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How to Relax

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You’ve been working on a “new” project for several months, putting in 12- or 14-hour days and working through most of the weekends. That HUGE volunteer event you’ve been helping with is right around the corner. The holidays are coming up and you’ve not made or purchased a single gift. You feel like you’re on one of those automated sidewalks, it’s going way too fast and there’s no place to jump off. Oh, and that pesky little eye twitch that first appeared during spring semester finals your junior year of college is back. If only there were more hours in the day, then you’d be able to get everything on your checklists done and you’d feel so much better. Or would you?

It’s become clear to your friends and family that completing those checklists isn’t what you need at all, but sadly, you’re still in the dark. Then one day, when you’re on your way home from the doctor’s office — that troublesome twitch is now the least of your stress-induced worries — clarity hits. As you’re waiting for your prescription, you decide to multitask and go in search of laundry detergent and a few other things. Your BlackBerry starts buzzing so you fish it out to reply to the e-mails that are waiting. Then your other phone starts chirping, so you start to dig it out of your purse. Your arms are full of cleaning supplies, you’re barely managing it all and then you run right into someone and everything falls in a heap on the floor. You’re totally embarrassed and start apologizing profusely. The person you’ve practically run over bends down to help you retrieve everything and kindly says, “Honey — you need to RELAX.” [Ah, the benefits of living in the South.]

He’s right. You need to relax. And fast — before things get even worse. According to the CDC, as much as 90 percent of all illness and disease is stress-related. Lucky for you, there are some surefire ways to get started on the path to relaxation. First, as Anna Nalick’s song says, “Breathe, just breathe.” One of the simplest and quickest ways to relax is to adjust your breathing. One method, typically called square, four square or box breathing, goes like this: Breath in deeply to the count of four, then hold that breath for four seconds. Next, slowly exhale that breath to the count of four. Wait four seconds and then repeat. As you do this, you’ll start to feel a sense of serenity washing over you. Now, from Nalick to Pan — Peter, that is — find your happy thoughts and imagine a happy place.

Millions of people around the globe practice some form of meditation. One relaxing method of meditation is to sit quietly and imagine yourself in a place where you were happy and/or relaxed. Whether you’re hectically out running errands, trying to decompress before or after a stressful conference or trying to squeeze 18 hours of work into nine hours at the office, you can take five or 10 minutes to do this. Think of it like a mini-vacation. And that might be just the place to get started. Remember that relaxing weekend in the mountains last fall? Try to recall everything — the bright colors of the autumn leaves, the sound of the running water in the creek beside the cabin and the smell of those pumpkin muffins baking in the oven. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling almost as refreshed as you did at the end of that wonderful weekend.

For some of us, though, the idea of sitting still long enough to meditate seems unthinkable. Perhaps you’ve tried it before and you just can’t cut off the other thoughts rambling around in your head — the brief you need to prepare, the bills you need to pay, the costumes you need to make for your nephew’s Christmas play. And maybe you’re just one of those people who HAS to be doing something. If you find it hard to quiet your mind (and body) for meditation, then give it something to do.

Practicing a hobby can achieve the mentally relaxing effects of meditation by taking your mind off stress-inducing thoughts all while keeping you physically engaged, too. Creative hobbies like knitting, painting, gardening, scrapbooking and making pottery are twofold: You’ll be relaxing AND making something at the same time. And active hobbies like running, yoga, horseback riding and dancing also have an extra benefit — endorphins, which can lift your mood and promote happy thoughts.

What do you do to relax?

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