3 Basic Stress Management Techniques (From 10-Year Old Mallie)

Back in a time before the internet was actually useful and safe for a child to explore unsupervised (pre-parental controls in the 1990s), I liked to read encyclopedias and other reference books for fun. I admire little Mallie’s patience and concentration, as the thought of doing that today is incredibly boring, despite my preference for non-fiction books.

My parents had a medical reference book that taught how to treat various minor aches and illnesses at home. Even as a child, I was drawn to the stress management section. In retrospect, I suppose this should have been a red flag about my chronic anxiety issues that weren’t discovered for another 15 years, but I was a generally curious kid.

I’ve learned a lot about stress management from various workshops and literature I obtained in grad school and in therapy…oh, and from the internet. But these basic techniques that I integrated as a child and teenager are still relevant and effective today.

1. Deep Breathing

Have you ever taken a yoga class?

Most often the class will start with a focus on your breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Breathe deeply.

Scientifically, there is a link between controlling your breath and controlling your otherwise involuntary sympathetic nervous system, which impacts things like your blood pressure and digestion.

When you get anxious or nervous, your body begins to react the way it was designed to: tensing up, producing shallow breaths, sweating, etc. This was a great result when we got nervous because we were being chased by a mastadon thousands of years ago, but now it’s often an overreaction (physically, at least) to a heavy workload or stressful situation at home.

It’s more difficult to control all these responses at once than it is to control your breathing. As your breath calms, it communicates to the rest of your body that everything is ok, producing the proper neurochemical signals to relax the muscles and lower the heart beat.

2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Wait, weren’t we just talking about how difficult it is to relax your muscles?

In fact, it is believed that the reason for knots in your muscles–you know, the ones you need deep tissue massages to get out?–is an inability of those muscles to relax and deconstrict.

Awareness is an amazing thing. The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation (steps included in that link) is that by making your body aware of the tension, you allow the muscle to relax.

Obviously this will only work for muscles that you can control (I, for one, can’t wiggle my ears or tighten my ankle muscles), and it will take some time for your body to adapt to this mix of physical and mental therapy.

3. Mindfulness Meditation

I feel like I talk about meditation a lot on The Irrational Mind. But I don’t think I talk about it nearly enough here. Meditation is beneficial to everyone, not just people dealing with mental health issues.

Think this is new age gobbledygook? Think again! Google “meditation science” and look at all the results. Hit up the Google Scholar search as well, and see that meditation is an active area of research in the scientific community.

There are so many forms of meditation, but mindfulness meditation is likely one of the least intentionally spiritual methods and the most straightforward. Of course, there are also multiple forms of mindfulness meditation as well, but let’s keep things simple for now.

Ready for your instructions?

  1. Sit
  2. Breathe. Focus on your breath entering and leaving your body.
  3. Notice your thoughts
  4. Don’t dwell on any one thought, just acknowledge it and move on
  5. Notice your body
  6. Release any tension you notice
  7. Get distracted? Refocus on your breath.

Bam. You just meditated. No need to sit cross-legged, clean your chakras, wear yoga pants, or find a serene beach.

This isn’t something that you need to commit half an hour a day to; research has shown that even 10 minutes of meditation each day can be beneficial to how your brain handles stress and anxiety.

What other simple stress mediating techniques do you like to use?


3 Things Moving Has Taught Me

Matt and I closed on a house in Frederick, MD last week, and we have spent the past 7 days moving and settling in to our new home. It has been a real drain on my energy and on my business development, but, hey, we shouldn’t have to do this again for quite a few years.

Although this is our first move as a married couple and the first home I have ever owned, this is certainly not my first big move. My dad was an officer in the Army while I was growing up, so moving is just part of my life.

These are the places I have lived, in chronological order:

  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Enterprise, AL
  • Patuxent River, MD
  • Enterprise, AL
  • Fort Hood, TX
  • Tampa, FL
  • Culpeper, VA
  • Fredericksburg, VA
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • West Lafayette, IN
  • Rockville, MD
  • Frederick, MD

For many Army brats, this list is much longer. While my dad retired when we were in Texas, I only got to spend high school in Culpeper before going to Mary Washington and then UVA for college. While most people are more attached to their undergraduate institutions, I spent more time at Purdue than I did at UVA or UMW.

A lifetime of moving has taught me a lot about attachment and commitment. These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

Good friends will remain your friends, wherever you go

I used to collect mailing addresses for my friends before each move. Since most of my friends were also Army brats, however, they would be moving soon as well. Letters would eventually get lost in the shuffle.

The internet (and, perhaps more importantly, the ubiquity of the internet) changed how we interact. Even my parents, who had particularly difficult times maintaining contact with old friends as we moved, have reconnected with others on Facebook. Some of them are meeting up for a mini reunion this summer–how cool is that?

With the resources available now, moving is no longer the incredibly isolating experience that it used to be. If your friends are truly good friends, they will remain that way.

Just remember: making contact is a two-way street. Do your part to stay in touch as well.

Displacement is temporary

The lack of structure and routine during a move can be disorienting and difficult to handle for many people. I have anxiety issues for which I am medicated and in therapy for (for those unaware, OCD is an anxiety disorder.)

Some combination of what I consider my “true” personality in combination with my OCD makes me rather territorial, despite my regular moves. I was that kid in school who sat at the same desk every day, even without assigned seating. If I found someone in my seat, I wouldn’t confront them, but I’d sit elsewhere and spend the rest of that class anxious that I was out of place.

