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The ringing telephone, a looming deadline, a frowning supervisor, financial worry, resentment towards a coworker--stress comes in many forms.  When we are alarmed or startled, our bodies react with a stress response.  Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated and we hold our breath and experience increased muscle tension, cold hands and feet, clammy hands, and butterflies in the stomach.  Chronic stress can have cumulative effects on our bodies and can manifest in many ways, such as immune system depression, hypertension, musculoskeletal pain, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, decreased fertility, and more.  Over the long run, chronic stress decreases our ability to perform by depleting our resources and results in burn-out.

Almost any threatening thought or stimuli (such as being late) will trigger an alarm reaction. It takes just seconds to respond to a stressor. Take control of your reactions to stressful situations by practicing the Quieting Reflex.

How to do the Quieting Reflex:* 

  • Become aware of the stress stimuli (a worry, annoyance, or anxiety, or muscle tension).  Ask yourself: "Is it life threatening?"  If not, go on to the next step.
  • Smile inwardly with your mouth and with your eyes sparkle to the left and right. Just moving your eyes side to side can remind you that there is more than one way of seeing any situation, no matter how terrible it seems right now.  Might it even seem amusing 5 years from now? Say to yourself, "Alert mind, calm body."  Or substitute another coping phrase, such as "I can relax" or "I can choose peace instead of this."
  • Inhale a slow, deep, abdominal breath.  Exhale, and let your jaw, tongue, and shoulders go loose.  Feel a wave of heaviness flowing through your body, all the way down to your toes. 
  • Take another easy breath.  Exhale, and feel a wave of warmth flowing through your entire body, streaming through your arms and legs as though they were hollow tubes, and feel the warm air flowing out your fingers and toes. 
  • React to every stressor with the Quieting Response.

Optional:  Smile 5 times today at people you don't usually smile at: service people, check-out clerks, toll collectors, complete strangers and even your co-workers.  What was their response?  What was the effect on you?

*Adapted from Stroebel, C.F. (1982). QR: The Quieting Reflex. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons and Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002).  Make Health Happen: Training Yourself to Create Wellness.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.


The Institute for Holistic Healing Studies and Human Resources sponsor the distribution of Healthy Computing Email Tips. Copyright 2009 Erik Peper, Ph.D. and Katherine Hughes Gibney. Permission to copy and distribute Healthy Computing Email Tips for personal use is granted. Distribution or copying of Healthy Computing Email Tips for commercial purposes is prohibited without prior written consent of the copyright holders.
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