Breathe and Be Present!

When all else fails and you find yourself emotionally spinning or anxious or angry, STOP, take a deep slow breath. Feel the cool air as you inhale and the warm air exhale as you slowly breathe out… Be present! Release the anger or resentment from the past. Let the future wait, without the fear and anxiety of the unknown. Sure this is easier said than done but with some practice, and willingness, you can learn to live more in the appreciation of the present moment.

It really is not that difficult to pay close attention to the cool air as you breathe in, then pause a moment, and then slowly release the breath while allowing the unnecessary thoughts and emotions to slowly, but freely, flow out and away. You have to breathe anyway. Why not do it consciously? And, while you slowly breathe, why not learn to take responsibility for YOUR role in creating the life drama that may be upsetting to you… Sure, there are annoying people and  incidents, but you have a choice to get sucked in to the drama or to not get sucked in. Yes, you can just watch the drama unfold and wonder what your lesson is and what you are supposed to be learning from the weird turn of events.

There are styles of meditation which are practiced for years and built around focusing on slowly breathing. It can take people years to master these styles but it does not have to take years to have important benefits for you in the present moment! In fact, if you walk out into a beautiful natural setting like by the ocean, or by a river/stream, or by the majesty of the mountains with the sky above reaching up to the heavens, you can use your slow breathing to find the beauty and appreciation of the present moment. This will change your attitude quickly, if you let it! You can let go of the fear and be present, basking in the love that accompanies the beauty of the present moment in nature. If you can not get out into nature then use a candle to focus on or maybe a beautiful photograph or painting as a natural mandala to soothe your mind and soul. Even a pleasant memory of a time basking in the beauty of nature will help to soothe you in the present moment if you find yourself slowly breathing deeply with the willingness to “let go.”

You can close your eyes and go inward to feel the cool air as you inhale, pause, and release the warm exhale, slowly. String together 8-12 slow breaths and your heart rate will begin to slow and your muscles will begin to relax. As you slow down, your mind will gently follow into a more peaceful and pleasant state. This is a great skill to share with the people you care the most about… And, also it is worth sharing with people who you do not care the most about. The calming with gently spread like a chain reaction and offer calmness to all of your environment.

The Stress Education Center has information at www.dstress.com . The Masters of the Journey has information and ways to find a spiritual tribe to support you at www.mastersofthejourney.com  Please take good care of yourself and find ways to be “Present.”

Why we are more Overwhelmed Now! Stress

Why we are more stressed now. Do not be a victim to advances in technology.

Written by L. John Mason, Ph.D., Author of the Bestseller; Guide to Stress Reduction

Overwhelmed???

Why we are more stressed now than ever before!

Quality of life has suffered. Health has been affected. The rate of change has accelerated. Productivity can be jeopardized. We are “running” faster than ever and do not feel like we can ever catch up! Personal and professional support is draining away.

We are “stuck” with a “primitive” response mechanism which may never evolve fast enough to keep pace with technology. This ancient survival mechanism is built into our genetic code and has its origin billions of years ago. We still need this response on occasion, but day to day, it may be a major thorn in our side. It has been known since the 1930’s as Walter Cannon described it, the “Flight/Fight” response. This automatic reaction to fight or to flee to save our life is stilled needed, however, the normal daily reactions to less than life threatening situations, can trigger a part of this reaction in a habitual way which is slightly different for each of us.

The problem arises when we ignore the response until our systems have to over-react to get our attention. A major display by this mechanism can look like: tension headaches, tight neck and shoulders, sleeping problems, back pain, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, stroke, heart disease, asthma attacks, panic/anxiety attacks, stomach problems, sexual dysfunction, certain skin irritations, hyper sensitivity, learning problems, memory problems, communication problems, poor decision making, emotional swings, resistance to change, lower productivity, and increased likelihood of worker’s compensation claims due to stress or on the job accidents and injury. Any of these symptoms can affect an individual employee, a team, a department, or the whole company’s bottom line. 70-90% of visits to medical doctor’s offices are for symptoms that are either caused or made worse as a reaction to this primitive stress response.

Symptoms of stress cost companies Billions of dollars annually in lost time, reduced productivity, worker’s compensation claims, replacement of key personnel, even lawsuits, and internal sabotage from overwhelmed employees. Prevention not only can enhance quality of life, it will also raise productivity, reduce sabotage, and assist retention strategies.

