Sunday, March 30, 2008

Got Spaaaaaah? How To Manage Your Stress, Before It Manages You

A Slight Break From Our Regularly Scheduled Programming -- This post departs from my usual spa review focus and format. But I thought it was necessary to take time out to revisit why the art of spa plays such an important role in my life. For me, a trip to the spa is a wonderful way to relieve stress and escape from them the hectic pace of my daily grind. So, this post is dedicated to the stressed out, the overworked, the tired, the frazzled and those among us who are hanging on by a thread. Please visit and share your thoughts.

Who knows…your journey, idea, affirmation or kernel of wisdom could be the inspiration that someone else needs!

When Dealing With The Mundane Seems Like Moving A Mountain – A friend who is like a brother to me called me stressed out the other day. The last straw in his very hectic, demanding, stress-filled week as an educator, father, and husband occurred when he sought refuge in a cup of hot tea at the drive though of a local fast food restaurant.

His request was quite simple. A hot tea with sweetener, for this purpose, let’s say sugar.

The order taker said she would happily put the sugar on the side for him, ok? Well, today, in this moment, no, that was not ok. It was about more than just a cup of tea fixed how he wanted it.

He had driven 2 hours to spend the last day of his weekend haggling with salespeople at the appliance store then moving and installing the heavy appliances (all by himself) for his sickly in-laws, despite the fact they had able-bodied adult sons at home. This was on the heels of a highly stressful week in his professional life, followed by a full day at work on a second job on Saturday and, all the while, trying to be a husband to his lovely wife and keep pace with two pre-schoolers at home.

So today, that cup of tea represented his escape--his oasis from a hectic week that crescendoed in a physically exhausting weekend. So who was the young lady at the drive through to ruin it by putting the sugar on the side instead of in the tea for him?

Sound like any days you’ve had lately…?

In a tight but polite voice, my friend told the young lady at the drive-through window to please put the sweetener in the tea because he was driving and that would make his life much easier. For him, putting the sugar on this side that day was not an option.

I happened to be on the phone with him when the transaction occurred and he asked me if he had been unreasonable? Was his request too much to ask? What exactly was wrong with customer service today?

How To Blow Off Steam Before Reaching Your Boiling Point -- As we talked about the events that had just transpired, I thought, if it were me, here’s where I’d immediately book a spa appointment then recommit to “getting my spa on” much more regularly in hopes of never again allowing the stress to get to the point where I was about to explode.

Once of my favorite Rolling Stones songs goes, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” But how do you learn to get what you need, even when you can’t get what you want? Asked another way, how do you learn to deal with getting the sugar on the side when all you really want is for it to be put in your tea?

While there are numerous books, web sites, spiritual leaders and therapists better equipped to offer advice on effective coping skills and stress management than me, I decided to devote this post to sharing what I do know in hopes of helping you take another step in the ongoing journey of learning nurturing your mind-body-spirit connection. So here goes…

1.) Learning how to manage stress effectively and healthily takes work, especially when you first begin the process. For me, going to the spa for a massage, facial, body treatment or whatever, is how I deal with getting the sugar on the side when all I really want and need is for someone to put it in my tea for me. But it wasn’t always that way.

Those who know me today often find it hard to believe that I used to be a stressed out train wreck. I developed an ulcer and other stomach problems, suffered from muscular tension headaches, and had terrible insomnia – all before I reached my 20s!

So for years I’ve been working on learning how not “to sweat the small stuff” and how to embrace the reality that “it’s all small stuff” (a favorite slogan of my brother’s which Richard and Christine Carlson turned into a popular series of terrific, best-selling books).

I’ve also learned how not to “major in the minors” and to “keep the main thing the main thing” as a former manager and mentor of mine used to say. But it wasn’t easy. I’ve read a lot of books, listened to a lot of inspirational and motivational speakers, and talked to a lot of wise friends, mentors and colleagues over the years – and continue to do so today!

2.) It takes a commitment be good to yourself so you can be good to everyone else around you. One of the best things about is that it helps to keep me honest about keeping a commitment I made to myself to become more diligent about practicing relaxation until it became a routine part of my way of life.

By now you’re saying, but I’m busy. I don’t have time to go to the spa, take a yoga class, mediate {or whatever what I’d like to do in order to relax}—I mean, I can barely find time to go potty by myself without my hubby or the kids knocking on the door at home or being called into back to back meetings and managing concurrent emergencies at work.

You may also be saying, I can’t afford to go to the spa on a regular basis. While I’ll be addressing affordable spa escapes in a future post, for now I’ll challenge you to consider how can you afford not to?

Given the mental, physical and emotional toll stress takes if left unmanaged, how can you possibly compare those costs to that of an occasional spa outing or whatever you need to do to relax?

The bottom line is we find time and money for the things that matter most to us. Whether it’s the mortgage or the kids’ tuition or that cute designer bag, dress and shoes we just couldn’t leave in the store, we always find a way when it’s something that’s really important to us.

So why not add taking better care of and regularly pampering yourself to that list?

3.) Give yourself permission to take a time out. As an over-achieving, female, youngest child with perfectionist and workaholic tendencies (although I’ll NEVER admit to owning either title!) this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to reprogram myself to do. I mean, I feel guilty if I leave work on time, if I spend a frivolous dime on myself, or if I’m not constantly being productive in some way.

Sound like anyone you know?

Ironically, learning to give myself permission to take a break, say “no” or ask for help is one of the hardest things I’ve learned to do and also one of the easiest stress management strategies I’ve ever employed. The best thing about it is that it’s entirely up to you to control. The worse thing about it is that it’s entirely up to you to control. But the good news is, if I can learn to do it, anyone can.

The next time you’re feeling frazzled, here’s a two step exercise to try. Step one, is to look in the mirror and say “You REALLY need and deserve a break, right now”. It feels a little funny at first, but trust me, it gets easier over time. Step two, is to immediately (not tomorrow, not in 5 minutes, but immediately) make that spa appointment, light a candle, take a hot bath with the door locked, meditate or do whatever will ease your mind, body and spirit.

You can do it, really you can!

4.) You don’t have to go it alone…and you shouldn’t! My friends, family members and colleagues are all involved in my stress management strategy, even if they don’t realize it. When I’m frazzled, my sweetie gently reminds me that I haven’t gone to the spa in a while and helps me free my schedule to I can find the time to sneak in a chance to recharge. He also cooks and cleans when I don’t feel like it and helps me give myself permission to do nothing when I really need to.

My wonderful family members and friends are never in doubt about what to give me on gift-giving occasions because they know a spa gift certificate or a spa themed gift is always just the right size and color! And luckily for me, many of them are always ready to join me for a spa outing whenever I don’t feel like going it alone.

Additionally, my team at work knows that I leave on time, which to my guilt-ridden over worked soul feels like early, on Mondays to go to yoga class. They also help me remember to take time for lunch every day and that not everything is an emergency that needs my attention.

And my inner circle of confidants are always there to lift me up or sit me down (depending on what the situation requires!) whenever I need it.

By embracing these four life lessons, I’ve learned exactly what to do the next time I get my sugar on the side instead of in my tea—safely pull over to the side of the road, stop, fix my tea however I want it and sit there, sipping it quietly for as long as I need to…

And when my time out is over, I’ll also be sure to call and make that spa appointment as soon as I get home, if not sooner!

Wishing you good spa!