Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stress Management: I Need a Good Laugh

Stress Management: I Need a Good Laugh


David Nelson, PT

 I previously wrote that stress can maim and kill if left unchecked.  It is a cause of heart attack, stroke, and type II diabetes.  Stress can irritate us and conflict with our ability to function in daily life.  It can build to a point where physical and mental illnesses may develop.  I discussed some examples of how major lifestyle changes and our reaction to them can create stress.  Our minds react to what we perceive as truth not what is actual truth.

There are two personality types.  One is the easy going person who moves along at a regular daily pace, and appears to be quiet, if not shy.  This type is called the ‘B’ personality.  The other type is the fast paced person who seems to be always on the move, always thinking, and is unable to relax.  That is known as the type ‘A’ personality.  Neither is better than the other.  They just are that way.  Type ‘A’ personality might go hang gliding off a cliff while on vacation and type ‘B’ might go enjoy reading a book at the beach.  Both of these types will have stressors that effect them.

In my novel, The Shade Tree Choir two of the boys were of the Type A personality and two others were of the Type B.  The main character, Krame was physically abused on a regular basis.  His friend, Blackie was also abused.  Each of those kids lived under direct or perceived threat of a beating.  There was no time to just be a kid.  Each of these eight year olds wondered constantly when the next beating would occur.  Now imagine years of this treatment each day.  What do you suppose their internal stress levels might have been like?  One of the other characters, Rink, was Type B and he too had stress.  He had the stress of increasing his weights lifted in competing against his brothers to gain his father’s approval.  He was constantly focusing on that activity to ‘prove’ himself.

The type ‘A’ might thrive on several projects at a time while type ‘B’ enjoys one thing at a time.  We use the word ‘multitasking’ in our society almost as if it is a badge of honor. First, it is neurologically impossible for the brain to focus on more than one thing at a time.  Consequently, multitasking is impossible.  Now when someone has more than one activity they are doing at the same time we think of them as possibly having a full plate or juggling many items.  Eventually they will spill the plate or drop one of the juggling items.  That is a sign of stress that will come to both personality types.

If you say or feel, “If one more thing happens I will scream! I’m so mad I can’t see straight!” You are under stress.  If you do not have one good ‘belly laugh’ a day- you are under stress. If your sleep is interrupted by racing thoughts- you are under stress.  If you feel more tired when you wake than when you went to bed- you are under stress.  Many years ago I wrote a book titled, Stress Management: Does Anyone in Chicago Know About It. I taught classes in the Southeast United States for many years.  I also used stress management techniques with my patients for some forty years.  One thing I discovered is that many people do not realize when they are under stress.  Ask your significant other, coworkers, or friends to obtain a ‘reality check’.  You might be surprised what you hear.

Stress management is finding equilibrium within ourselves.  There are two parts of the autonomic nervous system designed for just that purpose.  One is called the sympathetic and the other the parasympathetic.  The center for these two systems is found in the brain.  An analogy is where the sympathetic system is the gas pedal in our cars and the parasympathetic is the brakes.  Equilibrium is achieved when we move slowly with a foot on each and control the movement.

When activated in a stressful situation the gas pedal (sympathetic system) is pushed to the floor.  It causes us to ‘go fast’ and the following reactions occur: Eyes become dilated, movement of food in the gut region is reduced, perspiration is increased, heart rate increases as does the vigor of  contraction and amount of blood flow, circulatory flow to our muscles is increased, bronchi (or breathing passages) in our lungs become larger to accommodate more air, the liver releases large amounts of glucose or sugar, kidneys decrease their output, mental activity increases, blood pressure rises, blood flow to kidneys and intestine is reduced, metabolism is increased by some 50%.

In short, the sympathetic response is greatest when we feel threatened or in a state of distress.  The key word here is ‘feel’.  If we ‘feel’ threatened, those automatic responses occur without our control.  If we stay in that state of stress on a regular basis, the body ‘thinks’ this is what you want and this is normal.  Eventually, the body will break down due to disease.  This is why stress is related to kidney dysfunction, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, colitis, and many other diseases.  These symptoms can occur in either personality type.

Managing stress is a selfish program.  The most powerful tool used to keep the sympathetic system in check is to use the word ‘No’!  Say it often and anytime you feel like your plate is full.  Stop being a martyr at home, at work, or with your community.  Do not allow your plate to be too full or to juggle too much.

Try to get one good belly laugh each day.  Laughter is a great way to counteract stress.  I used laughter daily while treating my patients.  Laughter will reduce pain.  It also lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves respiration.  A recent study was reported by Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca that alcoholic men have a loss of emotions.  Even after years of no drinking, the damage was done.  The report stated that chronic heavy drinking damages parts of the brain that are crucial to decoding others’ emotions and to processing humor, especially irony.  I can’t help but wonder if this is what leads to bar fights when drunks literally can’t take a joke.

