On a recent visit to the UK, I noticed a proliferation of tee shirts with the logo, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

That statement is based on a catchphrase that originally appeared on a World War II-era British public safety poster, but has become popular again in recent years. Except now, in this entrepreneurial world, the phrase has morphed into a series of messages centered on the phrasal template “Keep Calm and …..” which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Some examples: “Keep Calm and Call Batman”; “Keep Calm and Blog On”; “Keep Calm and Consolidate Your Debts into One Easy Payment”; “Keep Calm and Call Mom”; “Keep Calm and Evade the Police”; or my favorite “I’m Scottish. I Can’t Keep Calm.”

So, in the midst of a stressful life and a hectic work schedule, how do YOU relax?  Keep calm, have a cup of tea and consider the following suggestions. 

  1. Accept this moment as it is. Resist the urge to blame or criticize yourself or others for what you think you, or they, should have done. Instead focus on the moment. What is happening NOW and what can you do about it. This is far more productive than worrying about what you would rather have happen or worrying about what could happen.
  1. Be in charge of your body’s stress reactions. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of tension and stress in your body. Learn stress reduction techniques. Use deep breathing techniques, yoga or meditation to calm your body and mind. Listen to relaxation CD’s to engage in guided relaxation or guided imagery.
  1. Plan ahead to remain calm. Picture yourself in that difficult stressful situation and picture yourself handling it.
  1. Eat healthy foods. Keep track of what you eat for 3 days. Include everything, especially those little snacks and treats you manage to slip in there. Check with a nutritionist to analyse your diet. Sometimes the things we consume that we THINK are healthy and good for us can be just the opposite.
  1. Get regular exercise. Walk, skip, run, cycle or dance. Do what you like to do, remembering that regular exercise releases endorphins, which are our “feel good” hormones. Laughter can have a similar effect. Even some stretching exercises can help to eliminate pent up tension.
  1. Use humour. Lighten up a stressful situation. And yes, there may even be ways to lighten up a funeral arrangement if done with sensitivity. Get the person to tell you a humorous incident from the person’s life. It changes the atmosphere for you and for them. I find that the movies I prefer are funny ones … maybe working as we all do every day with human tragedy and loss, we need to laugh with a movie or a book, or over a meal or a drink with friends.
  1. Take up a hobby. Whether it be a sport, gardening, stamp collecting, cooking or any other activity, hobbies add value to your life and take away a lot of stress.
  1. Spend more time outside. My family invested in a deck and some lawn furniture a few years ago. How nice it is to come home after a stressful day and just sit and relax in that environment for a while. Or go for a walk or a bike ride … drive somewhere where you can do a different itinerary each time.
  1. Music can have a great calming quality … as well as an inspirational one. I find that singing along in the car can really lift my mood when I am in heavy traffic. So what if the guy next to me is giving funny looks. Besides, I find singing in the car gets fewer complaints than if I sing in the shower.
  1. Talk to yourself. That’s right. You heard me. Tell yourself not to get so hot and bothered. Remind yourself what getting aggravated will do to your blood pressure. Tell yourself to relax and just let it go. Realize that a week from now this won’t matter as much as it does in this moment. Or my favorite technique: remind yourself that you will look back on this and laugh. So why not let it go, and have a chuckle now.
  1. Speak up for yourself. Having made the point in #10 to let things go, I also believe the antithesis, that there are times and situations when we do need to speak up for ourselves and make a point. However it is always better to choose your battles carefully and make sure that this really is an issue you shouldn’t let go. I usually write my “complaint” or “grievance” against someone down on paper. Then I revise it, then I soften it a bit, then I do it over again. By then it is out of my system so I often don’t need to send the message. Sometimes situations do leave us frustrated and even angry, and fair enough. The danger for us is in allowing those negative emotions to LINGER. That is what causes our body to react to stress. If speaking out is hard for you, consider some assertiveness training or practice techniques with a friend or in front of a mirror.
  1. Try aroma therapy. It is amazing how it works, yet it shouldn’t be a surprise. Our sense of smell is the strongest trigger of memory and emotion, and sometimes a few whiffs of lavender, rose or green apple can help reduce tension and produce a sense of calmness. I know of funeral homes who are meticulous in making sure their establishment has an appropriate aroma, which can add greatly to the influence of the environment.
  1. Let go of the idea of a perfect life. Not everything in life works out perfectly, no matter how hard you try or how much you want it. As Robert Burns (who also struggled occasionally to “Keep Calm!!!) wrote in his poem “To a Mouse”: “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley, and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.” That’s life. We can accept it or struggle against it, but we can’t change it.
  1. Expect change. When you accept that change is inevitable, it helps you to be more flexible and thus less stressed when it does happen.
  1. Make time. I struggle to understand people who say “I didn’t have the time.” What they mean is “I didn’t TAKE the time.” Somehow they didn’t feel the thing (or the person) they didn’t have time for wasn’t important enough to find time to invest in. That is sad. We all have 24 hours a day, 86,400 seconds to invest. But we do need to choose how we are going to invest that time. All too often time is spent on things that in the overall scheme of things were important right enough, but were not really our priorities. Few people at the end of life say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” More often than not they wish they had spent more time with family, or people they cared about, or stopped to smell the roses, or gone on that trip, or …. ! Well you fill in your own blanks. The point is that life even at its longest is short, and when we realize that it motivates us to focus on what is really important.

So let me ask you the all-important question. What have you done for YOU lately? What have you done to replenish that which you have given as a caregiver? I try to take an hour a day, a day a week, and a weekend a month to do something … anything … just for ME (which can include family) to recharge the batteries and look after myself for a while. The cemeteries are full of people who DIDN’T … the funeral profession, of all people, should know that.

So, may I ask you, my friend and colleague? What are you going to do about it? You can toss the magazine aside and say “So what!” You can try to convince yourself that all this doesn’t apply to you. We will know if it did when we read your obituary in this magazine. Can you see it: “After many years of hard work and faithful service, SUDDENLY …. “

Well, let’s not get over dramatic. May I just quietly ask you, “Are you feeling the stress?” Why not take 5 minutes, lower the lights, turn on some calming music, take a few deep breaths. Imagine yourself in a peaceful place like garden or on a quiet beach. Think about what you want to do with your “one hour for ME” and the day you will spend this week, and that weekend next month.

So now that you are calm … Carry On.