an needed and essential piece of our lives. It can stir us to action and prevents us from avoiding and neglecting essential tasks and keep us safe. However, too much of anything usually leads to negative consequences.

What Happens When We Are Stressed

Our bodies are designed to react to danger and perceived threats by going in a, "fight or flight reponse." This is characterized by a raised heart beat, rapid breathing, and elevated levels of adrenalin, cortisol to name just a few. These responses are designed to save your life by heightening our senses and dramatically improving our reaction time. When faced with an oncoming car, you are able to quickly swerve or brake to get out of harm's way. When the crisis passes, your body can normally return back to a lower state of arousal. Our brains also change as patterns of blood flow move towards the center where the limbic system is located. That explains why we are unable to think clearly and rationally during moments of fear and anger. The blood and oxygen available to the outer cerebral cortex is suddenly reduced and diverted to fire up our body's automatic responses. (e.g., heart and lungs) While this works well when we were chasing tigers and bears, it often works against us in modern times.

Taking the example of the oncoming car, our bodies can return to a more relaxed state when the moment of danger passes. However, with threats that are less clearly defined, how do you know when the, "coast is clear?"

A worker learns that job lay-offs may happen in the future. It is uncertain which departments will be down sized.

After her spouse ends the affair, how can she be sure that he has really broken things off permanently?

When it is not possible to define when the danger passes, the body tends to stay in a higher state of long-term arousal. This leads to long-term negative changes in physical and emotional health.

"Innoculating" Yourself Against Stress

Faced with stressors, people become increasingly reactive to people and their environment. However, it is possible to take easy and practical steps to insulate yourself from environmental and psychological stressors. Here are some of the tools that are not usually addressed at workshops:

Psychological Tools (Changing Your Thoughts)
Sound Tools (Using Sound To Lower Physical Arousal)
Body Strategies (Neutralizing Physical/Emotional Triggers)

Psychological Tools:

Years ago, there was an cartoon called, "Pogo." One of the famous lines from the strip fractured a famous quote, "We have met the enemy...and he is us." Albert Ellis developed a way of looking at how we react to stress and other negative emotional triggers called, "Rational-Emotive Therapy." Here are some of his ideas:

Our thinking often has a major impact on how we feel and react to things. We tend to view other situations and people pushing imaginary buttons that we are helpless to resist.

These moments when we are reactive, can be called, "Activating Events." The trigger strong arousals in our thoughts and emotions. Over time, some of these responses become reflexive and even "automatic." This leads to some basic principles:

"Automatic Thoughts" Are Rarely Questioned Thoughts + Strong Emotions= Seem Absolutely True Even When They Are False.

"Thought Distortions = Common "Mistakes" in how we talk to ourselves and imagine or replay events in our thoughts.

Changing your thoughts involves:

1) Becoming aware of the semi-conscious assumptions and conclusions we constantly entertain.

2) Thought Stopping: Challenging these reactions quickly before they gather too much momentum.

3) Redirecting and rescripting our responses.

Examples of these common mistakes, descriptions, and strategies are contained in the "Homework Page" located on the lower left side menu. Clicking on that link will bring you to a worksheet that walks you through thought stopping and redirecting. What is nice about this model is that everyone makes these common mistakes. Each of us differs in the frequency and "pet" mistakes that are typical for us. "SOS For Emotions, by Lyn Clark, Ph.D. is an excellent introduction to these practical, here-and-now stragtegies. You can find it listed on the "Books" page listed on the side menu.

Sound Strategies & Tools

Why is is that we find babbling brooks and ocean waves so restful and soothing? It has to do with sound frequencies and how they impact our brains and nervous systems. Certain frequency of sounds have long been known to change how we react and feel. Movie and music video producers know this well and use them to manipulate our emotions to their own ends. We can do the same. In fact, this is one of the easiest of strategies to use because they take almost no effort to implement with many long-term benefits.

Work environments can be extremely stressful even when they are relatively quiet. We can insulate ourselves against stress using selective sounds to counter the environmental pressures.

Here are some easy to implement methods:

A table-top water fountain for home/office

Sound synthesizers with recorded loops of environmental sounds.

Use of environmental sound CD's or Tapes

Use of so-called Space/New Age music found many places:

KXJZ 88.9 "Music From The Hearts of Space
Sat & Sunday: Check listings for times

Windham Hill Records

Classical Music

Soft/Smooth Jazz

Gregorian Chant Music

WWW.NETRADIO.NET : New Age and Starstream Music Channels

Here are also some web sites where you can purchase recordings/videotapes that contain an frequency that is embedded into the recording. These frequencies correspond with brain wave states: Beta (alert), Alpha (Calm, Relaxed), Theta (Deeper, Intuitive-Meditative), and/or Delta (Sleep). Relaxation sound tracks (other than Beta) should not be used while driving or operating machinery. Theta tracks may not be appropriate for those with Attention Deficit, PTSD, or Seizure Disorders. With those disorders, individuals may already have excessive proportions of such frequencies. It is advisable to discuss these with your therapist or doctor if these disorders a problematic for you. (see the 515 Machine & CD) (recommend "Brain Wave Suite) (a selection of recordings and even videos)

Shareware Files For Download:

Here are a few stress busters that may be of help to you. My personal favorite is called, "Smiley Pro." This downloadable file once unzipped contains many high quality environmental sounds. Once acitivated, a smiley button appears on your Windows taskbar. Until you enter a registration code, it will need to be reactivated every five minutes. It appears that the company recently went out of business as I have been unable to find it. Therefore, I will share my registration code for my registered copy. The code to enter is 1074583629.

