‘The Big Picture’ Thoughts:
Be nice. Be kind. Forgive your enemies. Love humanity. Be passionate. Be grateful. Apologise when you act like an idiot. Express joy. Laugh. Empathise. Slow down and admire life. Breathe deeply. Be brave. Praise. Share. Love. Celebrate.
‘The Small Picture’ Thoughts:
Aaaargh PIMPLE! Does this dress make me look fat? I want “hot” legs. Must save money for that “not-needed-but-wanted makeup” item. No, DO NOT hit offensive idiots, you can kill them later when you rule the world. Life is unfair. I want XYZ’s luck, money, wardrobe and looks. Oh My God, I missed that deadline! Where the hell did time go? Don’t panic. Try to think more “the big picture” life thoughts. No use, I am not Rajneesh Osho.
‘Big Picture and Small Picture’ thought:
How can I be reduce my stress, and still avoid littering the whole neighbourhood and workspace with bodies of idiots who I kill?
I have been more stressed in the past two months than I have ever been in my usually easy-going life. Until a fortnight back, my usual routine was panic, more panic, check emails, pace up and down the room, panic again and sleep. I had my final exams coming, but I was not panicking about that. Then, I faced some disappointment, tore half my hair out, bawled like a dying kitten, slept it off, and decided to take charge again. It is not easy to handle stress. It is not easy to control panic attacks and it is definitely not easy to relax your mind when you are inundated with work, deadlines, internet shopping lists and in case of a lot of women, demanding kids and families. I am not even counting the pressure to shoot ourselves in the mouth every time we see a pretty handbag/dress/pair of shoes that is way out of our league. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pay attention to the “big picture” type of thoughts when all you can think about is that thing you should have done three days ago but forgot to do.
I have tried various stress-busting techniques in the past few weeks and a lot of them have worked. I still don’t say that they have completely turned me into Buddha, but I think they will continue to help me until I reach some plane of fulfilment (preferably chock-a-block with cotton candy and cheesecake).
Here are a few techniques that work:
Get Up and Go Out:
This may seem very simple but it is one of the best stress-busting techniques ever. Whenever you feel like you’re gritting your teeth enough to make them snap off, get up and just leave the house. Take a walk in an area that you like, visit an exhibition, go to the park and ride high on a swing and so on. Recently, in one of my blackest moods, I just went out with a purpose to annihilate the next fool-without-a-watch who dares to ask me the time. Instead, I ended up discovering a lovely café barely ten steps from the usual Café Coffee Day outlet and spent two hours there grinning like a child who had walked inside a closet only to discover Narnia. The café had its menu on yellowed papers in the form of an old newspaper, it had a blue cabinet which I have plans to steal, its light yellow walls were full of Van Gogh replicas, it had books for reading AND it had ridiculously hot waiters who looked like they had stepped out of a Calvin Klein catalogue. That one excursion made me last through the next two days without threatening idiots with third degree torture. Next time you are stressed, go and find a new place in town. I know that just because my town is super pretty does not mean that every town in India is. No worries. Even if you live in a passably average city, I am sure you will STILL find something interesting. If nothing else, there is always the neighbourhood park with the swing.
Just Let It Out:
I hate all those anti-stress columns which advocate Yoga and meditation to help us last through tough times. I am sorry but when I am jittery and at my worst, the last thing I need is some long-haired instruction from some Yoga DVD spouting new age schpeel like “envision yourself surrounded by radiant light” and what not. That is for calm days, that is for happy days, that is for the relaxed “divination” type classes and not when I am surrounded by Dementors and Death Eaters. If you cannot meditate but want to get rid of some stress, do some intense physical activity and let out whatever it is that is annoying you. Go for a long run, dance to your favourite songs for a few hours, kickbox and pretend to hit your enemies where it would hurt the most, attack the gym, go for a swim and feel powerful or just do anything which makes you feel active and mighty, not something that makes you believe that you are simply a ball of light floating in space.
Cultivate A Hobby:
Some people are born awesome and talented – like Sachin Tendulkar, or like our mothers who can cook a mean dinner from scratch. Most of us have some talent or hobby – singing, dancing, gardening, painting and so on. Each time it gets a little too much, retreat and do something you love. Of course, then there are talentless souls like me who cannot do anything excellently, but are mediocre at a wide variety of things. Never mind. We can still be awesome. Who says that just because you sing like a dying cat in the rain, you should not even hum? Sing, I say! Sing loudly and shamelessly (not in company, of course). Sing terrible songs from the 90’s like ‘Macarena’, ‘Kya Ada Kya Jalwe Tere Paaro!’ or ‘Sarkai Lo Khatiya’ or even some Justin Bieber nonsense if that is your thing. I sing ad jingles from old 90’s advertisements when I cannot take it any longer. My favourites are that “Doodh doodh” ad and “Hamara Bajaj.” When I am terribly on the edge, I also go for “Ek chidiya anek chidiya” which forms a part of some of my earliest memories. I am sure that my mother deeply regrets the fact that she never forbade me from watching TV when I was 3 and impressionable.
