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By Joe Cooke

RISMEDIA, May 15, 2007-A little stress can be a good thing. Pick up a rubber band and hold it loosely between your thumbs. Let your left thumb be you, where you are right now, and let your right thumb be you, achieving your goals. Now, take your thumbs and pull them as far apart as you can. You should feel some tension in that rubber band – tension that can pull you toward your goals and dreams. That kind of tension is useful because it creates movement. However, you know if you stretch that band too tight, it will break.

There are several studies out now that tie stress in with heart disease, aging and even cancer. Stress can make you grumpy, it can give you headaches and muscle aches and generally saps your effectiveness. So, what can you do? The following are eight tools for relieving stress, starting with two of the most basic, followed by three advanced tools and finishing with three power tools.

Basic Tools

1. Take a Hike
Taking a walk will clear your mind. It will also oxygenate your blood, which in turn will help clarify your thoughts. Walk alone and turn off your cell phone. We tend to live with our cell phone-when it rings, we want to drop everything to answer it. While we’re talking, we get two voice mails. By the time you finish listening to your voice mails, the phone rings again. Or, we’re waiting for an important call back and the darn thing isn’t ringing. So, turn it off and walk in peace. If back, foot or other physical limitations prevent you from walking, try rocking in a chair or just find a quiet place and imagine a walk.

2. Control Your Input
When problems crop up, you can’t afford to be loaded up on sugar, caffeine, simple carbohydrates, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup or other non-nutritional substances (including alcohol.) The time to develop good eating habits is when things are going well. Even so, in a crisis, get tough with your inner child. Refuse to immerse your troubles in junk food and junk drinks. Keep apples and a bottle of water on hand. When stress hits, take the initiative and grab your healthy food.

Advanced Tools

1. Redecorate
Look at your office space. Clutter and disorganization can make you feel overwhelmed and unsettled. Find a place for everything. If you’re having trouble getting started, hire a temp or even a professional organizer. Put up some relaxing pictures, add a favorite lamp and a live plant or bring in your guitar and a pot of potpourri. You might even try some simple Feng Shui. Do whatever you can to make your place of work more relaxing and you’ll find your whole day going better.

2. Stay in the Moment
Two major contributors to stress are (a) worrying about the future and (b) regret for the past. Every real estate transaction is fraught with problems. And yet, any possible scenario you can think of for the future probably won’t happen. Whatever does come your way will most likely be something unexpected. Remember, you can’t change the past, but you can mess up the present by worrying about the future.

3. Refill the Well
There is a wellspring of creativity and energy within you, but you have to give as well as take. Stressful transactions, stressful clients and stressful meetings all deplete your well of enthusiasm. Make sure you are doing something every day to fill it back up again. Take yourself on a date. Go to a movie, a party or fun art exhibit. Don’t take your work with you-just go for fun. Or, try something creative-sing, dance, laugh, draw or write. Creativity heals pain. It is a way to process your feelings. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn just by doing something creative for yourself. You never have to show it to anyone.

Power Tools

1. Remember to Laugh
Weird stuff happens to all of us. You are not terminally unique. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. For instance, several years ago I was showing homes to a prominent executive and his wife (call them Larry and Rose) and I accidentally locked my keys (including my electronic lockbox key) in the house. Fortunately the owner had left the automatic garage door open just a crack to let her cats in and out. Rose insisted that she could slide under the garage door to retrieve the keys. She got down on the pavement, on her back, and wormed under the door, but she only made it to her hips. She was stuck there with her legs sticking out. I was mortified, but Larry stayed calm and we decided that together, they might be able to lift the door just enough to get Rose unstuck. We slipped our fingers under the door, bent our knees, counted slowly to three and then heaved upward. The funny thing was, the door wasn’t secured at all. It actually flew right up light as a feather. Rose could have pushed it up at any time. No one laughed harder than she did.

2. Mind Your Attitude
Learn to control your own thoughts. If your mind is like a jumping monkey, when problems arise, your thoughts will be all over the cage, rattling the bars and screaming. Focused breathing, learning a mantra, meditating on a phrase or passage and walking meditations are all good stress-fighters. If that is too new age for you, try keeping a journal. Writing can both process and focus your thoughts.

3. Seek the Gift
The universe will never give you more than you can handle. Every transaction takes you up a notch-treat each problem as a opportunity. For example, a young agent sold an upscale, new home to a couple and forgot to write in the refrigerator and stove. The day before the sale closed, the builder took the fridge and stove out. The agent ended up buying replacements. By keeping a good attitude and by doing the right thing without complaining, the agent got referrals from both the clients and the builder. The universe will never give you more than you can handle. Every transaction takes you up a notch-treat each problem as an opportunity.

Imagine your rubber band again. There’s power in the tension between what you really want and your current reality. If you don’t take care of yourself, that tension can tug at your dreams until all you can see are days and days of drudgery ahead. Worse yet, if your band became brittle and hard, it will break and you will find yourself sick, tired and on the verge of a breakdown. However, if you keep that band supple and flexible, and if you have energy and enthusiasm, the tension will pull you to your goals.

Joe Cooke is an author, speaker and entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in marketing and management. In addition to earning a Masters Degree in Taxation and a Law Degree, he has held real estate licenses in both Washington State (as an agent) and Oregon (as a broker).