How about sinking in quicksand? Had that happen lately?
For that matter, have you ever been shot at, or nearly starved to death, or almost fallen off the side of a cliff?
But you say you're stressed? Well, you're not alone. Stress is such a big issue that it even got its own awareness month. Don't worry, though. Aunt Ruthie is here to help with her Miracle Stress Cure. And it's free. Because Aunt Ruthie is just cool like that.
Now, if you're going to manage your stress, first you have to understand what kind of animal you're dealing with. I'm assuming you don't have a lion chasing you. (Note: If a lion is chasing you, then quit reading this and focus on running.)
Unless you're a firefighter or a soldier or something, I'm guessing that most of your stress is of the artificial variety. That's right, I just called your stress fake. But no, you insist, your stress is real. Okay then, how about let's settle on real(ish).
Even in our modern daily life, we experience some natural, primal stress, to which our body responds appropriately. For example, when you react quickly and swerve to avoid a collision, or when you use your sudden catlike reflexes to grab your toddler before he hurtles off the deck.
But for those of us living a relatively cushy, safe and stable life, the majority of the stress we feel is a manufactured sort of stress. And the danger of that unnatural, ongoing kind of stress is that your body doesn't know what to do with it. These stress hormones get released, the ones that are supposed to help you sprint away from the lion. Only there's no lion. Instead it's a looming deadline or a frustrated customer or the bad news you need to give to an employee.
So the day goes on and these hormones just keep on coming, and your body is like, Did we outrun the lion yet? Surely we did, right? And finally the day ends and you fall asleep, but then the next morning you awake with a start and realize you're going to be late for a meeting, and your body is like Oh great, another lion already? If you're constantly stressed about work and life, your body is pumping out stress hormones nonstop, because this lion chase is going to go on all day.
Your body just hasn't caught on, and it's not going to. That's why you need to trick it. Throughout the day when you start feeling the tension, stop yourself and do these two things, in this order:
If you can only handle the breathing, even that will help. Deep breaths trigger your body to relax and quit releasing stress hormones. And smiling makes you feel happier. (You probably knew that you smile because you're happy, but it works the other way around too.)
You might want to put up little sticky notes to remind yourself, because the hardest part is not the breathing and smiling, but the remembering to breathe and smile.
Once you are breathing and smiling, the next step is to ask yourself Aunt Ruthie's magical question:
"What am I going to do about this thing that is making me feel stressed?"
And then, do that thing. Or put it on your schedule so that you will be sure to do it at an appointed time. Sometimes, the answer is "Nothing." Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. In which case, you should probably stop worrying about it. Save that stress response for when you really need it. You never know when you might come face to face with a hungry lion.