To make a point that we are more stressed today than ever before, consider the ever increasing rate of change based on new information. The “Information Age” was coined in the 1980’s. It has created a revolution of new information technologies. To see this point more clearly, think back to common societal changes since the mid to late 1980’s. Did you have cable TV in 1985? How many channels did you get from your cable provider? How many channels of TV do you have today, with cable or satellite dish? Probably 15+ channels in 1985 to now as many as 500 choices. In the mid-1980’s did you have a fax machine? A “pager”? A personal computer? E-mail? A Cellular telephone? You have probably experienced all of these since then. If you still do not have a “Cell phone,” you are not immune from the increased numbers of them… Just go to a movie, a restaurant, church, a meeting…. everywhere you go people are using the new technologies and probably stressing you out. A big one to consider that did not exist in the 1980’s is related to “cell phone” use while driving. Do you call when driving? Do other people behave unsafely when they are distracted by calls while driving?

Do you remember the early 1990’s? You could get new computer with software and not have to upgrade for 2-3 years. Now, if you get a new computer, it is outdated before you get it home and out of the box. Software upgrades seem to happen by the minute… Have you noticed that there are more coffee and espresso stands in the last 10 years? Is this how people cope with the increase in the pace of change and new information? Are there more cases of people going “postal” or “car rage”, or “air rage,” or whatever new anxiety we experience.

A final question, since 1985 has your genetic code “upgraded” to keep up with the pace of the Information Age? It takes thousands of years to biologically evolve! Psychologically and emotionally we must learn coping strategies to ensure our healthy survival. That is why now, more than ever before in human history, we must invest time and resources in preventing the adverse effects of our own stress response. Though it does take time and energy, prevention is worth the price. We can actually save time and get more done, by eliminating the internal distractions of stress. Also, we need to mentor, as positive role models, our children in these coping strategies that they will require to survive the ever-increasing presence of stress in our society.

There are models of companies using various prevention strategies and finding a return on investment. I know of one study with the company Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado where human resources reported a $5 return on every $1 invested in health and wellness programs. The positive return was based on reduced sick time, fewer accidents, increased morale and productivity. The more subtle cost savings due to prevention of sabotage (and resistance to change) from overwhelmed, disgruntled employees is very difficult to measure, but still a significant factor in many organizations. Often, improved communication, allowing for input from all levels of the workforce, can be a valuable stress management and prevention strategy that leadership is learning.

In house trainers, coaching and mentoring can create a tailored program that will best fit your organization. Outside consultants, coaches, and trainers can assist your organization to build the most effective programs, if your in house staff does not have the necessary training or experience. Consider the cost benefits of reduced: sabotage, health claims, accidents, sick time, turnover, and loss of productivity due lack of focus. Proactive retention strategies, which have used employee surveys, include stress management as a highly requested benefit (always in the top three requested programs.)

If you feel that you might benefit from an individualized stress management program to minimize your overwhelm and stress, consider the Stress Education Center’s audios which include a basic stress management series or specific stress management programs for: sleeping, pain management, anxiety control, and even pre-natal stress management. Check these out at www.dstress.com or http://dstress.com/products/specific-health-topics/.

Thoughts That Keep You Awake: Better Sleep

Almost every one of us has had our sleep interrupted or prevented by uncontrollable thoughts that run through our conscious minds. Reduced quality of rest has a negative effect on our performance and quality of life in many situations. So learning to control these distracting thoughts, or perhaps better, preventing these thoughts from racing through our minds, when we should be sleeping, would be a positive. Easier said than done…

I have had difficulty with avoiding certain anxiety producing conversations with my wife at bedtime or just after the “lights go out.” This is not unique because this can be a good time to have an undistracted conversation. However, an unsettling conversation as I am trying to let go of the thoughts of the day can open the doors for consideration of the dilemmas of life which can prevent an easy path to a restful sleep.

These conversations can be important and necessary. It is just the timing of these moments of communication that I find difficult. There are better times in the day to work on these important subjects. The bottom line is that at “bedtime” there is not much that you can do with the new information other than ruminate or fret over it.

