Experiment #35: Hug Away Holiday Stress

 By  Renee Pletka , Holistic Health + Eating Psychology Coach

By Renee Pletka, Holistic Health + Eating Psychology Coach

While the holidays can bring abundant joy, they can also trigger tremendous stress.

Jam-packed stores, perfect-gift hunting, travel delays, overindulgence, kitchen bickering, family conflicts, unmet expectations and more all lead to stress, anxiety, tension and not-so-merry moods.

I have a foolproof remedy for busting holiday stress that's fast, easy and super-duper effective:

Hug it out.

That's right.

Hug. It. Out.

Instead of squabbling, snapping or snarling, give your partner, kiddo, sister, mom or brother-in-law a big ol' hug. Doing so will immediately dissolve any stress, tension, anxiety and grumpiness

 Photo by  Gus Moretta

Photo by Gus Moretta

In fact, hugging decreases cortisol (your fight-or-flight stress hormone), lowers blood pressure, and releases oxytocin (your bonding and trust-building hormone).

I've personally tested this stress buster numerous times and know firsthand that it truly works not only during the holidays, but every day of the year. 

Give it a whirl. You have nothing to lose, except your cranky pants!


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Experiment #34: Try New Breathing Techniques

Here are two breathing techniques I've been using lately. The first one is from Dr. Andrew Weil, it's simple, and it's easy to remember.

Here's Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing method:

That's all you need to remember, actually. Breath for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, then breath out for a count of 8 to, in Weil's words, "reset your involuntary system."

I don't know if that's what's happening when I do the exercise, but I can say that every time I do it, I feel better.

The second technique is from a cult-like figure named Wim Hof.

 Just Google his name and you will learn all about the cult surrounding him.

Just Google his name and you will learn all about the cult surrounding him.

Here's Wim Hof's method, in brief:

  • Take 30 breaths, ballooning your chest.
  • Breathe in as much as you can, expanding your chest.
  • Breathe out completely, drop your chin, and relax until you feel your reflex.
  • Inhale again deeply and hold for 10 – 15 seconds.
  • Repeat.
  • Reserve five minutes at the end to scan your body.

Here it is in a little more detail, if needed. 

  1. Get comfortable with legs crossed and prepare to warm up.
  2. Inhale deeply until you feel some pressure in your chest. Hold your breath, then exhale, pushing out all of your air. Hold for 2 – 3 seconds.
  3. Repeat warm-up 15 times.
  4. Once you're warmed up, pretend to blow up a balloon by inhaling through your nose, exhaling through your mouth in short, powerful bursts with a steady pace. Repeat 30 times. If you get lightheaded, that's OK. 
  5. During your big breaths, focus on each part of your body. If you sense something that doesn’t feel quite right, release that part of the body.
  6. After you’ve completed your 30 power breaths, inhale deeply and fill your lungs to capacity, then force the air out. Drop your chin and relax. Hold your breath out until you experience the gasp reflex. Then inhale normally.
  7. Inhale again deeply. Release any tension in your chest and hold that breath in. Drop your chin to your chest and hold for 15 seconds. Scan your body again for anything that feels “off.” 
  8. Relax and scan your body.

I've been using the 4-7-8 breath at small random times, like on the subway or in a meeting. I use the Wim Hof method when I need a deeper "intervention" -- like if I'm overthinking something at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Give both a try. I would love to hear how it goes for you

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Experiment #33: Pick Up Some Drumsticks

improve anxiety

I recently re-acquired my drum kit following my divorce. As a result, I got to play the drums for the first time in over fifteen months.  In doing so, I realized playing drums is an amazing way to help deal with depression.

When I played the drums I became so focused my mind was prevented from wandering and ruminating. I was in what is known in psychological terms as being in Present Moment Contact. This concept works in a similar way to mindfulness. I have discussed this concept in more detail in a previous article of mine entitled Under Pressure.

When it comes to depression, it's incredibly useful to find a coping/distraction technique that works for you. I know that even when a successful distraction technique is found, a person may not always be able to engage with it. Example: I am sitting next to my drum-kit right now, as I'm writing this. However at this specific moment I can't bring myself to play them, not right now. But the drum kit is always there. I know there will be times when I will play them and they will help me.

Finding a positive distraction technique helps. We all know there are plenty of maladaptive ways to cope with depression, masking the issue. At the same time, remember: not being able to find a positive distraction technique should not be seen as a failure.

I like these words said by Stephen Fry, the British comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist:

stephen fry depression

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

drumming stress relief

Learn more about btg dad  at www.peacenospas.com

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Experiment #32: Meditate in a Big Group While Listening to Gongs

grace cathedral meditation

Last week, I attended my first big group sound meditation event at famous Grace Cathedral here in San Francisco. Here's an excerpt from the official description of the event:

On October 23rd, 1300 of us will come together to resonate with peace and tranquility at the beautiful Grace Cathedral. This experience not only brings you to your deepest meditative state, but also ushers us closer as a community.

