Relaxation skills

■ Strategies for managing relationships

■ The joy of positive relationships

Tess was a little sea turtle who had been nicknamed Tess the Terrible. As with people, there are important things that a little turtle needs to learn, so Tess had to go to school. Unfortunately, she didn't like school. School was boring with a capital "B." It was boring sitting in class all day and it was boring listening to the teacher going over and over the same sorts of things, again and again—how to swim most efficiently, how best to catch jellyfish for dinner, how to avoid sharks that may want you for their dinner, and so on.

Now, when Tess got bored, she got restless, and when she got restless, she tended to stir up a bit oftrouble. At least it added some interest to the boring day. She might give other turtles a shove when they were standing in line, or poke them with a pencil under the desk, or hide the books they needed for the next lesson. But when the other little turtles did the same sort of thing back to her, she would get angry and snap.

Turtles are good at snapping. A turtle's mouth is actually called a beak, and turtles can snap their beaks really well. They are built hard and tough for grinding up food. I know I sure wouldn't like to get my finger in the way when they snap—especially a snap by Tess. She would have been a gold medalist if it had been a game in the Olympics.

The other little turtles teased Tess about the way she snapped. And, of course, the more they teased her, the more vicious her snaps became. This was why she was nicknamed Tess the Terrible.

Unfortunately, Tess wasn't happy. Being bored and angry isn't fun. Other little turtles poked fun at her. They seemed to have lots of friends. She didn't, and she didn't know what to do about it.

Swimming home after school one day, lost in her thoughts, Tess also lost her way. The waters were getting deeper and darker, and she was frightened when a huge, dark figure slowly paddled out of the gloom toward her. It was a big, old turtle and, from her size, Tess guessed she must have been hundreds and hundreds ofyears old. She'd heard her parents talk of a wise old turtle who had cruised all the oceans of the earth, learned everything there was to learn, and now shared her knowledge with those in need.

"You look so sad," the old turtle gently greeted Tess, as if reading her mind. Tess found herself telling the old turtle all her troubles like she had never told anyone before. She couldn't have told her teacher. She didn't tell her mom and dad, and the last ones she felt she could talk to were the other little turtles at school.

"I am always in trouble," answered Tess. "I get bored and angry and snap when I shouldn't."

"Oh!" said the old turtle, a distant look of memory in her eyes as she thought back to her own times at school. "Most of us have known that problem," she said understandingly. "It took me a long time to learn the answer, but I have a feeling that you might be quicker than me."

Tess listened eagerly.

"It was a long time before I realized I had the answer all along. I was carrying it around with me every day, every minute," the old turtle said as she reached out a flipper and gently patted Tess's shell. "Ifyou feel like you're getting upset or irritable, pull your head in," suggested the old turtle. "Go inside your shell. I learned to do it when I was about your age. I have lost count now how many years I've been swimming around the oceans, but I still do it whenever I need to take time out or just have a little bit ofpeace and quiet to myself. The trick is learning to remind yourself to do it as soon as you feel those feelings you don't want to have.

"When I do," continued the old turtle, "the first thing I do is just take three deep breaths and then let my breathing relax slowly and comfortably. When I feel calmer, I ask myself if what I was thinking and feeling before I went inside is helpful. If it isn't, then I ask myself what I could do to make things different when I pop my head out again." With that the old turtle caressed Tess's back once again with her flipper and then swam off, slowly fading into the deep blues of the ocean.

The next morning, school seemed just as boring as it had ever been. Tess had barely arrived before the other little turtles started to tease her again, and she had already opened her beak, ready to snap, when she remembered the wise old turtle's suggestion. She pulled her head in, retreating her flippers at the same time, and took three deep breaths.

Hey, she thought, something is happening. She found herself becoming calmer and more relaxed. She asked herself if it was helpful to be angry and thought, No, it really isn't.

She then recalled the wise old turtle's question: Ask how you might make things different when you pop your head out again. She thought she could try smiling and being nice to the other little turtles instead. When her head popped back out from her shell, she wore a nice smile of contentment. The other little turtles saw it and started to smile also.

As she kept practicing the wise old turtle's advice—going inside, relaxing, and asking how you can change things for the better—Tess found herself feeling calmer and happier. She stopped annoying the other little turtles and, as a result, they stopped teasing her. She made so many friends and was having so much fun that she actually began to look forward to going to school—and, you know, the other little turtles changed the nickname they had for her. Instead of Tess the Terrible, she is now called Tess the Terrific.

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