What To Do When Stress Rears Its Head

Four Simple Tools Anyone Can Use

Those of you who have read my blog recently, know that I was stranded in Minnesota a few weeks ago. I want to share some of the tools that kept me calm and able to function to the best of my ability during this experience.

Tool the First: Morning Pages

First, Morning Pages. I know I’ve talked about these before, and quite honestly, will probably do so again. Morning Pages are from Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way and others. They are three pages of longhand writing, done in the morning. (Hence the name, nu?) They are many things, but most of all they are NOT writing.


Nope. Not writing. They just happen to be written, but they are emphatically not writing. In fact, writers will find them the hardest. The rest of us who aren’t writers will find them easier. Feel better now?

The genius about writing morning pages is that they are just three pages of writing, done in the morning. They can’t be done wrong. If you wrote three pages, you did them right. If you did them, then they’re done right. This is sort of counterintuitive to us left-brain Westerners, but it’s true. Just three pages. Longhand.

Think it’s got to be harder than that?

Try something for me. Pause from reading this essay (but you’d better come back to it! ~shaky finger~) and go grab three pages of paper. Could be lined or not, doesn’t matter, as long as it’s 8.5” x 11”. Now write. Just fill up that paper. When you get to the bottom of the third page, stop.

There. You did it right.

Feel good? Uh-huh. That’s all there is to it.

Why am I harping on Morning Pages?

Morning ages are a method of moving meditation, sort of like walking. Like sitting Za-Zen, they bring us into the moment where we meet the moment, and ourselves. This may sound kind of hokey, but it’s true – it’s easy to be in the moment when you’re writing, because writing IS in the moment. You can’t write later, or in five minutes. If you’re writing, you’re in the moment. It’s a “now” activity. It’s sort of hard to let your mind wander when you’re writing longhand, because then your pen tends to stop and you’re no longer writing.

When I was stranded, one of the only ‘creative’ activities I could do was writing my morning pages. I couldn’t even fill up the endless hours while I waited for news of my doomed car with any actual creative writing – I was too tense. I just managed to do my Morning Pages, and stay present.

I kept the television off during this time, as an added method of staying in the moment and being present.

Tool the Second: Walking

Another tool I used was walking. That’s right, just putting one foot in front of the other. Nothing more profound than that. The town I was stranded in had a lovely lake in the center of it that the tow truck driver passed by when he took me to the hotel. I was able to find it from my hotel and wandered over there in the evening. After that, I was able to return to the hotel, much more centered in my body. I didn’t do anything more strenuous than walking, looking at trees and the little tree-dwelling creatures that were by the lake. Several cheeky squirrels and a family of ducks kept me company, as did a man walking his mother in her wheelchair and several afternoon joggers. It’s amazing how much one slows down when one is walking.

Tool the Third: Bathe, Thou Stinky One!

Another tool I used was a bath. Is this a tool? If not, it should be. “Noony’s Guide to Enlightenment, Chapter Four.” (No, I haven’t written it yet.) But seriously. Sitting in water is an excellent way to relax. Something about the water is grounding (or is that, wetting?). Regardless, it helped me feel comforted, miles away from my family and friends, stuck in the middle of nowhere. (Well, to be fair, the residents of Winona probably don’t think of their town as “nowhere.” But I digress.) Bathing is an easy way of getting present. I’ll give you a little secret – you don’t actually need any bath soup, either. Just water. It might be odd the first time you try it, it was for me anyway, but having bath oil or bath salt or bath sugar isn’t required. Just hot water.

If you dislike baths, try sitting in the tub or shower with the water beating down on your head. That’s another way to get present.

From a magical perspective, water is one of the four Aristotelian elements, and as such, extraordinarily powerful. Even if you don’t go in for that kind of “hokum,” water can be very helpful to the grounding and relaxing process. Why do you think spas have hot tubs for use by patrons before their massage?

Tool the Fourth: Breathing

Breathing was the final tool I used. Duh, right?

I’m serious! Breathing is very underrated, particularly by Westerners. How are you breathing right now? Chances are, very shallow, little breaths that hardly fill up your central cavity. If that’s the case, try something. Take a nice, big, deep breath that fills your belly up so much, your tummy distends. Now hold it for a second or two, then let it out. Press it all the way out of your body like you’re pressing water out of your laundry. Now do that two or three more times. Chances are, your fingers and toes will start to get warmer. That’s the blood flow increasing all the way to your extremities. This is very healthy, and means that you are getting into the moment – which is where your power is.

Tie Them All Together With a Cute Little Bow

We have all the power and strength we need to handle life’s challenges, but we shortchange ourselves and ignore our power. We cannot access it anywhere except in the moment. And the only way to get into the moment is to get into the moment. (Which is sort of a silly thing to say, but nonetheless true.) We spend so much time elsewhere – reading books or watching time-filler television. (You’ve seen my rant on Americans and television, right?) Well, these four simple tools can be used right where you are, and don’t require any special equipment other than a pencil, paper, and shoes – things most of us are fortunate enough to have in our possession. And if you can read this, then you can breathe. If you can’t breathe, then I can’t help you.

So, go forth and power yourself into the moment. See what kinds of problems and challenges you can surmount by doing so.

5 Replies to “What To Do When Stress Rears Its Head”

  1. Awesome list of tools Nooney! I did just begin the walks last week and I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying them. Alone, with kids and friends, morning or night it doesn’t matter. Walking to 7-11 for slurpees has become a family outing at least every other day and the kids love it. I seldom see them for any significant amount of time, this is a nice way to bond and get back in touch with them.

    I’m addicted to the morning pages too! I really love having a place to vent, muse and just plain let loose knowing that no one will ever read what I have written.

    I’m glad your trial in Minnesota has ended and you had those tools to use. 🙂

  2. Good advice, Noony! Instead of doing morning pages (which are the bane of my existence)I play some free-style RP with my friend, if he’s around. *snuggles*

  3. There’s a lot of hand tips there that I’ll definitely give a try. I completely agree with the bath advice, it’s an excellent place to get inspired.

  4. I’m totally with you on the walking, bathing and breathing stress relievers. (Once when I was godawful sick at both sides, ahem, a hot bath is the only thing that helped me relax. Try it the next time you’re hot and cold at the same time, and feel like crap.)

    As for the morning pages, that’s something I have a problem with because it requires that I get up sooner than I want. But…I’m going to give it my best shot, dang it.

  5. My morning pages are very precious and private and belong just to me…wonderful stress relief. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have had all these months with my journal. Thanks Noony! 🙂

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