By Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division

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The other evening I was stressed and tired. I had deadlines. Things weren’t going to plan. I was annoyed and irritated and I felt like an inside-out hedgehog. Someone offered to make me a hot drink, which should have been nice. But I was grumbly and cross, and we started to bicker about stupid little things, even though neither of us wanted to. I realised that, if I wasn’t careful, things would spiral into a massive row for no reason at all…And then I would have prickles on the inside and on the outside, and someone else would get hurt. I didn’t want to do that to someone I loved.

I mumbled something about being sorry and how much I appreciated the lemon and ginger tea. Then I sat down and made a list of everything I could do to help myself relax, chill out and be a calmer and less prickly person.

And this is my list:

◐  Go out in the garden and blow the biggest bubbles – this is my favourite chill out activity. The slow breathing calms my whole body, bubbles are fun, and sometimes I pretend I’m blowing all my stress into the bubbles, which just pop and disappear. No bubbles? Nowhere to go? Raining? I just pretend I’m blowing bubbles and watching them all float away. It looks a bit crazy, but it works.

◐ Go for a fast walk. Anywhere. It’s great if there’s a park and even better if there is a forest. But, even if I can only walk around the streets, I pay attention to all the tiny details around me. I count all the different birds I can hear. Or I keep looking for interesting or beautiful things – a daisy growing through a crack in the pavement, a neatly mown lawn, someone smiling. Or I look at the sky and watch the clouds.

◐ Make a list of everything I’m thankful for. I try to list at least 20 things and I always end up feeling better. If I get stuck I wander around my house and imagine what it would be like to live without running water and electricity.

◐ Watch something funny like a favourite sitcom, movie or YouTube clip. Having a good laugh releases positive hormones that help me to relax, and then I feel more like a kitten than a hedgehog.

◐ Do something distracting. I choose something enjoyable to do that absorbs my whole attention. It could be working on a creative project, or reading an inspiring novel, or even playing a game. I like to write, so I might try writing a micro story in 50 words.

◐ Write lists. Lists of things I’m looking forward to. Lists of fun things I can do in 10 or 30 minutes. Lists of presents to buy for next Christmas.

◐ Bubble baths and hand massages are also relaxing. Lavender and citrus fragrances are good for helping me to calm down and clear my mind.

◐ Drink water slowly. Sipping water is another natural trick for calming the body down.

◐ Always good. I put one small piece in my mouth, let it melt, and see how long I can make it last. Bliss…

◐ Tidy up. I use my emotional energy to do something practical around the house. Sorting a messy cupboard. Mowing the lawn. Washing the car. Cleaning the windows. Something that will give me a sense of satisfaction when I’ve finished.

◐ Someone once told that if everyone got 7-8 hours sleep a night there would be much less conflict in the world. I don’t know if it is true. But I’m certainly calmer and less like an inside-out hedgehog when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

What about the other person? When I’ve calmed down I begin to think about them. I stand in their shoes and wonder what their life is like. I wonder where they have learned to respond to conflict in this way. I wonder what’s important to them. I wonder what their hopes and dreams are, and how I contributed to the conflict. And I wonder what would help them to calm down and feel better too, and if they would like a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate, or a pot of bubbles.

Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division

Karen Holford is a qualified family therapist. She currently works across Europe training all kinds of people in how to nurture healthy, caring and peaceful relationships. And she’s still developing her listening skills! She has been married for 36 years and has three adult children and three grandchildren.

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