MP3 Files:

These shareware sound files can be played with your Windows Media Player. They are best played quite softly. Listening to them cranked up is very hard on the ears as it sounds like, random noise. Like the 515 CD and Brain Wave Suite mentioned above, the noise contains a hidden alpha frequency that will help you to relax. Keeping the volume very low so that you can barely hear it is still effective.

Body Strategies:

Last but not least are some tools and ideas to keep your body more balanced. Some will be common sense and some more radical. Of course, if you having extended problems of depression, anxiety, or sleep/appetite disturbance, you should discuss these with your doctor. Many medical disorders cause these symptoms and can be misdiagnosed as purely psychological in origin. (e.g., hypoglycemia, thryoid problems, etc.)

1) Get regular exercise (health and doctor permitting)

We know now that regular exercise including walking does wonders for level of endorphins and neurotransmitters. Of course, check with your doctor before starting adding exercise to your routine.

2) Diet And Nutrition

A well balanced diet that has decreased fats can do much to help you feel better. Check with your doctor and nutritionist. Certain vitamins are said to be helpful in helping the body to tolerate stress. Because alcohol is a depressant, it is advisable to limit or eliminate alcohol intake. Developing more effective coping alternatives is essential to avoiding the traps of substance abuse and addiction.

3) Utilizing the "Calgon"(tm) Solution

An old and popular commercial showed a woman taking a luxurious bath using bath oils. While the sensory stimulation of scent and tactile experience is pleasant, there is a more fundamental reason why this works. The reason comes down to water temperature and muscle tension. It is nearly impossible to stay angry or anxious when resting in a hot tub. The temperature quickly causes our muscles to release their tension. And as our body relaxes, it becomes much easy to be less reactive to our automatic negative thoughts. How easy this can be to integrate into our daily routines!!

4) Thought Field Therapy(tm)/Emotional Freedom Techniques(tm):

For many people, these techniques can quickly neutralize negative thoughts and emotions. It involves tapping on various accupressure points in the body and performing other sensory-motor activities while focusing on the negative recollections. Check the Thought Field Therapy(tm) Page located on the left side menu for additional information. Counselors like myself who are trained in these techniques can discuss with you if they might be a good fit for your target symptoms. While they may appear to be complex, they can be quickly learned and become an powerful tool. Not everyone responds to this technique but its usefullness for you can be quickly determined.

5) Centering Prayer/Meditation

In the early christian tradition, the early desert fathers and later St. Ignatious of Loyola made some remarkable discoveries. They found that it was possible to still the mind and emotions by repeating biblical phrases/words or imagining biblical scenes. One of the earlies ones is called, "The Jesus Prayer." It is taken from the publican's prayer from the gospel story. In the story, the pentitent person repeats, "God have mercy on my a sinner." A shorter versions of this involve the phrase, "Lord have mercy," or "Come Lord Jesus." The emotional and spiritual benefits of this dovetail with other more eastern or mid-eastern traditions. For western Christians, this is often a more acceptable form of centering that can readily become part of their own spiritual practice.

Other forms of meditation involve focusing on movement, sound, breath, or music to reach a more focused state of being. While these are very powerful tools, I find that many are not able to use them consistently for the same reasons that they do not do the visualizations used by trainers at the aforementioned workshops. People often do not have the time or find the effort to be one more burden of responsibility to discharge. If this is the case, some the other strategies listed above will often do the trick.

6) Biofeedback

This is a very effective form of training our bodies to do a better job at regulating our physical reactions. It involves training our bodies to modify our body's reponse from moment to moment. It is very empowering. For additional information check out my Biofeedback/Neurofeedback pages that you can access from the left menu.


We develop our patterns and responses to stress over a period of many years. Some date back to childhood. Therefore, it may be take some time to relearn and integrate new strategies....but well worth the effort.

The purpose of this page has been to provide you with some practical and useful alternatives for dealing with stress. Some of these are easy, some common sense, and some more exotic. With my busy schedule, I find that using sound, and biofeedback strategies to be the easiest to integrate into a busy schedule. The former because it is easy to structure our lives with sound. Choosing the right sound makes a real difference in maintaining manageable levels of stress. Biofeedback works to reset our body's baseline functioning so that it can eventually due it as automatically as those negatively generated thoughts. Even in a busy schedule, it is often possible to formally schedule a formal appointment to do the work you need to keep sane and balanced.

In closing, it is also important to mention that many forms of psychotherapy, biofeedback, and even medication can be helpful tools to take you were you want to go. Many people resist pursuing therapy or medication because of the negative labels and thought distortions they attach to them. We often suffer needlessly because we keep going down the same corridors of our maze. Unfortunately, we are unlike those lab mice, who keep exploring different routes until finding the cheese. Too often we keep going down the same corridor expecting that eventually, that cheese will be there. In other words, we use or usual methods of coping despite the fact that they no longer work instead of trying new options.

If you are interested in additional information or the expanded workshop, please contact Richard at (916) 361-0440 or email.