Navy Specific

12 Simple Soothers for Stress ( +TMJ Help!) ©

12 Simple Soothers for Stress ( +TMJ Help!) ©
by award-winning stress-relief expert Susie Mantell (author: "Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace")
NOTE: Enjoy more of Susie's FREE stress tips or "Ask Susie.." your own stress questions at

Dear Friends at,

In today's world, much is uncertain. Pretty much everyone these days longs to reduce day-to-day stress, get restful sleep, enjoy life more, be more fit or healthy..more patient..less forgetful. For families in the armed forces, the world is a very complicated and sometimes frightening place. My hope is that these articles will offer help for the day-to-day stress that is an inherent part of life in the military.

Each month, I share suggestions for coping with, or diminishing a specific stress-related problem, plus some "something for everyone" tips to inform, amuse, or help you to reflect upon and enrich your quality of life. Naturally, some months will touch you more personally, as we address worry, depression, workplace stress, bereavement, health conditions exacerbated by stress, irritability, anger, sleeplessness, divorce, caregiver or parenting stress, long-term illness, etc. This month I've shared an assortment of stress tips and a feature on a frustrating, often painful, stress-related condition that affects people from tots to seniors. I was asked a question regarding teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching and TMJ. I found myself thinking of how many, many people I know who have experienced this potentially troublesome phenomenon. So if you know, (or are,) someone who clenches, grinds, and aches as a result, this one's for you. (If not, the suggestions and tips here apply universally.)

Q: Dear Susie, I grind my teeth in my sleep and have for years. I also clench my jaw many times the day for no apparent reason other than stress. Now I am paying $15,000 to re-crown half of my teeth worn away from grinding. I'm going to order your tape and my dentist thinks the relaxation will help. What else can I do about clenching, grinding and TMJ?

A: Well, it sounds as though you've been through a lot already, so let me offer some help to relieve some of your discomfort and frustration as quickly as we can. The condition you refer to, known as Bruxism, (involuntarily grinding of the teeth and clenching the jaw,) can indeed take place both while asleep and during the day. Some people unconsciously clench while concentrating, sometimes accompanied by hand clenching, tight grip on the steering wheel, or while at the computer, holding shoulders unnecessarily elevated, somewhere around your ears! (POP QUIZ: Freeze! Are your molars touching? Shoulders scrunched up? Breathing shallowly?) Some people also habitually and unconsciously clench muscles in their bottoms, fingers, or grip pens too tightly while writing. Slow, mindful breathing can be helpful to release tension and oxygenate the muscles, once we are aware. Perhaps set a timer for once every hour to stand, stretch, b-r-e-a-t-h-e...and release anything that's been "inadvertently clenched."

Bruxism seems to be caused primarily by stress, however in some cases I understand facial or oral trauma, nervous system malfunction and allergies can be implicated. It can go unnoticed for years, often until headache, neck, shoulder or facial pain, or dental problems arise as in your case. Semingly innocuous, clenching or grinding can become a serious matter and involve TMJ pain (temporomandibular joint in the jaw,) neuralgia, sinusitis, dental erosion, and restless nights that don't allow enough restorative Delta level sleep. (This sleep deprivation can then lead to muscular pain such as Fibromyalgia...a complex, confusing cycle to diagnose.) Various oral appliances can be beneficial when precisely and individually fitted by a TMJ specialist, including upper retainers for opening the jaw to resting position, lower jaw-shifting repositioners, and others. (These should be adjusted periodically as teeth shift over time and the bite changes.)


1) The words, "Lips together, teeth apart." are the mantra of TMJ specialists everywhere! (NOTE: This is good advice for all of us who hold much of our tension in the neck and shoulders.)

2) Massage can be extremely beneficial, though caution is advised. Listen to your body, and talk with licensed massage therapists who practice swedish or shiatsu, reiki, reflexology or any other type of therapeutic bodywork you enjoy. Let them know about any other physical conditions before you begin. (A knowledgeable, experienced massage therapist can be a terrific resource!)

3) Osteopathic or Chiropractic manipulation of the cranial bones, acupuncture, cranio-sacral and myofascial work by licensed, experienced professionals can be a Godsend. Physical Therapists offer stretches and exercises that can give relief and retrain muscles. Dr. David H. Klein, a chiropractor/kinesiologist in NYC/Scarsdale, often creates programs for his TMJ patients in conjunction with a dentist, specializing in the condition. Dr.Klein echoes #1 above, and suggests completely softening every single facial muscle until your entire face sags and droops and looks like a basset hound! Even the tongue should soften and float in the cavity of your mouth, tip gently behind the front teeth..ever so gently, to release the neck and throat. (It looks truly ridiculous but I have to admit, it gives tremendous release in the temples, scalp, jaw, eye sockets, cheeks, sinuses, forehead...) Try it whenever you think of it, (and when nobody's looking,) perhaps while driving, watching TV, or falling asleep.