Led by Guy Douglas and featuring an array of amazing and talented musicians on gongs, crystal singing bowls, Tibetan singing bowls, Native American flutes, Didgeridoo, Celtic Harp, Monochord, Vibraphone and so much more. 

Despite feeling weird about it, I Facebook Live'd the event so that others could see what it was like. Also, I wanted to force myself to do something that scared me. As a result, I have this video from the event itself: 

Here are my thoughts on big group sound meditation as an experiment in dealing with stress and anxiety:

  • It was exciting to try something new and the setting was beautiful.

  • The floor was HARD. I had to shift around a bunch to try to get comfortable.

  • I wanted to feel more vibrations. Like in the pit of my stomach. I don't know if it's because of where we were sitting, but I didn't feel those.

  • The best part was when there was a human voice in the mix.

  • It was somewhat relaxing. I was also a bit hopped up from the excitement of the experience. 

  • I would try it again. I bet different settings vary greatly.

I see that there is another big group sound meditation event happening in a few weeks at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers.

sound meditation anxiety

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Experiment #31: Give Your Inner Critic a Silly Name

 BY  DIANNE JACOB , Food Writing Coach

BY DIANNE JACOB, Food Writing Coach

Need a fresh idea for dealing with your inner critic? Of course you do. The critic never goes away. The issue is how to deal with him or her.

I read about an idea you might find useful: Give your critic a silly name. That way, his or her negative pronouncements about your abilities carry less weight.

I tried this approach with a talented client who can't seem to get around to writing. I suggested she name her critic Mildred. My client giggled. Suddenly, the critic seemed goofy. She had less power.

 It makes sense to name your inner critic after Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce.

It makes sense to name your inner critic after Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce.

We talked about how helpful Mildred can be in other areas of my client's life: in food styling, recipe development, creating a beautiful home, and designing a photo for Instagram, for example. My client relies on Mildred to help her make good decisions through criticism. But somehow, Mildred isn't helpful to her when it comes to her own writing.

 Ethel is a great inner critic name.

Ethel is a great inner critic name.

Isn't that interesting? Now the challenge is to get Mildred to help her in this final arena, where Mildred has been harsh. My client reports that "the writing has begun...slow and steady." Hooray!

It all sounds quite logical, but as we know, taming the inner critic is a slippery process. I've dealt with her messages in my head forever. But I'm naming her Bertha now, or maybe Ethel. Already I like her better.


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Experiment #30: Watch Slow TV

Let extremely chill Norwegian vibes cover you in relaxation.

 National Firewood Evening. Enough said.

National Firewood Evening. Enough said.

My friend Carl (sharer of great ideas in How to Deal with an Anxious Partner) told me that he found himself watching a two-hour train ride to Oslo on Netflix.

"Oh yeah?" I said. "What happened?"

"Literally nothing," he said. "And it was great."

slow tv netflix

Carl had discovered Norwegian Broadcasting Company’s “Slow TV,” which has been running on Netflix since last August. In the words of the Daily Beast's Daniel Bukszpan:

If you’re wondering what happens on these shows, the answer is simple—nothing. Nothing happens on any of these shows at all, unless you consider the two-minute firewood-stacking explainer preceding the six hours of crackling log action to be “something.”
 Train Ride Bergen to Oslo

Train Ride Bergen to Oslo

I loved what Carl said about watching this ride, 

It's almost like you readjust your watching behavior, such that when the train comes through a tunnel and you see a new incredible panorama, it is genuinely exciting. You just get lulled into it.

If your nervous system is running ragged, this experiment could be just the thing for you. It seems like an amazing thing to have on in the background when you're working on something else. I wonder if I could scratch out the time to go through my personal household filing while watching the Norwegian National Knitting Night? Sounds like a winner to me.

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Experiment #29: Snowglobe Away Your Thoughts

 Some of the great things that spilled out of the envelope when I first opened it.

Some of the great things that spilled out of the envelope when I first opened it.

 Rainbow monocle.

Rainbow monocle.

Last week I received a mysterious package in the mail. In it were many fun anx-positive crafty treats including fake tattoos, scratch and sniff stickers, and a monocle that made everything look rainbow when you looked through it. 

I later found out that my friend Michelle had sent me the care package from The Heart and Hands Store on Etsy. Artist Janelle Silver creates adorable, positive messages to make people feel good. It's a nice gift idea for the right person.

One of Janelle's ideas struck me as a particularly good experiment:

anxiety support

Write down something you need to let go on a piece of paper. Then, in Janelle's words, "Get a bowl full of water and add coloring or glitter...make it a celebration. Record it on your phone if you want to watch it again later. "

Next you just cut the paper into tiny pieces and "snowglobe" them away.

 Ta-da!

Ta-da!

