The Nine-Step Relaxation Process

The longer you hold a burden, the heavier it becomes.

In every organization where I speak, people talk to me about the 5 C’s: Change, Competition, Compliance, Communication and Compensation. These issues are always on their minds, and these issues are always causing them stress. It’s my job to show them how to be successful in the midst of those issues.

But stress isn’t limited to work. It’s everywhere. You can even find it at summer camp. David Letterman talked about that in his book called the “Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Low-Cal Chicken Recipes.” He mentioned several signs of a stressful summer camp:

* It’s located on a patch of the I-95 median strip.

* You toast marshmallows by laying them on the exhaust pipe of the counselor’s Chevy.

* Arts and crafts involves long hours in a sweaty cabin sewing budget sportswear.

* The water level of the lake rises whenever someone flushes the toilet.

Hopefully you never had that kind of stress when you were younger.

But you may be picking up some additional stress in life just because you’re getting older. You may find yourself with fewer career options, but more responsibility for the people in your life. You may have more demands on your time, but less energy to do everything that is expected of you.

Of course, some people joke about getting older. Ogden Nash said, “Middle age is when you’ve met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of somebody else… And you find yourself in the midst of a party wishing you were home in bed.”

By contrast, one person said, “Old age is when former classmates are so gray, wrinkled and bald, they don’t recognize you.” And someone else noted, “The stress of old age comes when you forget names; then you forget faces. Later you forget to pull up your zipper, but it’s worse when you forget to pull it down.”

Wherever your stress is coming from — the 5 C’s at work — or the normal burdens of growing older, you’ve got to learn to lay your burdens down. You’ve got to RELAX — which is the third strategy in the Physical dimension of work-life balance. (I talked about the first two strategies in last two issues of the “Tuesday Tip.”)

One lecturer on stress management explained the concept of laying down your burdens. He held up a glass of water and asked his audience, “How heavy is this glass of water?”

They answered anywhere from 20g to 500g.

The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If you hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If you hold it for an hour, you’ll have an ache in your right arm. If you hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

The lecturer continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress management. If you carry your burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, you won’t be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while… and rest… before holding it again. When you’re refreshed, you can carry on with the burden.”

Good advice. So, before you return home from work tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burden you’re carrying now, let it down for a moment. Learn to RELAX. Don’t pick it up again until after you’ve rested for a while.

I know some of you are thinking, “Sounds good in theory, but I don’t know how to relax.” Fair enough. But you had better learn — because if you don’t take time to relax, your body will take time for disease.

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful when it comes to relaxation. They’re things I learned from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale who wrote “The Power Of Positive Thinking.” Give these techniques a try.

=> Find a comfortable chair. Sit down. Put both feet squarely on the floor.

=> Imagine weight. Imagine that you weigh four hundred pounds and your enormous weight is resting fully on the chair. You are not trying to hold yourself up. You let the chair do that.

=> Raise your arm. Raise your right arm above your head, and then let it become entirely limp. Let it fall inertly onto your right knee. Repeat this process three times. Repeat the process with your left arm.

=> Breathe deeply. Take three deep breaths, exhaling each breath slowly, completely, emptying your lungs.

=> Relax your head. Allow your head to fall forward as though there was no stiffness in your neck. Imagine your head falling off your shoulders if it wasn’t attached.

=> Relax your facial muscles. Let your face go limp. Repeat to yourself, “My face is limp; my face is limp; every muscle is easing itself.”

=> Let your eyelids get heavy. Open your eyes and imagine that little weights are attached to your eyelids. Let the weights close your eyelids. Lift them and let them shut three times.

=> Visualize peace. Visualize the most peaceful, most beautiful place you have ever been. Return to it now… in your imagination… and savor the healing effect of the place.

You might even use the picture Henry Drummond suggests. Drummond tells the story of two artists who were commissioned to paint a picture that would depict genuine peace.

One painted a landscape with a mountain lake — calm, quiet, tranquil, serene, unperturbed. The background setting was one of beautiful green hills, ringed by tall slender pine trees reflected in the mirror-like surfaces of the lake.

The second artist painted a very turbulent scene with a violent waterfall crashing down on jagged chunks of granite rock. But alongside the waterfall was a slender birch tree, with its fragile branches reaching just above the crashing foam. And in the fork of one of the branches was a bird’s nest. In the nest lying very calmly and serenely, glistening from the spray and the foam of the waterfall, was a small bird fast asleep. That’s another accurate rendition of peace.

Use whatever picture works for you.

=> Drain your mind. Consciously and deliberately drain out of your mind every agitated, unnerving, and tensed-up thought. See those thoughts as flowing out, out, out of your mind. Let them go — now.

=> Practice word therapy.

Practice the stress-reducing therapy of using melodic, peaceful words. Take such words as “tranquility… serenity… peaceful… and… restfulness” and say them slowly and softly to yourself.

To summarize, you think best and work best when you’re relaxed instead of all tensed up. So take three minutes a day to RELAX. As Ulysses McDowell says, “Stop and smell the roses before you stop and the roses smell you.”

Action:  Practice the 9-step relaxation process at least twice this week. And if you still have too much stress inside of you, drain it out by repeating the process every day.