I have a new tool for reducing stress: Lines and dots on paper

Here's how you can use what I call a "stress speedometer" in your everyday life

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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I have an imaginary toolkit filled with a variety of stress-reduction strategies to help me when life’s speed bumps appear. Living with ALS is stressful enough, but add in TV news, social media, and other minor dramas and I can quickly feel overwhelmed. In addition, I was bored with my current anti-stress tactics, so I added a new strategy to my kit. It smooths out my day and is easy to use — as simple as drawing dots on a piece of paper.

I first learned about this method years ago in the stress-reduction classes we offered at the hospital-based wellness center where I worked. The technique was created by Laurel Mellin, PhD, and I’ve adapted it to meet my current needs.

First, I need to explain why this strategy is useful. It aims to counteract our tendency to live with our minds on autopilot.

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How does caregiver stress from my husband’s ALS affect me?

For example, back when I used to drive a car (something I’ve had to give up due to my ALS symptoms), there were times when I’d arrive at my destination but couldn’t remember the drive itself. We all do it. I’d get behind the wheel, start my journey, and become lost in thought. Stop signs, turns, and merging into traffic were all accomplished safely, but not with my direct attention. I was driving with my mind on autopilot.

Occasionally, my mind would jerk back into the present moment, and I’d glance at the speedometer and realize I was driving too slowly or inching past the speed limit. Making a quick adjustment, I’d drive on.

I think of this new strategy as my personal speedometer. It’s visual feedback that lets me know I’m inching into the “stress zone.”

How to

Halfway down a sheet of paper, I draw a horizontal line from one side to the other. The line represents my body-mind feelings. The space above the line represents feelings of stress and being overly stimulated or tense. Below the line represents feeling sad, tired, or burned out. The line is neutral territory: feeling relaxed, calm, and good. The line also signifies one day: The left side is morning, and the right side is night.

A tryout

If you are ready for a practice run, think about yesterday.

Put a dot on the left side of the paper representing how you felt when you woke up. Is the dot on the line, above it, or below it? Then think about how you felt later in the morning and add another dot. Think about later in the day, in the evening, and finally, how you felt at bedtime.

Take a good look at the paper. It’s normal to have gentle high and low points throughout the day, but if you see that the dots are in the shape of a large valley below the line, it may be a sign that you’re experiencing burnout and need to talk to your caregiver, a family member, or a friend.

A daily check-in

Now you’re ready to use the technique like I do: in my head while going through my day. Every two hours or so, I stop and think about how I feel at that moment. I visualize the paper and add a dot above, below, or on the line.

The point of this exercise is to monitor body-mind feelings and be able to catch potential stressors early on. Every few hours, I ask myself how I feel and if needed, I take time to adjust my mind, my body, or the situation.

I urge you to try my new strategy. It’s a great self-care technique for both ALS patients and their caregivers. And it’s one more way we can learn how to live well with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Faith Oremland avatar

Faith Oremland

Would appreciate seeing a couple of visualizations, examples of different ways the diagram (paper) will look depending on how you feel and your mood.
Thanks. Your tips are so valuable!


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