Pathways to Peace

Producing Less Stress

by Victor La Cerva, MD
Article #5 in our series
Creating Less Violence
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Victor La Cerva, MD, the Mediacl Director of the Family Health Bureau of the State of New Mexico, retired, is the author of two books, a figurehead in the Men's Wellness movement and father of two lovely teenagers. Victor lectures nationally on violence prevention and shares his expertise and experiences with visitors to this segment of Pathfinders.

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Produce Less Stress

Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a every, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been.

-Henry David Thoreau

The first rule of being human is that we will receive a body. Whether we love it or hate it, accept its many parts or reject them, it is ours for the entire journey this time around. Caring for our physical body enhances our well-being and our participation in life.

At root, we are a treasury of kinetic melodies, endless variations on the complex motor sequences we have mastered. The simplest activities of daily life, such as walking and eating, are wondrous orchestrations. While submerged in our senses, we enter into this rich trove—this majestic and bountiful private pleasure-palace.

Your body is your teacher. Through it you learn what is necessary for survival and for growth. You have been with this teacher since birth, but how observant a student have you been? Within the circadian twenty-four hours are ninety-minute cycles in which your energy, focus, creativity, physical comfort, and strength wax and wane: have you detected your own rhythms? Have you explored a variety of ways to maximize physical pleasure? Do you sometimes push your limits of physical comfort? Have you ever taken a journey through your body, recording what you don't fully accept, where you hold stress, which parts you haven't been taking care of? Have you grieved your body's pains—the leg that broke, the site of stitches, the chronic knee pain? When did you last get a massage, or give one?

The human body is constantly exposed to stressors—those internal or external stimuli that exert a constraining force, altering our physiological or psychological equilibrium. Ongoing unmediated strain leads to stress. This condition often arises in response to blockage in the flow of intense emotional energy through the body. Common symptoms of stress include physical tension or tightness, restlessness, sleepiness, and eating or sexual disturbances.

When we experience these reactions chronically, our resistance breaks down, and we become physically or emotionally ill. With regular exposure to unmediated psychological stressors, we begin blaming others for our feelings of increased frustration and failure. Entering a declining spiral of emotional volatility, we become more irritable, isolated, argumentative, noncommunicative, and hostile.


Personal Stress Inventory I define stress as_________________________

Four common sources of stress for me are__________________________

Four common responses to stress for me are________________________

I cope with stress by___________________________________________

New ways to produce less stress include___________________________

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Most adults in our culture have been socialized to take on whatever comes their way. We engage in project after project, problem after problem, ignoring early warning signs of stress until we hit overload. Then we try frantically to create a boundary with anger or tears or physical illness. When our internal stress status reaches this danger zone, another person's actions or words will feel invasive.

Any time you approach the point of danger and wish to avert the downward spiral, try this two-part exercise. First, begin decreasing the stressors in your day-to-day tasks, your family and interpersonal relations, and your work and financial matters. Establish priorities, learn to say no, give something up, delegate, and plan your responses in advance of tough situations. Second, in a clear, stress-free moment, sit down and list the things that calm and comfort you, no matter how silly or embarrassing they may seem. Then activate your list, starting at the top.

Both relaxation and active workouts can help release the blocked emotional energy from your body. The prerequisites for relaxation are: a quiet place, a comfortable body position, a passive attitude of letting go, and a point of focus. The quiet place can be either an inner retreat you escape to when the external world seems crazed or an outer site filled with tranquility. The point of focus can be your breathing, a silently repeated mantra, or the word one, yes, or relax.

Another quick stress reliever is sighing: take a slow, deep breath in, and release a sound as you exhale. Stretching your body—especially your neck, shoulders, back, and calves—can dissipate stress in minutes. Frequent short, quiet time-outs will also work wonders. Or create a private sanctuary within that you can easily access by closing your eyes and breathing deeply. For ongoing stress reduction, develop a network of friends or colleagues with whom you can talk openly and honestly whenever you need to.

Physical workouts require a bit more time, yet serve a twofold purpose: they relieve pent-up stress while preventing the build-up of additional pressure. Try walking, running, swimming, gardening, yoga, dancing, tai chi, or any other activity you love, and make it a regular part of your week.

Touching and being touched are among the most effective antidotes to the buildup of stress. The reason is that human touch is a direct conduit to the emotions. We speak of "being touched," meaning our emotions have been stirred. We keep "in touch" with others to remain emotionally connected to them. When we are in a "touchy" mood, we feel extreme emotional sensitivity. We remark on a loved one's "special touch," meaning his responsiveness or distinct manner of relating.

In many ways, touch is our most immediate experience of the world: our skin is said to be our largest sense organ, our eyes touch incoming light, our ears hold the sounds in our midst, our noses and mouths welcome aromas and tastes. When we are well touched and in touch, hostility dissolves.

Notice: The Surgeon General has determined that hugging is good for your health.

Hugging is practically perfect. The only maintenance required is frequent use, which inflicts no wear or tear on moving parts.

There are no batteries to replace, no periodic performance checkups, no insurance premiums, and no monthly payments of any kind. Energy consumption is low, while energy yield is high. Plus it is inflation-proof, theft-proof, nonfattening, nontaxable, nonpolluting, and, of course, fully returnable. And . . . hugging is all natural. It is organic, intrinsically sweet, and 100% wholesome. It contains no pesticides, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.

The best person to hug is anyone.

The best place to hug is anywhere.

The best time to hug is anytime.

Letting go in the moment by reframing a tense situation also reduces stress accumulation. Bless the slow driver in front of you; she is reminding you to stop hurrying. Enjoy the long line at the supermarket; it gives you time to share a moment with a stranger. Recite poetry or sing a song while on "hold" during a phone call. Do whatever you can to convert stress into a smile.

We are like otters of the universe, playfully exploring our sensuality. Fully attuned to our selves, paying attention to everything we're registering, successfully reducing stressors, and coping effectively with stress, we are able to transform reality into a wondrous paradise.

Produce Less Stress

R     Reclaim your priorities. Start saying no to more of what you don't want, and yes to what feels good.

E     Exercise regularly. Pick your pleasure: yoga, tai chi, running, walking, dancing, swimming, Jazzercise,        cycling, roller blading, ice skating, or martial arts.

L     Learn simple, stressless exercises. Try a relaxation response, a regular practice of sighing, quickstretches,        or retreats to your inner personal sanctuary.

A     Allow more touch into your life. Let in hugs, massages, healthy sexual expression, tickling,
       play wrestling, or slow dancing.

X     expertly shape the day's events. Seize the opportunity to shift stress into a smile.

Additional Resources

Ardell, Donald. High Level Wellness. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1977.

Epstein, Michael, and Sue Hosking. Falling Apart. Sebastopol, CA: CRC Publications, 1992.

Montagu, Ashley. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Moyers, Bill. Healing and the Mind. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Silva, Jose. Silva Mind Control. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977.

Victor La Cerva, MD

©Victor La Cerva 2000  

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Editors note:

Victor's Pathfinder series offers an opportunity for visitors to understand the roots of violence and to explore the ways of understanding and addressing it at home and work. This begins with your own personal tapestry of internal issues.

Contributions and questions that arise from your personal experience are valued and welcomed.We wish you well on the path and look forward to your participation.
© dwij 2000
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