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A Simple Observation Exercise to Increase Tolerance to Stress

Editor’s note: Although there are many mental relaxation exercises in use today, a number of them involve different forms of self-hypnosis. We do not endorse self-hypnosis techniques or self-styled New Age mental techniques for stress reduction and relaxation, as there are certain dangers inherent in the use of these methods. The following stress-reducing exercise, however, is recognized, used, and endorsed by many practicing psychologists and psychiatrists, and is, in our opinion, the most advanced and beneficial exercise available.

The concept and practice of this exercise are both simple. The entire object is simply to observe what is going on in the mind, without being drawn down into worry and daydreaming. By doing so, we are given a break from the stress of worrying and rehashing the past; at the same time, the mind is allowed to regenerate. By making a conscious effort to remain aware of your hand, this awareness acts as an anchor that grounds us in the present, and helps keep us from floating off “downstream” into daydreams and worries, that often preoccupy and wear us down. 

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Sit in a comfortable chair and loosen your collar or any tight-fitting garment (it is a good idea to remove your shoes).

Hold this reading material in your left hand and drop you right hand on your lap or by your side.

Now bring your attention to your right hand. Just be aware, conscious that it exists, lying there on your lap or hanging by your side.

There is no need to look directly at your hand while reading these words. Just be aware out of the corner of your eye. Keep reading.

Any time you become aware of any part of your body, you awaken a gentle flow of energy. In this instance, your hand will begin to tingle and then begin to feel warm.

Notice any thought that interferes with your being aware of your hand by trying to distract you—to absorb you into a daydream or worry.

If a thought does draw your attention away from being aware of your hand, don’t be upset. Simply re-direct your attention to your hand; become aware of it so that you feel it glow warm. Watch the thought until it dissolves.

To help you remain aware like this, it is helpful if you shift your attention from one finger to another. First be aware of the thumb, then shift the feeling to your first finger, now the second—be aware—the third, and now the little finger. Then begin again.

Soon you will feel energy flowing down your arm into your hand, and before long your whole body may begin to share in the warmth. Once you have the understanding of what these words are explaining, you will be able to promote this warmth just by remembering these simple instructions.

What is happening? You are getting in touch with your mind and body. In the past, being upset has cut you off from your own motivation and will.

You are now becoming OBJECTIVE. Watch your thoughts passing through your mind and notice how, when you just observe, they fade and lose their power to hold your attention captive. As that happens, your body fills with warmth.

Continue being aware of your hand/body glowing warm. If a thought pulls you into a daydream or worry, simply pull back and observe that thought while being aware of your hand/body glowing warm.

Notice now the objects in your surroundings. See if you can put a distance between yourself and objects close to you. See if you can detach yourself. It will feel like the object seems far away, as though you are observing from another space…notice your body glowing warm. Memories now begin to surface…first come distractions, then memories. Observe them without being upset over what you are realizing, and the problems of your past will lose their hold, no longer affecting you in the future.

Use this warm energy flowing to every part of your being to be patient, not resentful, with people from now on.

Patience will preserve this “together” feeling of warmth and confidence and give you a natural control without effort or will.

Watch for opportunities from day to day to be patient and outspoken. This is very important. If someone has wronged you, don’t be resentful, but speak up calmly or say nothing and just wait for an appropriate moment when you can.

This simple practice is the key to being calm and giving up resentment from now on. It is also the key to self-control and patience.

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