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Experiment #28: Count Bees, Spot Elephants, Discover a Planet

I heard about this idea on my new favorite podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression. On this episode, he talks to someone helps herself get out of slumps by logging onto Zooniverse, joining in on crowd-sourced research for great scientific, literary, historical, and artistic causes. 

 This is from Zooniverse's Serengeti Wildebeest Count Project

This is from Zooniverse's Serengeti Wildebeest Count Project

I loved what the interviewee said:

"Makes me feel like a part of the world, even when I'm lying in bed for a few days. They have great guides on how you contribute to the research, even down to how you spot different kinds of rumps on gazelles...It's easy to use and it makes me feel productive, like I'm helping someone do something," says the interviewee.

Be Helpful While Just Hanging Out

"Occasionally you'll be flipping through the slides as you're doing your categorizing work, and all of the sudden you'll get a photo of an African elephant. That always really excited me because I found them really beautiful. Once I was really stuck because I had just done a load of photos. It was all 'wildebeest standing,' 'wildebeest eating,' or 'zebra standing' and then all of the sudden I got this amazing photo of a pack of elephants with babies in the middle of them. It just made my whole day."

You can choose from any number of  projects on the Zooniverse site, following your own interests and curiosity. 

zooniverse projects

Do you think that helping out with environmental research in this easy, low-stress way might be a good experiment for you to try today?

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Experiment #27: Keep a People Boundaries List

people boundaries

The past two days have been trying days for me negotiating my friendships. Or I thought they were friendships. (It's no longer clear one way or the other.)

Regardless, I've had to figure out how to deal with these relationships. Particularly the sadness, abandonment, and rejection. 

So, I fired up Evernote (you can use whatever app you prefer, obviously!) and put down a heading, Decisions about Boundaries. Let's call it the Boundaries List

Then, I wrote down some subheadings -  Focus on, Beware, Be Cautious, Acquaintances, Non-Starters One-way Streets, and Let Sleeping Moments Lie.  Under each one, I put in as many as names as possible, including the two people from the last two days' roadtrip through Disappointmentia.

  • Focus On - Budding friendships or relationships that I am going to focus on, rather than wallowing over all the ones that went belly up. Funny how all the sad memories come clamoring against barricades when one friendship hits a bad note.
  • Beware - stay away from these people or treat them like a pair of dead socks. Distance. 
  • Be Cautious - they didn't intend to hurt you. You just got pushed down the pyramid of priorities. Your expectations are high these ones because they're probably great people who bring beauty to your friendships. But they dip into life like submarines. 
  • Acquaintances - this could be the hardest group to do, too. This is where you should put people like mine, or those who have long made you question who you are to them. There will be pain. But seeing their names here will help let go.
  • Non-starters - you tried to strike up a conversation or shoot for a coffee, but ended up with a bag of nothing. Oh well. 
  • One-way Streets - There may be some overlaps here with previous groups, but this one should really be for repeat-offenders. 
  • Let Sleeping Moments Lie - I feel like this is the artsy sister of Be Cautious, that sister who has wanderlust and seems too busy notice that you've let her crawl into your heart. Sometimes, like flings or affairs, it was just a moment between two friends. And now that moment must sleep.  Let it sleep.

At first, I had Focus On at the bottom of the list, but I found that that made me focus on the negative. So, top of the list, it went! And what a difference. I get to mourn what was lost but set my sights on the new friendships that may perhaps be those ones that will outlive all the rest.

Try this experiment and let us know how it went on the forums, or be a trooper and join Slack! It's wondy. 

 Mina Demian lives in Stockholm, Sweden where he Writes, Codes, and Plays Music. He also Invents Amazing Words in the Beautiful Voyager Slack Group. 

Mina Demian lives in Stockholm, Sweden where he Writes, Codes, and Plays Music. He also Invents Amazing Words in the Beautiful Voyager Slack Group. 

Experiment #26: Bring Color Into Your Life

Last week, we saw housepainters priming the house out our back window. We were filled with curiosity (especially me, a curious cat for neighborhood haps). What color would they go with? Would it be "startup grey", the most common color of the San Francisco neighborhood where we live? 

 Aha! A sparkling, snappy blue!

Aha! A sparkling, snappy blue!

From early morning tea to evening dinner, getting to look out the window at the new bright blue house has genuinely brightened our lives. It seems so simple, but makes a difference in our lives. Just a color change! 

Here's another example. Check out this house. It's just a short walk from where we live:

 I can't love it more.

I can't love it more.

There's something about the brightness that suggest strength, optimism and positivity. 

We may not all be ready to paint our houses ala Caribbean dream (though I wish we would), but bringing color into your daily life -- in the form of painting a room, or just painting a piece of furniture -- can melt a little stress and help pump up the good vibes. Finding and enjoying those positive feelings is what helps us ride the wave

 A truly incredible row of houses in the Dominican Republic.

A truly incredible row of houses in the Dominican Republic.

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