Stress management: As the first hour goes...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Q. If you could encourage people to do just one thing to improve their day and relieve stress, what would it be?

A. I think our days are most dramatically impacted by how we begin them. We have more control over that than we think. I wish I had written the piece below, but I’ve borrowed it from a friend named Claude Dollins:

My dad was a cowboy—we called him Rope. As I look back, I recall an experience that was most meaningful to me. My dad was an early riser. He was up most mornings before the sun, drinking coffee, getting ready for the day. I remember one scene, at the barn, that made a valuable impact on my life. Cowboys call it saddling-up time. Some of the things I remember about saddling-up time:

He would very slowly walk up to his horse, speaking in a low, soft voice.

He would gently slip the bridle over the ears of the horse and allow the horse to take the bit. This was the first contact of the day and it was slow and gentle.

Carefully and patiently, he would brush the horse with even and gentle strokes, talking in a subdued voice to the animal as he moved from side to side.

With ease and little motion, he would gently slide the blanket on the back of the horse, always reassuring the animal.

Next, with one motion, he would place the saddle on the horse, walking around the horse to make certain all girths and cinches were in place.

The final step in this slow, deliberate and intentional process, was to take the reins and turn the horse 360 degrees to check one last time, then with precision, he would put his left foot in the stirrup and with one movement, with ease and grace, he would place his hand on the saddle horn and pull himself into the saddle.

As you read those words, did you notice some of the keys to beginning a day effectively? Words like gentle, slowly, intentional. As the first hour of the day goes, so goes the day.

Dr. Gary Schwantz is a speaker, writer and consultant. Reach him at