Carrie was on the verge of a meltdown when she called her friend Sarah. "Tom just called. He's stuck at work for three more hours! I know he can't help it, but I'm about to blow! I am exhausted. I just finally got Sam down for his nap, and now the baby woke up. This house is a wreck, and I wanted to get it ready…"
Sarah's voice startled Carrie into an embarrassed silence for just a moment, before she remembered what Sarah meant. H.A.L.T. was their signal for stress relief. It reminded Carrie that she needed to stop and notice whether she was Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or all of the above.
"Let's see, we know you're angry and tired, and you were lonely before you called me," Sarah teased. "What have you had to eat today?"
Carrie got some stress relief just from hearing that question. "Well, I had a bowl of cereal this morning, but I haven’t had lunch yet," she admitted. "Just coffee." It was 3 p.m.
Carrie put the baby in her swing and made herself a sandwich while she visited with Sarah. "Be sure you sit down to eat," reminded Sarah. After a sandwich and ten minutes of adult conversation, Carrie was no longer hungry, angry, or lonely. Having some food and a chance to vent gave her a lot of stress relief, even though she was still tired. But now, her head was clear, and Carrie could prioritize. She could see that she didn't have to clean the whole house in the next three hours. She could run the dishwasher, so they'd have dishes for supper. And she could sit down and rock the baby for a while.
As Carrie said goodbye to Sarah and hung up, she thought, "Why is it that the more I need stress relief, the harder it is to remember the things that help?"
That's just the nature of getting over-stressed. You don't have to be completely overwhelmed like Carrie to experience this. Just try playing solitaire on the computer sometime when you're angry. You won't see as many options as you do when you're relaxed. The more you try to force solutions to puzzles or problems, the more those solutions elude you.
Besides, there's something about being under stress that tempts us to seek relief by being very dramatic. Our voices get louder and higher, and our muscles tense. These are symptoms that we have forgotten to breathe. When we're on stress overload and seeking a dramatic catharsis, the idea of stopping just to breathe sounds incredibly boring. We're sure that wouldn't possibly help us. "If you only knew what I was dealing with," we think, "you wouldn't suggest something so mundane to somebody as sensitive as I am."
I know, I know. I used to feel the same way when my 6-year-old world was crashing, and my parents suggested I might need a nap. Breathe anyway. In fact, take five minutes to breathe. If you're too busy to take five, then you need at least 15. Count your breaths, if that's what it takes to divert your mind from upsetting thoughts. If you must think about something else, then think about giving yourself the stress relief of addressing your needs, whether you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
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