The things that are the most stressful are things that you care the most about but which you can not control. As an example, parents usually care about what happens to their child (or children) but often the parent can not control every detail regarding what our offspring will be confronted by. When we experience difficulties with jobs/careers, finance, relationships, health concerns (for ourselves or our loved ones,) changes in our economy, weather, or even the process of aging, we can find ourselves troubled by distracted minds stressed by these events that we have little or no ability to control. These distractions dance through our minds and set off our primitive survival responses and this, in turn, does not allow our minds to relax and drift into soothing, restful sleep.

Medications can relax some of the systems that can keep us awake. Drugs can mask the emotional challenge, but not solve the roots of this challenge. Drug use can also lead to physical and emotional dependency which creates more problems. Better solutions include appropriate communication and problem solving. Some people can benefit from adjusting their attitudes realizing that the things they can not control may be better tolerated if one learns to accept the issue and to build a more solid emotional foundation to help stabilize our responses in these difficult times. (Again, easier said than done, but worth developing as a preventive mechanism.)

Self-care will help give you strength to tolerate these difficult situations. Physical exercise, eating well (healthy), and regular relaxation/meditation will help. Counseling which can help create emotional and spiritual support may be helpful, additionally. Most importantly, deal with your challenges during the day. It may not be best to discuss, or to mentally work on these issues at bedtime.

The 50 to 1 Countdown exercise that I teach in other blogs, articles, and in the book is a great technique to help quiet the mind and promote a deep and restful sleep. Consider trying it. For more individualized coaching, consider our professional coaching for enhancing performance and productivity by contact us through the Stress Education Center’s website at Stress Education Center’s website

Please take good care of yourself.

Heart Disease and Stress

Whether you are consciously aware of your body’s response to stress or not, everybody will have their cardio-vascular system respond when you are subjected to stress. For many people, the primary habitual response to stress manifests with significant changes their cardiovascular system. If your life was threatened, your body will respond with the “Flight-Fight Response.” This response would prepare our bodies to fight or to flee in a life saving reaction. The way this response may affect the cardio-vascular system includes: increased heart rate (to pump more blood to muscles and brain for survival,) changes in the pattern of relaxed blood flow (the blood is directed to muscles and brain and away from hands/fingers, feet/toes (they get cool/cold), and digestive/reproductive organs,) and increased blood pressure.

This suggests that the heart rate changes and blood flow patterns change when you are in survival or in a “stressed out” mode. 70% of people with high blood pressure have “Essential” or “Situational” hypertension which means that their blood pressure goes up in the doctor’s office as a response to fear or anxiety. This can also be referred to as “White Coat” hypertension. High blood pressure, if chronic, can damage blood vessels, the kidneys, and makes the heart have to work extra hard to pump against the higher pressures in this system. This can lead to severe health problems. Warning: since this is potentially very serious consult with your physician and get the proper tests to determine how your body responds.

Denial regarding the important negative effects of stress is very common with people who suffer from heart disease. Since reducing stress seems impossible, people ignore the positive results can occur. People, for convenience, will gravitate to medicines to control symptoms of heart disease but the side-effects can be very costly and sometimes the positive results from medication can be limited. Please consider “connecting” with your heart and your body to gain control of your habitual response to stress.

Learning to relax includes learning to “Let Go” with the circulatory system. This will include, slowing heart rate, a vasodilation of blood vessels to reduce blood pressure, and the warming of the hands and feet. All of these responses are exactly opposite the stress response.

Stress can also raise the level of free floating cholesterol which the body produces and releases to patch tears in blood vessels that can occur when the blood pressure goes up. Over time this repair work can create “hardening of the arteries” which also can lead to fatal health challenges like heart disease, strokes (CVA’s), and kidney damage.

If you have had a “by-pass” operation or stents placed in a blood vessel to keep it open or if you wish to help to prevent these situations, consider using regular relaxation, getting more physical exercise, and making dietary changes to prevent this situation from getting as bad as it can, as fast as it will. If your genetics pre-dispose you to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol then seriously consider these steps to prevent damage and possible early death.

Articles at our website describe stress management for high blood pressure techniques that can help to lessen the possible negative effects of life’s stress on your systems. Look for the article on Temperature Training Biofeedback as an important add-on which allows the process of self-awareness and stress management to work most effectively. Go to the “articles” page at the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com for access to this information.