4) Create soothing relaxation experiences including music, guided imagery, renting a movie...a chaise by the pool. I was glad to read that you are going to begin listening to my relaxation audio, "Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace." (Not only because it's really might help! Many physicians, dentists, and physical therapists recommend it for that very purpose.)

5) A) Tune in to your body. It will teach you a lot. B) Become informed. Read, research on the internet, but as always, consider the source. Be sure it is highly credible, unbiased, and then check out your findings with trusted professionals in the field. Some of the sites I mentioned in a previous newsletter at may be helpful.

While the obvious thought for reducing bedtime Bruxism would be to focus solely on bedtime relaxation techniques, nothing could be further from the truth. Remember that stress is cumulative...but so is stress-relief. Things we do throughout the day, every day, impact, in a cumulative way, how the body-mind will process, hold, or release its stress. Take a look at my tip entitled: "70 Ways to Feel Really Good... Fast," and others on getting healthy, restorative sleep, and breathing mindfully. You'll find all these and lots more at


Try Do-It-Yourself Reflexology. If you can't get to a licensed Reflexology practitioner, (well-worth the trip!) massage some oil or peppermint lotion into your feet, working thumbs slowly up the arch. In the healing art of Reflexology, this area corresponds to the lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine, respectively. Tips of the toes are sinus points, etc. Swap with a friend and revitalize... body & "sole!"

Release Your Middle Softly closing your eyes, exhale any old, stale air from your lungs. Now place your hand below your navel, inhale slowly, through your nose, feeling your belly expand. On the out-breath, imagine exhaling through your ribcage all the way around. Now do the same thing, but imagine inhaling and exhaling through the kidneys. (mid-low back.) Deep, purposeful "belly-breathing" oxygenates the blood, helps you focus and sends a "calm" signal inside, diminishing stress so you can breathe...easy.

Stress Is No Laughing Matter...(Or IS It?) A case of the giggles reminds us who we are inside when we've been acting grown up for just a little too long! Slinkys...Silly Putty... Remember those? Pick wildflowers, rent silly movies, color, play! A positive outlook, sense of adventure, physical activity, supportive relationships and spontaneous laughter all boost endorphins, increasing the "feel-good" factor, supporting optimal wellness of body-mind-spirit.

R-e-l-a-x (...FAST!) First, clench your whole, entire body: fists, abs, teeth, cheeks (all four), squeeze shoulders to your ears, even curl your toes! Hold for 10 seconds. Slowly release one muscle at a time. Imagine inhaling light, peace, confidence, joy...exhaling worry, stress and tension. Repeat. (Alternate imagery: Exhale things that no longer serve you, inhaling those you'd like to bring into your life.)

Release Head Noise "Write Away"... Longing for the respite of deep, soothing sleep? Before bed, scribble a quick list of all that mental chatter, so you can r-e-l-e-a-s-e worries and enjoy deep, restorative sleep. Re-read just to be sure they're ALL there. Place on your night table to address anything requiring attention tomorrow. ( If worries drift back in, float them by on a raft downstream...and out of sight.) Sweet dreams!

Create a "Stress-Tips Toolbox" When it comes to stress-relief, one size does NOT fit all. Develop a realistic personal stress-management program that works within your lifestyle, preferences and belief system. Include lots of laughter and some form of free, creative expression, healthy nutrition, pleasurable exercise, mindfulness and meditation. Gentle touch, honest relationships and personally meaningful spiritual practice can help balance tough days with something just for you.


Life is short. I met someone who releases non-essential worries by keeping a file of scribbled-down frets and obscure newspaper clippings, entitled: "Things to Worry About When I Can Find the Time." One day, when you find yourself with too much time on your hands, job's terrific, kids are all grown, and everyone you know is healthy and happy, you can open up that file and pull out a fresh, new, genuinely far-fetched worry to keep you occupied. (source:Lisa Port-White, MA)

These are not simple times... But until next month, I wish you small worries, and simple pleasures... friends, old familiar comforts, and above all, peace,


Susie Mantell's award-winning relaxation audio, "Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace"("BEST AUDIOS"-Publishers Weekly), has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, NBC,ABC,CBS TV, Billboard, Cosmopolitan,, and used in The Mayo Clinic, VA hospital and the U.S. Army (Fort Leonard Wood), for anxiety, depression, sleeplessness; parenting, caregiving & workplace stress. Copyright ©2000 All rights reserved. For permission to reprint call 1-888-NOW-RELAX. Susie Mantell offers support as an adjunct to, but not a substitute for, professional health care.
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