- Stress Relief -

Gloomy Gripers

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How to remedy the stress of being subjected to the negativity of a chronic complainer.

You can spot them by the frowns of disapproval that seem permanently etched on their faces, the waves of negative energy they bring with them into the room and the always-complaining, never-satisfied critiques of the world around them. These griping types seem most alive when expressing their judgments — and when bringing others down to their bummed-out point of view. What do you do if you don’t want to follow them into negativeland? California-based Zen teacher Cheri Huber suggests one overarching principle for stress-free encounters with these folks: Don’t try to rebuke or change them, but simply stay positive yourself. “If you stay focused on what’s interesting and exciting for you,” she says, “you can come out of even the most negative conversation inspired.”

Stress Source

Negative, critical complainers.
Work colleagues, friends or family members who are habitual gripers — embittered or glum types who never seem satisfied or approving, and who sometimes seem intent on bringing everyone else into their dark gray cloud of negativity.

Barriers to Overcome

Being reactive: Your first impulse might be to snap at one of these naysayers. “When you do that, you’re just adding more negative energy,” says Huber. “You’ll feel bad — and they’ll just go looking for the next person to bother.”

The temptation to join: The complaint club is always seeking new members. Particularly in the workplace, says Huber, “Griping is one of the ways you can fit in.” But there are better ways to connect.

Repressing your frustration: “You may think, I can stand it, he’ll go away soon, I should just rise above it,” says Huber. Unfortunately, if you regularly push your own feelings away, your frustration is likely to eat away at you.

A desire to change them: Nothing is more maddening than trying to make people change their behavior, and in any case, most complainers don’t believe that they are, in fact, negative. “They usually think they’re just being constructive and authentic,” says Huber.

How to Cope

Choose your response: The complainer isn’t making you angry; you’re agreeing to be triggered into anger, says Huber. “If you know what triggers you in an encounter with a complainer, then you know what your defensive moves should be. Watch for triggers and train yourself to have a different response to them.”

Decide what they mean to you: If you don’t value a complainer’s opinions in any area and have the option of avoiding them, the best thing is to steer clear or cut short your interactions in a pleasant and compassionate way, Huber suggests.

Go positive on them: When a complainer confronts you with a list of ills, agree that they need to be changed and suggest solutions that excite and inspire you. “There’s nothing more annoying to someone who wants to complain than somebody who turns the complaint into something positive or comes up with a real solution,” says Huber.

Stay positive yourself:  “You need to decide for yourself that whatever the world sends your way, your job is to see it as a blessing, an opportunity,” she says.

Stress Solver

Between a Rock and a Hot Place
Hot-rock (or stone) massages are a great way to let go of negativity, relieve bodily tension and finally relax.

These days, many massage therapists are using tools borrowed from Mother Earth — hot stones — to make massage even more soothing and beneficial. Therapists lay the hot rocks on the body and use them in their hands as well, usually as an accompaniment to a conventional massage. According to Margaret Sargent, a therapist in Morro Bay, Calif., rocks don’t just relax you, they “soften up tissue so it’s easier for me to use my hands for a really deep massage. The tissue is going to ‘let me in’ because the rocks have done their job.”

Origin: Although hot stones were used in massage in ancient Egypt and among Native Americans and traditional Hawaiians, modern hot-rock massage took off after Mary Nelson-Hannigan, a massage therapist in Tucson, Ariz., started LaStone Therapy in 1993. Since then, LaStone has trained many practitioners in Nelson-Hannigan’s approach, and other techniques have flourished as well.

Benefits: Besides making tissue more amenable to therapists’ fingers, hot rocks dilate blood vessels, says Sargent, increasing circulation and pushing toxins out of the muscles into the lymphatic system. The LaStone technique, in which Sargent was trained, uses cold rocks, too. “The hot rock pumps blood into a tense muscle, and the cold one draws blood out,” she says. “That way, the muscle really relaxes.” And the sense of connection with the earth that comes with the stones’ touch helps to calm and “center” clients.

Simple Steps: There are many hot-rock massage styles, but most involve a layout of smooth, heat-retaining basalt stones on or under the client’s body, following the spine or pinpointing the chakras — between the toes and in the palms of the hands, too — after the stones have been warmed in water heated to between 120 and 130 degrees F. (Cold stones are usually marble or jade.) Sargent typically begins with a hot-and-cold layout that follows the spine, beneath the upward-facing client; then she takes warm and cold stones in her hands to begin the massage proper, following with a hands-only sequence. Sargent puts a sheet between the stones and the client’s body, while other practitioners lay the stones directly on the skin after oiling it, encouraging the client to let the therapist know if the rocks are too warm for comfort or too tepid to do any good. It’s a technique too complex to try at home, so Sargent advises going to a well-trained practitioner. “Ask them about their hot-rock massage education, and choose someone with a solid background.”

Jon Spayde is a St. Paul, Minn.–based writer and editor.

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