You can get back in control of your body’s habitual response to holding stress in your cardiovascular system with 8-12 weeks of regular practice. These practices will end up saving you time and energy, but may also add “quality” years to your life.

Dangers of Ignoring the Impact of Stress: Why are we in denial?

Have you ever experienced any stress? Is the world more stressful now than it was 20 years ago? Have you ever experience physical or emotional symptoms that are made worse as a response to stress? Do you believe that the best solution to stress is getting drunk or taking drugs?

I ask these questions many times per month to groups I train or individuals I coach. Without exception, people respond by saying that there is plenty of stress out in the world. It can be a distraction and effect physical and emotional health.

Now I ask you, what do you do, on a daily basis, to control your responses to stress? Do you meditate or practice stress management for 20 minutes per day? Most people say that they are too busy for 20 minutes of relaxation. People think that there is some easier way to control stress like taking medication. It is not convenient to practice stress management, so why bother to do it? The other response that many people use when confronted by the challenges of stress is to a point a finger and then blame someone or something else, rather that to take any responsibility for ones own habitual response to life’s stress.

Do not believe me without testing this out for yourself, but most people find that by practicing 20 minutes of deep relaxation, daily, they will actually save time and energy. Research suggests that 20 minutes of deep relaxation can take the place of as much as 2 hours of sleep and the sleep that you do get will be deeper and more restful. When I first heard this statistic I did not believe it, as most of you will not. I tested the statement and after 3 months I discovered that I required less sleep. Instead of needing 8.5 hours of sleep, I was getting rested with only 7 hours of sleep. So I invested 20 minutes and required 1.5 hours less sleep time, so I came out ahead by one hour and ten minutes. Many of my Executive Coaching clients, after I convince them to try the 20 minutes of stress management, report that they get more work done in less time, with less energy, because they are better able to focus and make fewer mistakes. I challenge you to try this activity for 8-12 weeks and find the benefits that will surface.

People resist trying new things even if these “new things” are good for them. In fact, people are so overwhelmed that most of us are apathetic about taking good care of ourselves. We simply do not have the energy to care… Making time, even just 20 minutes per day, is painful and difficult. Motivation is low for using stress management preventively. Stress can cause headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, rapid heart rates, anxiety, depression, GI complaints, sexual dysfunction, back or neck pain, and poor quality of life, and yet most people would rather develop annoying or dangerous symptoms rather than practice stress management…

Most people have an unconscious need to get beaten up by stress as if it were their badge of honor for surviving our hectic world… There are a few genetic immunes who thrive on stress, with no sleep, and they make the rest of us mere mortals look bad. These “immunes” are in denial and stress will eventually affect their health or their relationships in negative ways. In Japan there is a word “Karoshi” which translates; people who work themselves to death. There is an addiction to work in our society and we need to be aware that the long term consequences of this attitude are high costs to our health, relationships, and quality of life.

When we are younger, we can get away with not sleeping or self-care. We are young and strong and flexible, but as we get older, we lose our flexibility and our strength. We have to learn how to do things smarter instead of “muscling through.” If we don’t, we will pay the price and our denial will not save us from our suffering.

Things in life that are the most stressful are the things that you care the most about but that you can not control. The only thing that you can control is the way that you respond in these difficult situations but this can take time and effort.

Please take your head out of the sand and take good care of yourself. Even if this means spending 20 minutes per day with stress management. It will save you time, energy, and even money in the long run.

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the country’s leading expert on stress management and the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Executive Coaching and Training. In 1978, he opened the Stress Education Center www.dstress.com.

Women and Stress In the Modern World

Need for Stress Management for Women

I believe that everyone is experiencing higher levels of stress in the “Information Age.” The pace of change has accelerated to the point where we are forced to confront more changes and faster paced changes in this day and age, than at any time in the past. Just the pace of development of new information has many of us just spinning to keep up. I remember getting my first new personal business computer in 1989. The hardware and software, though getting old, were still plenty functional for 3 years. I bought a new computer two months ago and I have had to “upgrade the software several times since then and the hardware was “old” when I was taking the machine out of the box.

