Here in Tahoe, the arrival of summer can feel like a mixed blessing. On the one hand, after enduring the most epic winter ever, we welcome the sunshine and warmth with open arms. On the other hand, the summer season brings with it a sudden increase in potentially stressful situations that can rob us of our inner harmony.
Let's face it, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place. Seriously though, it looks like some kind of magical paradise out there right now. It's no wonder this area is so popular- everybody wants to go to paradise, right? And, as long as Tahoe stays beautiful, there will always be lots of people who visit every year. Rather than railing against the inevitable, let's learn to manage our personal stress levels more effectively. The following is a list of things you can do to keep from losing your cool during the busy summer months.
1. Be breath aware.
The next time you are stuck in heavy traffic or find yourself at the back of a ridiculously long line at Safeway, notice what the situation is doing to your breath. That anxious, desperate feeling you get like you are trapped inside some kind of hellish torture chamber is most likely because you are holding your breath. The core abdominal muscles tend to clamp down, the throat tightens up, and you are left taking short, shallow breaths into the upper chest. It's very difficult to conduct yourself rationally when this occurs. If you aren't getting enough oxygen, then it's not long before panic sets in and you begin to question whether or not you will be able to live through this horrific ordeal. Being aware of the times when your breath locks up and then learning to breathe easily is the key to releasing the unconscious grip of anxiety that threatens to ruin your present moment. Breathing consciously and fully, without any internal resistance, will always bring your being back into balance.
2. Be body aware.
Tuning into and releasing tension inside the body- before it has a chance to negatively affect your mood- is one of the best ways to regulate your stress levels. If you think about it, so-called ‘difficult’ situations are not stressful, in and of themselves. It is your emotional reaction to a given situation that determines if it is stressful for you or not. The next time things get stressful, pay attention to what is happening to your body. Besides a tight abdomen and chest, other signs that you are getting stressed include sweating, grinding your teeth, furrowing your brow and/or making fists.
Another way to control your stress levels is to regulate your internal body temperature. Anger is a 'hot' emotion- someone who is 'hot tempered,' for example, is thought to anger quickly. The same is true when describing a 'heated exchange' between two people. The next time you get angry on a hot day, check to see if you are actually, physically hot. Maybe your emotional state is a reflection of your body temperature. In which case, maybe you really do need to 'chill out' a bit before you react with anger.
3. Practice forgiveness.
A lot of people in town means there are a lot of cars on the road. I hate to break it to you, but people are going to cut you off. That's just the way it is- it's one of those things in life that you have no control over. The good news is, how you respond to such an affront on your dignity is totally up to you. The immediate temptation is to lash out with a series of furious curse words and elaborate hand gestures. However, unless you are in an emergency situation where every second counts, having to gently tap your brake pedal once in awhile is actually not that big of a deal.
The real problem is that we have such a high opinion of ourselves. It's like, how dare someone cause a minor inconvenience to someone as important as me? Don't they know who I am? Viewing the situation from a different angle, driving around during the summer in Tahoe is actually the perfect time to practice forgiveness. The next time someone cuts you off, forgo your bruised ego and move straight into forgiveness. Just try it and see what happens. Instead of shouting "f*ck you!" try saying "I forgive you! This isn't easy at first but, don't worry, you will have plenty more opportunities to practice forgiveness out on the road, I promise.
4. Stay Hydrated.
The link between dehydration and stress is well documented. While Tahoe can get pretty hot during the peak summer months, it is also exceptionally dry here. Human beings are about 70% water and therefore we need to keep drinking water during the day or we start getting stressed out. It’s a vicious cycle because dehydration causes stress and then stress causes more dehydration. Chronic dehydration is more prevalent than you think. A recent study estimated that 75% of Americans are functioning in a chronically dehydrated state. I say ‘functioning,’ but the truth is probably closer to ‘dysfunctioning.’ Not having enough water is similar to not having enough oxygen in that it is not long before you start feeling desperate and begin acting irrationally.
By practicing these four suggestions, you should be able to stay relaxed this summer, regardless of what situations you encounter. Remember, it’s not the circumstances you are witnessing as much as it is your reaction to them that is causing you stress. It’s up to you to keep calm and composed. And, of course, if all else fails, then you can always go jump in the lake and let the cool water wash your frustrations away.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.