In The Shade Tree Choir, I was the character, Krame.  For nine years of my life I lived in a world of continual physical abuse from an alcoholic father.  My mother was also an alcoholic and mentally ill.  In the 1950s one did not share anything that happened in the home.  To help me handle difficult situations I used comedy.  I was the ‘class clown’ and always felt better when I could make others laugh - even though I was saddened inside.  I used that learned skill to help me as an adult.  For over twenty years I have been performing my show, The Cowboy Comedy Show, across America.  I still find that after a program I am relaxed and upbeat because I can laugh inside while I make others laugh outside.  You can learn more of my act at

After one of my programs an elderly woman came to me and said, “Mister, that was the funniest thing I have ever seen.  You made me laugh till I leaked.  A tear rolled down my left leg!”

My hope for each of you is to ‘laugh till ya leak’.

So far in my Blogs we have covered the following Stress Management Tools:

Learn to say “No” and to control how much is on your plate
Perform deep breathing exercises
Meditation can be a great tool for calming the soul
A Treasure Map can keep you focused
Try to get one good belly laugh each day

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Thyself

Love Thyself
David Nelson

The results of physical abuse upon a child last a lifetime.  In my novel, The Shade Tree Choir the main character - Krame experiences both emotional and physical abuse from his alcoholic parents and mentally ill mother.  For those of you who have read my book, you will remember how Krame is alone in the world and promises himself he will never again be hurt.  That was the scene where his nose was pressed to the screen after another beating. 

Children who are abused feel alone and learn not to trust others.  After-all, if their own parents hurt them why would they expect any better from strangers?  They have a constant fear of abandonment. In adult life they can have difficulty with interpersonal relationships.  To others, they might appear selfish.  In reality they are still trying to survive - just like Krame in The Shade Tree Choir when he was locked away for eighteen hours.  He first tried to survive the heat, insects, and darkness.  When he was set free he then made a self promise that lasted a lifetime.  Abused children feel all they have is themselves. They have an emotional ‘wall’ of self-preservation.  Their souls are filled with chaos from years of abuse. They live a life waiting for the worst to happen.  They are filled with constant pressure, stress, and anxiety.

It was fortunate for Krame that he had a spark inside of him that showed a path for his escape.  In his case, it was his speed in track and field that later provided him a college scholarship and a way out of the deprived neighborhood. Children who are abused have a lost childhood and a stolen innocence.

All of these factors can lead to medical problems later in life.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common among Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Some diseases that can arise from emotional stress include: depression, high anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, ulcers, and high risk of suicide along with high risk of alcohol or drug addiction.

Coping Techniques

As a physical therapist and a survivor of childhood physical abuse from alcoholic parents and mentally ill mother, I can offer you some coping techniques to help manage stress.  These include proper deep breathing, meditation, and a treasure map.

Finding quiet time alone and focusing on ourselves is an important stress management tool.  Drive to the woods and be alone. Sit by the bank of a river or next to a fire pit can be mesmerizing and allow us to relax.  The point is to be alone and to be near nature with all its beauty.  When you are relaxed and alone begin performing deep breathing exercises.

Correct breathing includes proper intra-oral posture. Your tongue should be on the hard palate away from the top teeth, your lips should be together, teeth not touching, and breathe in through your nose.  Inhaling through the nose allows structures called turbinates to warm and moisten the air.  Your body should be in a relaxed sitting position or even lying down.  Another position used in meditation is to touch your thumbs and index fingers together.  You are then ready to begin deep breathing.

Inhale as deeply as you can and hold your breath for six-seconds.  As you exhale blow like you are blowing through a straw.  This is called pursed lip breathing. This technique allows for better oxygen exchange in the lungs and helps to strengthen the diaphragm muscles.  It is also helpful to focus on either the bright light of the sun or the silver light of the moon while your eyes are closed.  Try to focus only on the light in your mind, and rid it of ‘outside chatter’.  It can take years to do this successfully, but any success is positive for you.

I use music designed specifically for meditation to help set my mood.  That coupled with the sounds of nature will create a sense of calm quickly for me.  Focus only on your breathing and the imaginary light of the sun or the moon.  Fifteen minutes of this daily will produce a great sense of calm.  Afterwards, I will see sharper blue skies, different shades of green that I did not see before, and have a greater sense of touch.  Each of you will have different reactions.  There are times when I feel a warmth in my body and a sense that I move slower than I did before the exercise.  All of these are positive.  I feel the problems that my mind perceived as stressors were no longer that important to me.

Many years ago I was at a party with then, Congressman, Bill Nelson from Florida.  He is now a Senator representing that State.  He was the first civilian to fly in a shuttle.  I remember him telling several of us his experience in space.  He said he looked out the window of the ship and saw the Mediterranean and surrounding nations and thought how petty his personal problems were in the grand scheme of things.  He said it changed his outlook on life.

I challenge each of you to go into your own ‘space’ and look inward to find peace in your hearts.  Just fifteen minutes a day of deep breathing may help reduce emotional turmoil and eliminate the physical effects from stress.

The time of day when the mind is the most receptive is the first five minutes after waking.  When you wake up lie there with eyes closed and fill yourself with positive thoughts.  Picture yourself in a state of happiness and calm.  Imagine giving to others during the upcoming day.  I believe what we give to others we give to ourselves.  If we give bad karma we receive bad karma.  If we give good to others we receive good in return.  That first five minutes sets the stage for the rest of the day.