Since the 1960’s, the pace has increased and roles have changed. There are more women in the work force (with jobs outside of the home/farm.) In fact, in many parts of the country/world, most families require more than one person in the work force just to meet the daily expenses of living. In the early part of this working revolution, there was an assumption by many companies that men should receive more money (higher pay for the same job) because they were the “bread winners” for the family. This has not changed in many parts of this world. There were also many limitations imposed for women in the level of their career developments. Though these attitudes are changing (in many parts of the world), there are still areas that have not been completely addressed. For example, how many working women come home from work with the old expectations that they are responsible for the “homemaking” duties like: dinner preparation, cleaning, shopping, and childcare. Men are gradually, though often grudgingly, taking on their share of many of these tasks (except where the cultural or religious beliefs discourage this evolution.)

Women have special stress management requirements and considerations. Women are often taught (most unconsciously by their families or communities) to not complain about the two careers that they assume, working outside the home and also as the center of home activities. Women need to take care of themselves better, more so now than ever before. They must be better role models to their peers and children in the skills that are needed for self-preservation and improved quality of their lives.

Today, women need to get regular exercise, eat better, and take time for relaxation. Everyone needs to make time for self-care that can also include continuing education, spiritual development, positive relationships, and financial and career planning. The challenge is to find the time and the “support” necessary to make this happen. I know that without this self-care, you are left with a “burned-out,” unhappy, and unhealthy person who the family and the greater world will find, in the long-run will not be able to make the positive contributions that would be ideal. We need to support each other more now ever before. We need to encourage greater health and happiness for all women.

Some men believe that playing aggressive games like football or racquetball are relaxing, and most of the time they are wrong, but women also have their misconceptions about what is relaxing. Women tend to get together with friends or family for meals out, shopping, even “pampering.” Sometimes these activities are not so ideal or even relaxing. Every woman is an individual with her own requirements and needs. Spending money, shopping in crowds, binging on foods (desserts,) even breathing fumes from getting your nails done are not always the most healthy choices. If you do not know what is really “right” for you (and your body) then consider getting some lifestyle coaching and test the options until you “know” what is best for you and what really works. The investment in time and money will save you time and energy in the long run and definitely improve your quality of life. Also, remember that close relationships are important and can be important for stress management. However, healthy relationships start with “healthy” partners/friends and “needy”/demanding friends are not always helpful for personal stress management. (Make good choices where you spend your time and energy…)

Along the way, do not forget to take good care of yourself! Be present and enjoy everyday. Enjoy time with your family and good friends. Find time for gratitude!
Good Health!

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Executive Coaching and Training through the Stress Education Center at www.dstress.com.

Healing The Body

You may not have thought much about this but, how do we heal? Doctors and scientists have not been able to fully explain how the body heals. Some health care professionals may try to take credit for the healing process, but the best these health care practionners can take credit for is helping to improve the environment for the body to heal itself. Our bodies are amazing and all of the things that happen within the body have been studied but not fully explained. For example, how does a single cell divide and then change into the many different types of cells that has to happen after conception and prior to birth? How does food or drink get digested, absorbed, and transferred to feed the brain? How does a cut to the skin grow back together and heal? How we get a thought and take action to deal with this thought? How do we know when to eat or sleep?

An honest health care professional will educate you on how you can create the best environment so that you can heal yourself. Now, emergency procedures like setting a broken bone, removing a bullet or tumor, or clearing a blocked artery to the heart are health procedures that the body might need help to achieve, but after an emergency procedure the body must heal itself.

Why do some people heal rapidly from devastating injury and some people perish from a relatively minor health challenge? How can a tumor show up on an X-Ray one day and sometimes disappear a few weeks later, possibly without any medical treatment? Why do some auto-immune disease start or disappear?

The body is amazing and there are so many unexplainable things that happen. But one study out of the medical research done at Stanford University on women with breast cancer found, to the researcher’s chagrin, that women who participated in a breast cancer support group seem to live much longer, on average, then women who do not have this kind of support. Is it the mental anxiety from living with the illness alone, without support, that makes the difference? Is it the positive caring or some healing energy within the group that helps to sustain some of the group’s participants? This phenomenon is not understood or explained… yet. But, it is noted that people who have positive social connections will often do better and have better outcomes. In a basic wellness program, an emphasis on a positive integration of mind, body, and spirit includes many potential areas of life that can prevent disease, or minimize possible physical or emotional ailments, or assist people who want to recover from health challenges.
Consider your mental, emotional, and your spiritual requirements when you look to build the most successful wellness program for yourself.

