Say the Magic Word

Last week, I wrote about rest and asked readers, “How do you rest when there are so many things you have to or want to do?” I didn’t get any replies. Either you’re not interested, or you haven’t had any ideas that worked. Just in case, here are some strategies that might.


Go see your mother. No, not that mother. I’m talking about Mother Nature. Watch the animals—some of them may work pretty hard, but you never see them check their cell phones for messages. They know how to relax. Or look at the lilies of the field. Jesus said they don’t toil or spin—he was right. There are no workaholic flowers. Spending time in nature is a great way to reduce stress and help your body heal.

Practice peace. Meditation and/or focused breathing have been great healing practices for thousands of years. All you have to do is sit there and focus on one thing: your breathing, a candle, any beautiful object or living thing, or anything at all. Your mind will wander to thoughts of the day, but just let it go, then gently bring it back to your breath. More relaxing than sleep. Prayer can also be a powerful healer in this way, as you focus on your higher power or an object of devotion.

Schedule downtime. It’s just like exercise, blood glucose monitoring, studying for a test, or anything else. You’re much more likely to rest if you schedule rest time in advance. You still might have trouble sticking to the schedule, but at least you’ve got a chance. Lunch breaks often make good rest times, and a few minutes of break after work, before jumping into family stuff, might make your evening go a lot better.

Pay attention. Do you ever notice that your life seems to be flying past you faster and faster? It could be that you’re flying by it instead. Charles Kuralt, who chronicled America’s byways in his show “On the Road,” used to say, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country, from coast to coast, without seeing anything.” Unfortunately, many of us race through our lives, from birth coast to death coast, without appreciating most of what we experience.

Practice taking the time to really appreciate the good things in your life. One way is to make a list each night of five things you were thankful for that day. Another is to do it as a family activity: Go around the table and ask each person to say one thing they appreciate that day. If you know you’ll have to write it or say it, you’ll be more likely to pay attention in the first place.

Relaxing on the move. Exercise can be a form of relaxation. Walking, stretching, tai chi, swimming, and many other forms of movement can be relaxing. Just focus on the sensations or the sights and sounds, instead of on the errands you have to do later on. Even housework can be relaxing if we approach it as meditation, focusing on the activity or on our breathing.

Say the magic word. When you’re a child, the magic words are “Please” and “Thank You.” When you’re an adult, especially one with a chronic illness, the magic word is “No,” and the more you use it, the better your life is likely to go.

Canadian doctor Gabor Maté wrote a book called When the Body Says No. He shows that if we don’t learn to say no for ourselves, our bodies will say it for us by getting sick or even dying.

Don’t go that way. We don’t have to do everything, for everybody, all the time. Doing for others is good, but we have to find a balance between doing for others, doing for ourselves, and not doing.

The same applies to good offers that come our way. Your friend gets tickets to a show. You might want to go, but do you really have energy for it? Will you be able to relax? It might be worth a little stress and fatigue, but at least think about it. An invitation is not a summons. Someone offers you chocolate cake. You may want it, but you don’t have to take it. Be polite about it; people will understand. “I’m too tired to go with you tonight, but I would love to next week.”

I hope this helps. (If not, write me for more.) Let me know how it’s going. You can see more articles on slowing down at my Web site, Post comments here or send them there.

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  • Sherrill

    This article is right on target. I have worked hard to put balance in my life and have not been very sucessful. I am retiring in a few days. I am going to focus on putting my health first. That includes rest, saying no, walking, riding bike everyday and all those things you wrote about. I think in the past I never really understood that all of these things are important and together they make of big difference.

  • Rosalind

    David, I’m suprised there is one item missing from your list…music. The right music always relaxes me.

  • Beth


    For a quick centering moment when I step outdoors, I always look at the sky and take a deep breath. This is a persistent practice for me. The sky is always there. It does not matter whether it’s clear, cloudy, grey, or rainy — it’s always a reminder that the universe is larger than me and my own concerns. And a deep breath reminds me that I am grateful for life. It’s a quick prayer of thanks.


  • Bluebird

    David, you mentioned Dr. Bernstein’s book Diabetes Solution. Do you follow his diet? I just got the book yesterday and already what he says makes sense to me. My blood glucose counts are not considered in the “high” range but they keep inching up. My doctor says to watch what I eat and exercise and we wil “watch it”. What is your experience with Dr. Bernstein?

  • Cathym

    I have enjoyed each of your entries very much especially these about getting rest. I have no small children or a husband so it is easier for me to have down time which I try to do every Saturday unless something really important comes up. I let the answering maching catch my calls so if there is an emergency I am still informed. I do exactly what I want to do for the day. I sleep late, eat something good (and most of the time good for me) and spend the day either poking around in thrift shops or online working on my family history or just reading a good book with a glass of tea. The week days are given over to a two hour round trip commute to work and errands I have to do but Saturdays are all mine. My family and friends have learned that I need this time to relax and they respect this need. It really helps to keep me going during the rest of the week. Sunday is usually reserved for family and friends so I can touch base with everyone eventually. I enjoy my Saturdays!

  • David Spero RN

    What great comments!
    Rosalind is totally right about the value of music. I do that almost every day, and it helps. I think I’ll turn some on now.
    Beth’s idea of looking up at the sky and taking a deep breath is wonderful also. I might suggest making it two or three breaths.
    Cathy takes Saturday as a Sabbath day, a day of rest. This idea is so powerful that it’s one of the Ten Commandments! But how many of us do it? Wayne Muller has written a couple of books on this.

    I’ll be writing about low-carb approaches in my next blog.