Keeping calm. Keeping sane. (9/11 Diary)

This article continues our remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. This is the last of the diary entries from 2001.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

This article continues our remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. This is the last of the diary entries from 2001. There will be one more article, published tomorrow, which discusses the events of September 11 from the vantage point of a decade later.

I wrote the following on November 12, 2001 and posted it on the ZATZ news pages. I've gone back into the archives, found my posts from those days, and I'm re-publishing them here, raw, and un-retouched. Reading my old posts has helped me get in touch with what this anniversary means. I hope that they serve a healing purpose for you, as well.

Before I sit down to write my column, I usually like to let the topic knock around my brain for a while. I usually devote at least one shower (the hot water apparently loosens up the brain cells) and at least one commute to noodling about what to say.

This morning, I was fully prepared to write about...something. Then I saw the news. American Airlines Flight 587, with 255 people on board, crashed into the Queens borough of New York City. Whatever had been rattling around in my brain until then was gone.

This stuff is getting too personal, too close for many of us. A week ago, I was on an American Airlines flight coming home from a seminar.

And it gets even closer. Just before the weekend, on Friday, I got a panicked call from my parents. They live in Florida and had been listening to the news. They were shocked when they heard reports of Anthrax being found in the little tiny post office in Rocky Hill, New Jersey. That's our post office. It's a tiny storefront in the base of a tiny building, all in this little, one-square-mile picturesque rural suburb of Princeton. And, apparently, some few spores of Anthrax had reached our quaint burg.

News upon news upon news. It's enough to make you crazy.

The economy's down, terrorists are blowing things up, wackos are mailing Anthrax-filled envelopes, planes are crashing, unemployment is up, and the stress is getting to us all.

I can't tell you what's going to happen. I can't tell you if things will get better or worse. But I can tell you that I, like so many others, have been giving the events of the last few months a lot of thought. And I've reached a few, simple conclusions: we have to go on with our lives, and we have to learn to manage stress.

We have to go on with our lives. We can take a few moments off to grieve, to think, and to process, but we have to go on with our lives. We have to continue to write, program, sell, eat, love, design, buy, and do all those things that make up the tapestry of life. No matter how weird the world is, we're in it, it keeps moving, and so must we.

How we move through it, though, is where there's room for growth. I'd hate to assume that there's going to be more and more stressful events, but it's a reasonable guess. We can either let each event knock us back, make us hurt more, make us weaker, or we can learn how to honor the event and let it flow over us.

There's no doubt. Stress makes you stupid, and it makes you sick. So there's no doubt it's best for your body and your soul if you can learn to manage the stress, help your body and your mind chill out. In fact, I advocate learning. Much as you'd learn to use a new software program, you can learn to use tools that can help you reduce stress. I'm going to talk about a few of them here.

Take a walk. Get outside, get some fresh air, and take a walk. A ten-minute walk will do wonders for your heart and your soul, plus a bit of cardiovascular activity will help release endorphins and get your blood pumping.

Breathe. Changing your breathing can provide an amazing calming effect. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, hold it for about five seconds, and release it slowly out your mouth. Repeat ten times and do this three times a day. You'll be amazed at how stress dissolves through this simple practice.

Visualize. Find a quiet time and close your eyes. Let all the muscles around your eyes, your mouth, and your forehead relax (it's surprising how much tension we carry in these muscles). Breathe slowly and deeply, and for just five minutes or so, visualize someplace safe and comfortable. Perhaps you'll visualize a nice meadow, a forest glen, or your favorite computer store. Visualize whatever makes you feel good.

Exercise. There's no substitute for working out. Pumping iron (or other forms of strenuous exercise) will release calming endorphins. In fact, you could make walking in nature part of your exercise program for the best overall benefit.

There are a lot more things you could do to help yourself stay calm, but if you practice the four tips listed above, it'll make things easier. You'll be able to work smarter, make better decisions, and you'll feel better.

Read the rest of the 9/11 Diary series:

Also read:

During our 9/11 retrospective coverage, I invite you to post your thoughts and remembrances, but I also request you remain respectful and polite. This isn't just a story of politics. This is a story of real people, their families, and their loss. Courtesy is demanded at a time like this. Thanks!

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