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Turn On Your Inner Light

Small Steps, Giant Gains in Happiness

by Debbie Mandel, MA

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Small Steps, Giant Gains in Happiness Could this be you – rushing from activity to activity, and living for the future (what’s next on the to-do list or worrying about what will happen later)? Do you always escape, venturing outward because you are an important person who defines the self based on performance?  Do you fear your own quiet company the most? Most likely you are overwhelmed by stress and feel de-stabilized.

Two types of stress
To manage your stress involves quickly recognizing stress both overt and covert, to stop them before they do damage. First be aware that there are two types of stress: acute and chronic. Not all stress is bad and this is great news because who can live a stress-free life? Acute stress heightens the senses, enabling you to live in the moment and get the job done on deadline or take proper action for a medical diagnosis. In contrast, chronic stress is damaging, like being a caregiver in the sandwich generation, predisposing you to a higher risk for illness.  Keep in mind during pre-historic times the stress response was adaptive behavior for survival. However, nowadays technology has made survival easier while the stress response comes at a great expense to health and happiness because there is no tangible outlet. Where is that saber tooth tiger?

Know your triggers

Stress, especially the little stressors which accumulate daily, erode your vitality and cause you to engage in self-sabotage. Consider the usual triggers which set you up for a stress response:  “I didn’t get enough sleep,” “I don’t have time for breakfast – I’ll just grab a donut and coffee,”  “I don’t like to exercise,” “I wasn’t really listening to my colleague because I was checking my email,” “I expect other people to be my clones and read my mind,” “I set too-high expectations which others can’t meet.” Just being aware of your personal buttons gives you the control to stop them from being pushed. You are already on the road to self-healing.

If you want your life to be an expression of the yearnings of your heart and feel that you are truly enjoying your life, it’s time to learn a few practical ways to relieve stress. Resolve to make a little change today. And if you are already good, you will be better.

Here are ten strategies for you to implement now:
  1. Try this exercise to let go of overload and resentment:  Hold a glass half-filled with water. It feels comfortable in your hand. Keep holding it. Your hand is starting to ache. Now put the glass down – what a relief! The glass represents your overloaded life and the inevitable resentment it brings. See how the pain of resentment overtakes your consciousness? Put the glass down and feel relieved. You can always pick it up again for a few minutes if you need to. Do yourself a favor and put the glass down, though.
  2. Change your dramatic verbiage. Think about the words you use, “I’m crazy busy.” Words define your reality and have a way of actualizing your prophecy. Speak more kindly to yourself.
  3. When you feel sad and drained, take a walk out in sunlight; wear headphones for sound therapy to reset your natural rhythm.
  4. Sing a song which triggers a happy memory for you. Singing is a potent de-stressor, even more effective than listening to music. Sing along with a friend to unleash sound synergy.
  5. Eat consciously: What you eat, how you eat, how much you eat, and where you eat reflect your emotional state of mind or can trigger stress. Eating is a selective process involving conscious decisions. You might be too busy to notice. Don’t engage in self sabotage with stress-inducing choices: processed foods, huge unhealthy portions and skipping breakfast. One of the quickest and simplest strategies for counteracting stress and eliciting the start of a relaxation response is to engage in the pleasurable act of eating healthy, nutrient dense foods.
  6. Move the body and the mind will follow. Exercise boosts mood and promotes longevity. It generally reduces stress within 15 minutes, and the health effects last throughout the day. You can calibrate your exercise duration and intensity to correspond to your stress level. Align your workout to your personality and lifestyle.
  7. Throw away “Life’s lemons.” Go beyond merely making do or making the best of things. Blind adherence to parental or communal values can make you feel uneasy and inhibited.
  8. If you want to become powerful and dynamic, moving toward actualization, stop taking yourself so seriously. Fun makes you more creative, so build up your funny bone. Imitate what you like about your favorite comedians. Search for everyday humor, the absurd, silly and incongruous activities that go on around you each day.
  9. Change the story. In many situations we don’t really know all the details or remember what actually happened, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Keep in mind the more self-confident you are the kinder the story. Practice…
  10. Plan ahead for those stressful times and rehearse your relaxation response cues – to serve as a reflex when you need them. You can have fun experimenting with fragrances, healthy snacks including dark chocolate, inspirational quotes, visual cues (like on your screen saver), music and new fun exercise equipment.
You can’t make your personal happiness conditional on someone else’s behavior. Make up your mind to experience inner peace by appreciating what you have and what you can do. Leave the straight lines of your personality to take a few detours to liberate yourself from time to time. You will most likely rediscover your inner child.  Get aligned with your inner child. Smile deeply within.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, a stress-management specialist and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City. To learn more visit:

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