The past six years has been the most stressful time of my life due to something over which I have no control.  I am using every tool in my arsenal to combat the effects from my stress.  One such tool is called a treasure map.  Twice before in my life I used this and everything I wanted to happen did indeed occur.  I am now using it for the third time.

A treasure map starts by finding quiet time as I mentioned before.  It is then I find what is most important to me and what really matters in life.  It is then I ask myself what I want to achieve or to happen. I write those items in a list.  Going on-line, I look for pictures that remind me of each item and print them.  I use a long sheet of rolled paper as my base.  The one I am using now is about three feet wide and five feet long.  I then glue each photo on the paper by priority from top to bottom.  I write one word clues by each photo and what it is I want to happen.

I keep mine in the bathroom as that is usually the last room I am in at night and the first one after I wake.  At night before going to bed I stare at the map for a couple minutes and then give it ‘life’ by touching each item.  I lean against it and smell the paper with my eyes closed and I picture all things on it coming true.  Then I let it go.  This is very important.  I do not question the ‘how’ I just accept that these events will occur.  There is no doubt in my mind.

Each morning for the first five minutes after awaking I lie still and thank my Higher Power for giving me life and for making me part of the Universe.  I then go into the bathroom and repeat the process of touching the map and smelling the paper while visualizing all things to happen.  Again, I let it go and do not question the ‘how’ of it all.

This gives me a sense of control, a sense of peace, and a feeling of calm.  The Shade Tree Choir is not just about abuse.  It is also about change and hope.  Krame’s father realized mistakes and when you read it you will learn how he changed and was able to manage his inner stress.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Alcoholism Affecting Children

In my novel, The Shade Tree Choir the main character, Krame deals with childhood stress.  His alcoholic father beats him mercilessly and the eight year old boy receives no help from his mentally ill mother who is also an alcoholic.  There is one scene where he is locked away in a dark ‘tomb’ for over eighteen hours with no food, drink, or ventilation. He is abused like this from about age eight until age seventeen.  Imagine, if you will, the amount of stress this child endures.  He could care less about childhood. His mission is to survive.

Krame learns to fend for himself and not to trust. He is able to repress feelings both of physical pain and emotional distress. When put in a constant state of stress, anxiety levels are ‘off the charts’.  Krame takes this with him into adult life.  Do you suppose he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an adult?

I will follow Krame and the other characters in The Shade Tree Choir  with my articles here.  You will learn the effects of stress and coping techniques as we progress through the novel.

Stress!  That awful word conjures up feelings of pressure, tension, frustration, and a sense of not being in control.  As a physical therapist with some thirty nine years of experience I used stress management techniques to guide my patients and also myself.

Stress is as common as low back pain in America where eight out of ten people will suffer from it at times. It can be short term or last for decades.  It can maim.  It can kill!  Take a look at our lifestyles.  Fourteen million Americans are alcoholics, there is drug abuse, child abuse, food abuse, and sex abuse.  Three major health problems are directly related to stress.  These include Type II Diabetes, Stroke and Heart Attack.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Little strokes fell great oaks’”  No matter how strong we think we are, we must listen to our bodies, and more importantly our minds.  If someone took a small axe and once a day chopped a piece of wood out of a huge oak tree, eventually that tree will fall.  Mounting stress day after day is like the axe to us where one day we could fall like the oak tree.  No matter how strong and powerful we think we are.

Daily stressors in our lives can irritate us and effect our ability to function as we would wish.  If left unaddressed these little stressors can gradually mount to the point that when we face a major lifestyle change we can become physically and mentally ill.  Some people define stress as ‘change’ from a normal routine.

Some examples of major lifestyle changes include, death of a family member, divorce, marriage, a loan of over $10,000, being fired from work, taking on a new job, and being sued in court.  How we react to these will determine our mental and physical states.

There are two types of stress.  One is the positive stress and the other is the negative.  I already mentioned a few negative stressors.  The positive ones might include being hired for a new job, working on a new project at work, trying a new golf swing, receiving a promotion, and the birth of a child.  Our bodies react the same way to these changes as the negative ones.  The results of the positive are short term.  Positive stressors help us set goals, work more efficiently, plan for the future, and appreciate what we have.  Without some stress we have no change and that leads to boredom.

We react to what is perceived as truth not what is actual fact.  Our perceptions of some things determine our feelings.  How many times have you been tired and go to bed only to become wide awake thinking negative thoughts?  Yes, me also.  That is not nice is it?  Sleep is the time to allow the body and mind to heal itself.  Without proper sleep there can be a vicious cycle that develops.  I will explain how to cope with this in coming articles.

You may want to purchase The Shade Tree Choir as it will help you understand what I will teach you each week. More information is on my site at

If you feel like sharing with the readers how you handle stress feel free to do so in the Comment Section of my Blog.  You just might help others and yourself as well. Should you want to contact me personally, I am available through You may also find me on other social media networks.

Remember: “Man is disturbed not by things but by the views he takes of them.”  Epictetus

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