If you see a woman striding through an airport whistling, it's probably Lauren Miller. Travel can be stressful, and the stress expert from Littleton, Colo. is often on flights to speaking engagements. But whistling keeps her spirits up.
"It's considered deviant behaviour," she admits in an interview. "But it's a natural behaviour. When I'm whistling, I am not worrying. I'm refreshed."
Not just whistling. When you're humming, singing, or laughing, it's also difficult to be stressed. It puts you in a happy state, and keeps stress at bay. "Joy can have its way with you," she says.
We usually talk of work-life balance. But she talks of work-play balance. Every 90 minutes, she says, you need some play. It might be short, as little as sixty seconds, but you need to relax your biology. So yes, whistle, sing, laugh, or just de-stress with meditation or one of the many "Grab and Go" stress relief tips she offers in her recent book, Five Minutes To Stress Relief. Beyond those short breaks, also make sure your life has sufficient play to keep the stress at bay. "When there's a balance between work and play, you get more done," she says. "Give yourself permission to make this choice for balance."
Treasure such moments, and relive them. It can be a special time with your child, moments with a pet, being engrossed in a painting, or a walk along a nature trail. Your subconscious mind and body, she says, doesn't know the difference between imagination and reality, so you can summon up the memories and regain that feeling you had during the experience itself. Imagine you are there, and remember what it felt like. "I can close my eyes and remember the sunset I watched last night. What did it feel like? What did I become? You are reprogramming yourself into sensory peace. It takes only a few minutes to do that," she explains.
She experienced more than her share of stress in 2006 when, as she was going through the pressures of a divorce, she was told she had advanced cancer with only a 50 per cent rate of survival. She endured several bouts of radiation and chemotherapy as well as 14 surgeries over a two-year period. That battle could have changed her, but she didn't let it, trying to remain positive. "Don't let your thoughts define you. You can define your thoughts," she insists. "When you think positive, happy thoughts you are happy and it goes to your cells. Your environment can determine the health of your cells."
A huge cause of stress is our inner critic, picking away at our faults, along with our companion desire to be liked. She repeats a prayer several times a day for God to release her from the desire to be liked. "It's amazing how much stress is caused by the drug of approval," she says.
Instead, we should return to the carefreeness we had in kindergarten, when we didn't fear what others might say. She confronted this drug starkly when she looked into the mirror after her double mastectomy, scars on her chest, breasts and hair on her head gone.
"I was given the opportunity to see myself without what I attached to my identity. I had attached myself to my hair and my breasts. But I am not my hair or breasts. That is not who I am," she says. "Give yourself permission to be who you are without judgment. This simple gift can bring so much to the body."
She dismisses those who advise us not to be angry. Anger, she argues, is a natural emotion, and a quick one to pass through. It's when we try to resist that it takes over our body. A competitive martial artist, she uses that outlet for anger. She has a bag in her basement that she loves to kick, and in her book suggests you may want to try it. Or go into the bathroom and without making a sound, pretend to scream. Tense your body, clench your fists – and let it rip. Even stomp your feet. You might find you're laughing at yourself, as she did during her struggle with cancer and divorce. But it will offer release.
Among the many other techniques in her book are:
Quick coherence techniques:
Focus your attention when stressed on the area around your heart and centre of your chest, perhaps the first few times placing your hand there. Breathe deeply, but normally, and imagine your breath is coming in and going out through the heart area. Continue breathing with ease until you find a comfortable, natural, easy rhythm. As you maintain this heart focus, activate a positive feeling, a time you felt good, and try to experience that feeling.
Take your fist and lightly tap on your thymus, which is located two to three inches down from the U-shaped dip at the base of your neck. As you tap, exhale rhythmically, "HA, HA, HA, HA. HA, HA…." until you have pushed all the air out of your lungs. Continue to thump lightly as you now inhale, and then go through the cycle again and again, for three to five minutes.
Stressor action sheets:
A lot of daily stress comes from the fear we can't get it all done. Take a sheet of paper, fold it in half, write "Stressor" on the column on the left and "Action" on the right. During the day when an event comes up that precipitates anxiety write it down under stressor and then ask yourself what you can do about it right now, marking that under action.
And if that doesn't do the trick, whistle.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter