One of the television shows that I watched frequently throughout my junior high and high school years was “A Different World”, the spin-off of another beloved show, “The Cosby Show.” To this day, Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert remain one of my all-time favorite television couples, with their constant on-again, off-again, will-they-or-won’t they? romance, highlighted by one of the greatest television wedding moments ever, in my book.

I was delighted to recently discover “A Different World” airing in syndication and have enjoyed watching it again. And that’s what brings me to today’s topic, de-stressing the Whitley Gilbert way. In one of the episodes, a stressed-out Whitley goes to see a therapist (played by the brilliant Debbie Allen), who teaches her the mantra “Relax…relate…release.” (Skip ahead to the 4:00 mark in the clip below to see its introduction.)

There have been many times, particularly at work, when I’ve had to coach myself to “Relax…relate…release.” Today, for instance, I came to work already feeling a wee bit stressed out about a few deadlines that I’m up against. To add to the stress, right off the bat I got waylaid by an unexpected project that demanded my attention for much of the day. I didn’t get as much done on my other projects as I’d planned…but that’s okay but I told myself to Relax…relate…release. (And yes, I find that I can’t say it even in my head without hearing Whitley’s thick Southern drawl.)

Here are a few things that Ms. Gilbert’s mantra has taught me regarding dealing with stress.

Relax: When I reach a point of feeling totally overwhelmed by work, or when I’m struggling with a block in my creativity (sadly, creativity does not always come automatically during regular work hours), I find that it helps if I step away from my desk for a little while. Even a quick trip to the break room or to talk with a co-worker can help me relax a bit. Of course, taking a mental health day is the preferred course of treatment, but rarely feasible, so these mini-breaks will have to do.

Relate: I tend to keep things–particularly things that I’m worried about–pretty close to the vest, but I know that I’m much better off if I open up and share my worries and struggles with other people. Sometimes that’s in the form of shooting a quick email to a trusted friend asking for prayers, sometimes it’s writing in my journal or on this blog, sometimes (and really should be always) it’s spending time in prayer to God about whatever’s weighing me down. Somehow just talking about what’s troubling me makes it seem slightly less burdensome. (Hmmm, maybe Paul was onto something with that whole “Share one another’s burdens” instruction…)

Release: Just this morning on my way to work (before I even knew that I’d have this unexpected project come up) I prayed that I would let go of the notion that the work I do is more important than how I treat people involved in the work. It’s too easy for me to get stressed out over deadlines and forget that, truly, it’s not going to matter in a year or five or a hundred years just what date my quarterly magazine was mailed out. Instead, the way that I treat my co-workers and other people I encounter is the lasting impression that matters.

I’ve also had to release some opportunities due to timing. Case in point: I was recently asked to help out one of our church’s ministries by producing a newsletter. That is right in my wheelhouse, and I was tempted to say yes, but I just couldn’t. Since I’m already working on several publications at work, I realized that when I come home from work the last thing I’d want to do would be to work on another newsletter. I could do the work, but I’d probably develop some resentment toward it if I tried to do it right now. And so, after some thought about it, I reluctantly told the person who’d asked me to consider the project that now was not the right time for me to be part of it. I feel a sense of peace about it, and I know that if I’m meant to be involved in that project or another similar project, that the opportunity will come up again at a time that’s right for me. Learning to release my own sense of timing and trust God’s has been a difficult lesson to learn (and one that I’m still learning), but I’m glad that He helped me recognize the need to let this project go right now.

Have you learned some methods (even from non-sitcom characters) that have helped you when you’re feeling particularly stressed out?

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