Moving is essentially a magnified version of finding yourself out of place. Animals respond to the stress by marking their territory (thankfully, our cats have thus far avoided that temptation at the new place). As higher functioning creatures, we can rationalize with ourselves. The discomfort from a move is temporary, and once you are finally unpacked and organized, you’ll find yourself settling back into a new routine.

Everywhere you go, there you’ll be (and so will everything else)

This is a popular phrase to remind people that they can’t run from themselves. From my years of moving, one thing I’ve realized is that you can’t run from society either.

Sure, the culture of a community will be different from place to place, and an urban environment is different than a rural one, but the underlying themes remain the same. Unless you’re on one of those off-the-grid shows that my husband watches…then you’re really on your own.

Don’t expect to escape from crappy neighbors, because you’ll certainly run into them everywhere. The town gossip? Different name here, but same mode of operation. Kids’ soccer game politics? Ongoing here too. Barking dogs? Still here.

Enjoy your move, and recognize that, while you are starting a new journey, many things in life are constants. Even friends, discomfort, and your nosy neighbors.


New Website Update

ImageHi all! I’ve been busy getting ready for the launch of my new website, The Irrational Mind. The site is not fully live yet, but you can get a feel for what to expect on my launch date: August 1st!

If you sign up for the newsletter you’ll get a copy of my free ebook (pictured above)! The catch is that the ebook will not be live until August 1st, at which point I will remind everyone to go back and download it again.

I’m really hoping this will be a great community to discuss mental health issues with a focus on personal development. Spread the word and follow me on my @IrrationalMinds Twitter!

Announcement: New Website

Hi all,

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of a website I’ve been brainstorming for awhile. This August, I’ll be introducing a blog on Personal Development with Mental Health Obstacles*. I love reading various personal development blogs, whether they focus on escaping cubicle nation, traveling the world, or on day-to-day improvements to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed as I browse these blogs is a necessary level of optimism and go-get-em attitude, which is terrific. It’s difficult for anyone to work on self-improvement, since we all have our own mental blocks and obstacles. For those of us struggling with various mental illnesses, however, there is an extra step to get through.

I’ll be using this website to offer personal and expert-level advice on self-improvement with mental health issues. Our life is not all about our diseases, be they physical or mental. Everyone wants to improve themselves. I want to focus on the crossroad between the medical/counseling approach to managing your mind and living the life you want.

The new website will *not* be replacing this blog! I doubt there is much crossover between those interested in things I have to say here and those wanting to review their life goals (but maybe I’m wrong!).

Get excited. I am. 🙂


*Website/domain name is still to be determined

Paranoia and LOST

As my flight to Detroit took off, I saw a United plane pulled
off the side of the taxiway with smoke coming from underneath
it. With that comforting image, my plane lifted off the

I’m the daughter of a retired Army test pilot/current
American Airlines pilot, so I’m not afraid of flying (unlike
my poor fiance). What amazed me was the lack of response I
saw from the rest of the plane, which surely consisted of
some number of fearful flyers. I expected the three year old
in front of me, who spent the 40 minutes we waited in the
take-off queue loudly identifying everything outside, to say
something akin to “Look, Mommy, smoke!”

But there was nothing.

I try to remind myself occasionally that everyone is at least
a little paranoid. Is that guy following me? Why is that
chick looking at me like that? Omg I saw that car at work and
the grocery store, am I under government surveillance?

Perhaps today has been a particularly paranoid day for me. I
had about an hour to kill on the D.C. Metro en route to the
airport, during which I played a rousing game of “what if my
train ended up crash landing on a magical island?” Does it
make sense for my ground transportation fantasy to play out
like LOST? No. But I’d argue it didn’t make sense for LOST to
play out like LOST.

The first group of people in my train seemed like prime
candidates for island survival: a government intern, a guy
with a beard, and a homeless man having an animated
conversation with himself. There was also a girl, but I
wasn’t very inspired by her, so she was our first crash

Once we landed, the homeless schizophrenic wandered off into
the jungle, later to be found dead at the hands of the Others
or the Smoke Monster. You know, something to keep us on our
toes and alert us to the ever-lurking danger of the unknown.

Meanwhile, government intern dude and I scavenge the wreckage
of the crash for…well I didn’t get that far, really. I
don’t anticipate finding much on a derailed Metro train. So
he and I try to build a radio from the electronic parts.
Unfortunately, he’s a political science major and I did
poorly in the circuits portion of physics, so we are really
spinning our wheels.

Our savior, of course, is bearded dude, whom I imagine has
all the knowledge of the hippie guy on “Dual Survival,”
because beard. He makes fire and hunts wild boar with chicken
wire placed on the Metro by the producers, then flags down
the crew waiting to pick us up via helicopter conveniently in
the last 30 seconds of the show.

At this point in real life everyone got off the train at
Dupont Circle, and I was left with a new tribe: old
government worker lady and scared-looking androgynous
hipster. I decided I would have to be the leader of this
group, and there was no way that would play out well in my
fantasy LOST scenario.

My imagination often gets away from me when I’m paranoid, not
unlike a child with a monster under the bed. Maybe that’s why
I enjoy writing so much, it gets the monster out of my head
and onto “paper.”