Type 1: The Monitor
Your stomach gets tied in knots each time you wonder if you've timed it right to conceive this month, or your heart is pounding as you sit in traffic and contemplate the presentation you're about to give at work. If only you could relax (and regulate your body temperature), everything would be fine. You close your eyes and try to picture yourself at the beach house you rented last summer. No luck. You don't "see" anything and actually find yourself even more tense.
"Relaxation is very individual," says Jon Seskevich, a stress- and pain-management educator at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. In fact, many of us fall into one of four basic stress types.
The Monitor's M.O. is control. You like to live in the present at all times and ask a lot of questions during stressful situations. Despite having an active imagination, you find it nearly impossible to mentally get away from the source of stress.
You Know You're One If . . . In the OB-GYN's office, you keep your eyes open and stay focused on what's going on around you. You tend to inquire about every little poke and prod. ("Um .. .now what are you doing?")
If asked to imagine yourself walking through a peaceful forest, you either get a blank screen or can't focus on the image for more than a few seconds.
You're filled with what-ifs when under stress. What if you get in a car accident over the weekend and miss your Monday deadline? What if your toddler hates his new babysitter? "The Monitor's mind can be her worst enemy when it comes to relaxing," says Dr. Patricia McWhorter, PhD, a clinical psychologist in St. Petersburg, Florida.
For general stress relief, Dr. McWhorter suggests you "connect with nature. Go for a leisurely walk or stroll with your kids in the park or sit by a river and watch the sunset." If you don't already, try attending religious services every so often. "You will probably be comforted by the hymns or simply the feeling of connection with others," says Dr. Jenkins.
Stress Rx: Physical relaxation techniques such as belly breathing (breathing from the depths of your diaphragm) work best. During stressful situations, like at work minutes before you're going to give a big presentation, monitor your breathing by placing your hand on your abdomen and watching it rise and fall in sync with each breath. Belly breathing distracts you from the event at hand. It also helps counteract the quick, shallow chest breathing associated with stress. As a result, it lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and sustains the amount of oxygen in your blood—all of which help short-circuit the release of fight-or-flight hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline), noradrenaline, and cortisol throughout the body, says Seskevich.
Monitors also benefit by fulfilling their need for information and control. If you or your child is diagnosed with a medical condition, for example, calm yourself by reading up on it. Have to give a presentation at the office? Practice, practice, practice.