More information and coaching is available to you through the Stress Education Center available for you at www.dstress.com.

Driving Stress Management

Driving can be stressful. Driving in traffic can be stressful. Driving in commute traffic on a Los Angeles freeway when you do not know where the off ramp is can be very stressful.

Some people do not like driving, or more specifically, do not like driving in traffic on freeways/highways. I grew up in Southern California and usually find freeway driving to be a friendly challenge and usually less stressful than driving in stop-and-go street traffic. So, I am in Los Angeles for a visit after offering a presentation near San Diego and can admit that there are many vehicles flying around the “Southland” with reckless abandon. My travel maps are from 1988 and the numbers of the highways have changed. (When and why did that happen?) So I took the wrong off ramps a few times… so what. I could have gotten mad or upset but I was in the “right” mood and found it all pretty entertaining. Since I was not in too much of a rush, it did not seem to be life-threatening.

Due to this recent experience, I decided to write this blog with reminders on how to survive, more gracefully, your driving experience.

First, FOCUS… pay attention! Turnoff any unnecessary distractions such as your loud music/radio, your telephone, your loud passengers, and television (yes, though it is illegal, I have seen people driving in LA with TV’s on their dashboards…) Do NOT Text message while driving even if you are addicted and even if you feel you must post to your “Facebook” or Twitter page. Focusing on driving, while driving, seems like a silly thing to remind you about but look around, many people get bored with steering their vehicles and need additional activities including telephoning, eating, grooming, reading, note taking, etc….

Learn to relax. This does NOT mean closing your eyes while driving. It does include letting your shoulders drop to a more comfortable position, especially if they are up around your ears… Check your forehead and your jaw, and allow these to loosen. Breathe slowly and allow this to reduce your anxiety or fear because it is something that you can control…

Finally, you can distract yourself from annoying stress or anxiety by looking carefully for any natural beauty or unusual occurrences that manifest outside your vehicle, without losing focus on what is going on in front and to the sides of your vehicle. Some people engage in a game of finding a new discovery on every commute. Look carefully and note this new item even if it is a cloud formation or flock of birds. Remember that no matter how much fear, anger, or anxiety you feel while driving, you will not get to your destination any faster, or probably any safer, by being preoccupied by these stress filled emotions.

Breathe slowly, eyes open (paying attention (FOCUS), and allow enough time so you are NOT anxious about getting there on time.

Relaxation Strategies for Sleep

Relaxation Strategies for Improving Your Sleep

I am L. John Mason, Ph.D. and founder of the Stress Education Center (in 1978.) Over the years of private practice, I have coached many clients in stress management techniques that can work to improve sleep. In this blog, I want to offer a little background information and then teach some effective relaxation strategies.

To begin, most people will find difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep at some point in their lives. There a physical and emotional reasons to these sleeping robbing periods. Many people will discover that stress which is held in your body can keep your mind too active to fall asleep or can cause unconscious tensions that keep you from getting the best quality of sleep and rest. If stress is adding to your sleeping challenges look first for levels of muscle tension especially in your jaw, forehead, neck/shoulders, and your back. Releasing this tension, easier said than done, can lead to sleep improvement and general health and well-being. Also, consider breathing techniques that can slow your heart rate and help to relax muscles. This is best done by slow, diaphragmatic breathing which is taught in many places like yoga, meditation, respiratory therapy, and in books like Guide to Stress Reduction (my first book.)

Breathing and counting slowly can help relax your body and your mind. Two of favorite techniques are:
1. 1-4, 1-4, 1-8 breathing. Slowly breathe in counting 1,2,3,4, then pause comfortably counting 1,2,3,4, and then slowly exhale counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, for 4-8 breaths. You can do this longer if you need but go as slowly as is comfortable.

2. Another great breathing and counting exercise is to count backward slowly from 50-1. Do this in this special way: count 50 then 1,2,3, then, 49 then 1,2,3, then, 48 then 1,2,3, then, 47 then 1,2,3, and so on until you get down to one. This exercise is so relaxing for a busy mind that it will want to go to sleep to avoid the counting. This works great if you awaken during the night with difficulty returning to sleep.