Apart from therapeutic singing, you can also go for something much less stressful to others’ auditory senses like taking up a new sport. How about fencing? Imagine attacking your troubles with an épée and destroying them. What about a new language? I learnt French from the ages of 14 to 17. Besides acquiring fluency in the language, I had a rather happy teenage with very little drama and only occasional outbursts. I suppose my mind was too engaged in learning a new skill and did not allow me to brood over whatever problems that self-obsessed teens face to turn into sabre-toothed tigers.
If all else fails, you could also go and learn to play a musical instrument. You could try something serene line the piano or wait, how about drums? They are perfect. Imagine beating something relentlessly with sticks and then claim that you are making music!
Anyhow, the bottom line is that you need something to refresh your mind and take away the attention from whatever it is that is causing you trouble.
I have given in to this temptation way too many times to not sympathise with any stressful soul who resorts to drinking a vat of coffee or tea to get through a stressful period. That does not help. I love coffee but when you’re stressed, all it will do is turn you into a bigger bundle of nerves than you were before. So, the next time you are stressed and a cup of strong coffee or tea is beckoning you with promises of making all your problems go away, look at it, stick your tongue out and say “Pshawwwww!” It’s just coffee, not your guardian angel in a Valentino dress. If you must, then go for a fancy-schmancy cup which has 1 ounce of coffee and 20,000 ounces of milk, cream and sugar. It may be pseudo but it is far better for your frayed nerves in tough times. Excessive caffeine will only make you bounce up and down in rage more than usual and probably keep you up at night and brood unnecessarily over your troubles.
This one is simple. Do a marathon of your favourite TV series. I have a friend who watches ‘Dekh Bhai Dekh’ every night because he says it reminds him of his happy childhood. I go for happy movies and sitcoms. Some people go for sad ones instead to remind themselves how much better their own lives are. It’s a very personal thing. You liked watching ‘Duck Tales’ and ‘Tale Spin’ on Disney Hour years ago? Get the DVDs and enjoy. Old Zee TV/Café dramas your thing? Go and find stuff like ‘Banegi Apni Baat’ or ‘Full House’ or ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’. No turn for TV? Then, go for movies that you love and which remind you of happier times. Watch ‘Andaaz Apna Apna’ or ‘Baby’s Day Out’. Or even ‘Harry Potter’, particularly for people who went for ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ when they were 4 feet-something pre-teens and came out of the hall at the end of ‘Deathly Hallows’ as 5 feet-something adults. The basic idea is again the same – to escape and let your mind be as happy as it was in another time. Let’s call it your very own Patronus.
For book lovers, it is even easier. My first choice is always Calvin and Hobbes. If Calvin’s wisecracks won’t make you laugh, Bill Watterson’s superb drawing will. Read childhood comics like Tintin or Archie’s or even Asterix to escape for sometime. Read Harry Potter or better still, listen to the audio book and laugh at Stephen Fry’s rendition of Dobby or Peeves or even pompous Percy. Bookshops are an excellent place to go and hide in for a couple of hours. Nothing can hurt you there, except perhaps the enormous bill that you will have to pay when you walk out of the place with a trunk of books.
No, this does not mean putting down your guns and coming out with your hands over your head screaming like a banshee. It is just about acceptance. Sometimes, there are certain stressful or annoying things that you just cannot remedy. I don’t mean that noisy neighbour. You can always threaten him with your Ninja sword. I mean those little annoyances like a broken heel, the missed deadline, the lost note of 500 bucks, the cranky boss, the 40-degree weather, the unavailable brand of chips, the government, the dream job that you did not get when you were 25, and so on. Changing all that is not in your power. So, just let it go. I am not asking you to stop trying, sit back and say, “Oh well, can’t change so-and-so thing. So, I’ll just die then.” Try where there is chance. For example, exercise to lose that stubborn roll of fat, make a schedule to stay on top of things, make an effort at work to get what you want. It’s just about realising when to turn into Wonder Woman and when to let go and channel Buddha.
Now, I know this is almost like letting a hungry man-eater go and say hello to a group full of obese people but that is not my aim. I know a lot of us are impulsive shoppers and turn into positive monstrosities screaming “Want this! Want THAT! Pack that one too! Yes, and this!” every time we are a little tensed. However, it is true that that this act DOES calm us down. Unfortunately, it also breaks our banks. There is a simple solution. Keep the card limit low or better still, only carry the amount of cash that you can afford to spend. Let’s say that you carry a specific amount of money with you to the mall and decide that you will only splurge on one of these things – a dress, a very good perfume, a pair of shoes or a bag. Buy an item that you REALLY want and return home skipping with joy. Mission accomplished and bank still happy.
This is slightly new age-y and not everyone will have enough patience for this. However, it usually works unless you are terribly incensed and would rather kill a fluffy little bunny than let go of your anger. Make a list of all that you think you are grateful for. It could be anything – family, health, new car, looks, that hot model/actor/cute random person you have a crush on, house, pet, money, iPad, job, friends, rare vintage bottle of wine, perfect makeup item, Hugh Grant, a pair of absurdly pretty shoes, brains, talent and so on. By the time your list is complete, you will feel rather smug and will start to believe that if you could have all those things, who can stop you from having whatever else it is that you want?
It is definitely not easy to stay cheerful and stress-free all the time. However, there is no need to be on the edge when you can easily stay calm with only a little extra effort. I cannot think of any other ways to stay relaxed but maybe there are more. Please share them. Meanwhile, I shall go and sing the Brittania jingle.
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