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How Not to Stew

5 ways to stop stewing, and let go of minor offenses.

illustration of head with gear

Chad Baker/Thinkstock

Let’s call them “thorns.” They are minor interactions gone bad, wedged under our skin far longer than necessary. You know the feeling. You’re agitated. Miffed. Offended. Perhaps someone made a snarky comment on Facebook. Or there was a discomfiting interaction at the PTA meeting. Maybe a petty quarrel with some guy at the post office. Unlike a tiff with a friend, spouse or family member, “thorns” lack much context or history. You can’t brush them off, saying, “Oh, that’s just Mom’s sense of humor,” or “Oo, Geoffrey’s doing that thing again... [but still I love him].” Thorns tend to get replayed over and over in the mind, causing anxiety. “Why did I say that? Why did she say that?” For this week’s Healthy Habits, here are five ways to stop stewing, and let go of these minor offenses before they get a chance to raise your blood pressure even one bit.

1) Create a backstory. That lady cut you off on the freeway! Road rage! But wait. Tell a tale. She’s racing to the hospital, where her husband lays in dire straits. He’s just been hit by a truck. It’s a cement truck... He’s covered in cement and they are chipping him out! No wait, doctors are putting hand prints into him like he’s the sidewalk outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It’s a very bad scene. Empathy and/or humor are powerful calming tools.  

2) Use an affirmation. Some of us are just prone to rumination. So try a simple affirmation, such as, “I release the need to replay a negative event over and over in my mind.”

3) It’s not all about you. Remember that most people are far more focused on themselves than you think. You are the center of your own universe, but that’s the parameters, toots. That guy who stole your parking spot? It really wasn’t personal.

4) Pet something furry. Stroking a dog, cat or another fuzzy animal can reduce anxiety and depression, release the feel-good hormone oxytocin and distract you from mental replays.

5) Practice a loving heart. Breathing gently, turn your intention to lovingkindness. “May I be filled with lovingkindness,” is Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s suggested meditation on the subject, followed by, “I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.”– Walt Whitman.

Pull out the thorn, and move on. You hold so much goodness.

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  

Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Savannah. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!.

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