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Take a Break: Hug a Tree!
by Marion Owen
August 1, 2000

Ten ways to de-stress
The stress and tension that accompany the demands of work and family affect everyone today. Yet some of us handle the pressure better than others. There are many to stay cool when dealing with the struggles we face, and they range from a quick change of scenery to calmly dealing with life’s challenges. Here are ten ways to deflate stress, beginning with your attitude. Research on stress hardiness shows that how we feel about our work, our “raison d’etre” plays an important role. Joan Borysenko, PhD, author of the bestseller, Minding the body, Mending the Mind says 'When work is deeply meaningful, when we are committed and passionate about what we do, there is less stress.'

Hug a tree.
When things get tense, get close--to nature, that is. Being around plants, trees and natural surroundings provides instant relaxation. A friend once said she takes “time outs” in the garden because she knows she can’t stay upset for long. When surrounded by flowers and other growing things, her concerns melt away. If you can’t leave--say your work space--for a walk in the woods, then do the next best thing. Find a window facing a pleasant scene. Put a vase of flowers or potted plant at your desk. Hang a nice picture or poster on the wall.

Take a walk.
Even if it’s only for 15 minutes, the change of pace will do wonders for your mind, body and spirit. Never underestimate the value of going for a stroll around the block or a walk in the park.

Stretch a little.
Limbering up with yoga or simple stretches can relax tense muscles and keep headaches at bay. Rotate you shoulders, clasp your hands behind your back, gently twist your upper body back and forth--these are stress reducing motions that you can do in the kitchen or on an elevator.

Take a shower or bath.
There’s nothing like a warm soak to ease life’s tensions. Try a bubble bath or add some herbs that have been steeped in water for 15 to 20 minutes. Lemon balm, mint, and lavender are several popular herbs used for relaxation.

Listen to soft music.

Tea for you, too.
A cup of tea or hot chocolate is traditionally associated with quality time, relaxation and moments that deserve to be savored. If a nearby greenhouse or nursery serves refreshments, enjoy a cup of tea surrounded by friendly plants.

Take a nap.
Albert Einstein, when faced with life’s most pressing questions, sought refuge in cat naps, especially in the afternoons. Upon wakening, he was often rewarded with just the bit of information he needed to solve a particular puzzle. You don’t need to actually fall asleep. Just closing your eyes for 15 or 20 minutes of rest can be just the thing to help you recharge and get you through the rest of the day. Recognizing that an occasional nap translates to increased creativity, happier co-workers and fewer sick days, many corporations have set up nap rooms for their employees.

Avoid the evening news.
Don’t end your day on a sour note. Since most news broadcasts focus on the negative side of life, it’s a psychological no-no to make it the last input of the day. Watch an inspirational video, read an uplifting story or fall asleep to pleasant music. Anything’s better than hard news to carry you to your dream state.

The same holds true for waking up in the morning. Starting your day off with reports of murders, war, and government officials gone bag is not part of getting up on the right side of the bed. Such wake-ups can put a damper on your mood all day, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Breathe, thoughtfully.
During the day, try to become aware of your breathing. Is it shallow stress breathing or deep, energizing, relaxing breathing. When you pay attention to your breathing, it makes you aware of the present and what’s on your mind. Your lungs are pear-shaped, with the expanded areas at the lower end. A full, deep breath from your abdomen helps bring in more oxygen to replace the toxic, outgoing carbon dioxide. When you’re stressed, the tendency is to take shallow breaths from your upper chest. You take in less oxygen, your body craves more and becomes more stressed. You breathe faster to make up for it, and it sets up a vicious circle. Stop. Pay attention. And breathe thoughtfully.

Avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
Reacting to stress by reaching for unhealthy food or drink can become habit forming, and in the long run, only makes things worse. Replace the activity with any of the above alternatives. While you’re at it, take a moment to think about your behavior and how you are acting.

Taking steps to avoid the negative affects of stress is an integral part of healthy living. It’s also important to realize that it is not things that make us upset. The events themselves are meaningless. It’s how we react that counts. How we choose to process any event in our lives is entirely up to us.

Bernie Siegel, author of Love, Medicine and Miracles, takes a good look at himself. “I have only has only one real problem: Me.” He finds that he can refocus his thoughts by reminding himself that “everything in life is fragile, that we are mortal and are here for just a limited period of time.” Concentrate on what we truly love, Siegel says, rather than be distracted by the details of everyday life.

So next time you're feeling uptight, go for a walk and hug a tree.

Author Marion Owen of Kodiak, Alaska is co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul. Believing that “plants gotta have fun”, she also developed PlanTea, the patended, organic tea bag fertilizer. For more information: PO Box 1980, Kodiak, AK 99615. www.plantea.com

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