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How To Achieve Enduring Health and Vitality
John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Lighten Up and Laugh

Lighten up." Choose a good-natured phrase that you can say to yourself often as a remembrance to drop the seriousness. (Be careful in your selection of this phrase, however, as repeating something can be a way to attract it. In the first edition of the Wellness Workbook Regina recommended the phrase "Give me a break" for this exercise. She herself used it a lot. Two years after publication, she fell on the ski slope and broke her leg in three places. It definitely gave her a much-needed rest, but she says now that there are many more positive ways of getting her needs met than by inviting physical traumas. Today, Regina uses the phrase "Just doin' the best I can." It helps her to be realistic about her limitations, and gives her permission to be less than perfect.

The president-on-the-toilet technique. Our fears and anxieties about other people frequently result because we hold the other in higher esteem than we hold ourselves. Remembering that we are all "just folks" may be as easy as conjuring up a picture of the other performing the most mundane of operations, those that everybody has to do. (Or as Mamie Eisenhower used to say to Dwight: "Ike, for God's sake, will you take out the garbage?")

Mirror, mirror. For some people, the simple act of looking in the mirror is enough to break a serious mood. Look at the wrinkles you are forming. Mothers sometimes tell children: "Watch out or your face will freeze that way." Now make ridiculous faces at yourself and just try to keep from smiling.

Monkey meditation. There is a Zen Buddhist technique that suggests that you jump out of bed first thing in the morning and spend ten minutes assuming the most absurd postures you can achieve. This is enhanced by laughing at yourself the whole time. Try it.

Get off my back. This exercise is good for you not only emotionally, but physically as well. Form your hands into fists; bring them together at the center of your chest. Raise your elbows on a line with your fists. Thrust your elbows back, expanding your chest and drawing your shoulder blades together. As you do so briskly for several minutes, say to yourself, or scream out loud, "Get off my back!" Imagine that you are releasing all the heavy burdens that have been weighing you down - people, jobs, fears, and so on.

Screaming in the car. With your car safely parked, roll up the windows and scream, rant, and rave at the top of your lungs.

Dance off. Put on the wildest music you can find. Dance until you exhaust your seriousness. (This is also good for weight control and breathing.)

Poor pitiful Pat. For a brief period, exaggerate your mood, or your fears, to the point of absurdity. Dress up. Act out the most pitiful, burdened, suffering creature you can become. Give yourself a name. Be ridiculous. Start laughing as soon as possible.

Red-flag technique. This is a method for talking yourself out of getting even more serious. The dialogue:

Helen: Hey, Helen, haven't you been down this road before?

Herself: Yes, many times.

Helen: Then you remember where it leads?

Herself: Only too well.

Helen: You realize what a dead end it is?

Herself: I sure do!

Helen: Do you really want to take it again, knowing what you know?

Herself: No! Let's go make some cookies (or take a shower, or . . . ).

Take off all your clothes. Look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Now take a shower and wash off your seriousness.

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