You can also benefit from slowly repeating calming suggestions to yourself. Consider closing your eyes, letting your head sink back into the pillow, take 3 slow deep breaths, and then repeat (mentally) “I am at peace with myself and fully relaxed.” This can train you to let go of stress and to ease yourself gently into sleep.

If you feel that you require a deeper level of relaxation, you can practice deep relaxation like the technique written out at the Stress Education Center’s article page http://www.dstress.com/articles/basic-guided-relaxation/ . With practice over several weeks, you will get very good at relaxation and stress management and this will lead to improved sleep.

Massage, warm water (or spa treatment), other forms of meditation, and gentle movement like yoga, when practiced, can also lead to better relaxation and improved, restful sleep.

Good luck with these techniques and good health. Contact me with any questions and please take good care of yourself. L. John Mason, Ph.D.

Basking in the Afternoon Sunlight

In celebration of an experience from April, 2012 – Posted by L. John Mason –

I live in the Northwest on an Island North of Seattle, WA. The region is famous for gray cool days that often have some sort of precipitation. In my nine year history, I have discovered that the sunny, warm times (and warm is relative) are August and September, also considered Summer. In Seattle and Portland, from October to July when the sunshine breaks through the clouds, people will stop what they are doing and rush outdoors for what is known locally as a “sun break.” You should also know that people who live, and the ones who thrive, in the Northwest are a hardy group who function decently in the cool dampness. People will not be stopped by rain when working or exercising because this “just comes with the territory.” I tell you this because there is a special appreciation that can be found in the Northwest for being touched by the warmth of the sun, BUT, this can hold true for many people outside the Northwest as well.

So I had an experience Sunday, last, that makes me pause and think of appreciation for some of things that can easily be overlooked or taken for granted. I went further North to visit a new friend in the city of Bellingham. For me, it was a chance to learn some of the secrets of this pleasant town which has plenty of charm, history, and a population of people who are influenced by the colleges found in town. We walked and talked as we strolled down the special trails that line the waterfront. We drifted into shops and chatted with shop owners and fellow pedestrians. We found many delightful things which made our quest enjoyable.

Later in the afternoon, I experienced that wonderful moment that makes a day memorable. I found myself sharing this large chair on the sunporch of my host. The warmth of the sunlight was streaming through the large windows and I felt myself peacefully melting into this chair. My eyes closed and I soaked up the warming, relaxing rays of sunshine. To make this better, I was sharing this with my wonderful new friend who allowed me to feel safe and most comfortable. Perhaps you have experienced moments like this and you can remember these as pleasant, healing experiences.

Having shared this image, I now have a significant memory to use when I pull up my visualizations of an ideal time of warmth and peace. So, if you find yourself needing a moment of relaxation consider sitting back comfortably in a safe, hopefully peaceful environment, and start by taking several deep slow breaths. Perhaps you feel cool air as you inhale and warm breath as you slowly exhale. You might even imagine that as the warm breath flows from you it seems to carry away unnecessary thoughts or energy. Continue breathing slowly and naturally allowing every slow breath to let you sink deeper into a state of peaceful relaxation. Perhaps, you can feel the relaxation beginning in your arms and legs. You may even be able to feel yourself slowly sinking back into whatever you are sitting or lying upon. Imagine that you can feel the warmth from the sun gently and safely shining down on you. Perhaps you can imagine that you can soak up this warmth and light, and this allows you to drift deeper into a peaceful dreamlike state of calmness. As you breathe slowly and gently, perhaps you can imagine that you can breathe in the sunlight and warmth, and allow this energy to bathe every cell in your body with healing energy. Every cell can soak up the perfect amount of this healing energy and unconditional love to allow the cells to heal and recharge. You can even begin to feel the feelings of joy and health and happiness welling up inside you. Perhaps you can celebrate this perfect moment of health and happiness and see yourself in perfect health, being active.

Enjoy those moments of your life when you can bask in the radiance of warmth and unconditional love. Hold these memories and feelings within your heart so you can pull these forward to heal and recharge yourself, when needed. AND, if you find yourself sharing a large chair, on the perfect sunporch, with a person who allows you to feel safe and comfortable, honor this moment as a special treasure.

As with other articles from this blog, if you require any additional support consider the information and services provided through the Stress Education Center and visit the website at www.dstress.com

Please take good care of yourself and bask in warmth and light, as often as you can.