Got Stress? We Got Tips.

April is Stress Management Awareness Month. I wonder if that is because taxes are due?  Regardless of why, stress is a very really experience for all of us. There comes a time when you have too much on your plate, too little time or have just had it. Here is a baker’s dozens worth of stress management tips.  They have been found to be successful by many people. Different combinations and expressions of these work for different people. This is not an exhaustive list, but is a list of tried and true techniques, a place to start.

1. Mindfulness: We have the innate ability to intentionally put ourselves in a state of deep relaxation. To be calmly present in the here and now, not letting your thoughts run away unchecked.  Doing this neutralizes the physiological effects of stress: your heart rate goes down, your breathing slows, and your muscles relax… As little as 20 minutes once or twice a day has real benefit.

  • Here’s a simple exercise you can do just about anywhere anytime. Close your eyes. Breath in and out deeply, repeat several times.  Notice how your body begins to feel more relaxed. Keep your mind focused on breathing and your body if it wanders, just bring it back.

2. Limit or Eliminate Caffeine: We call coffee, tea, chocolate and cola pick ups for a reason. Caffeine is a stimulant that generates a stress reaction in the body. Less caffeine usually results in people feeling less jittery, more relaxed, and getting better sleep. You don’t have to go cold turkey, try decreasing by one drink a day until you are down to one or even better none.

3. Fuzz Therapy: Anything that makes you feel warm and fuzzy regardless of the rest of the nonsense going on around you. Spend time with your pet or someone else pet, patting it, snuggling with it, brushing it… Spend some time doing something that makes you feel good for someone else. This can be a simple as offering to pick up a few things at the store for someone else when you are out.

4. Practice Gratitude: say thanks and mean it. Keep a gratitude journal. Write and deliver a thank you letter to someone you have not fully thanked.

5. Get Physical: We’re not gazelles, we don’t automatically dash off burning off stress hormones when stress arrives.  It’s just not generally social acceptable. So our bodies stay in a stress arousal state for a long time. Channeling nervous fidgeting into a more complete form of physical activity helps to “burn off the stress.” Get some Regular aerobic exercise: Dance, run, walk, hike, bike, swim, play football with the kids, whack a ball on the court, kickboxing… find out what works for you. Stretch: move throughout the day, yoga. I love a five-minute Bust-A-Move Break, just you some music and a closed office door, rock away.

6. Take A Time Out : No one expects a hockey player to be on the ice the entire game without a break. Why should you be out on the ice the entire time? Pacing yourself and work-leisure balance go a long way in taming stress. Pacing: know your stress and energy levels and act accordingly. Fatigue is THE early sign of distress don’t ignore it.  Like sleep cycles we have cycles of energy and concentration, 90 minutes on average. Taking a 20 minute break and then go back to what you were doing. Work-Leisure balance: less leisure = more stress. Leisure comes from the Latin root for permission. Give yourself permission to take a break, a healthy amount of respite from your day-to-day pressures. This can include exercise, recreation hobbies, socializing, relaxation, vacation, or entertainment.

7. Realistic Expectations: Be gentle with yourself and others. Things often push our buttons or upset us not because they are inherently stressful, but because it’s not what we expected or wanted. This does not equate with settling for less. Realistic expectations can make life feel more predictable and manageable. “Expect less from people who can not give you what you want. It makes it easier- not great, just less upsetting.”

8. Reframe: Get a different perspective or change the way you are looking at something, in order to feel better about a situation. There are many ways to interpret a situation.

  • Is there anything positive here at all? What I can I do with it?
  • Why do you think so-and-so did that?
  • On a scale of 1 (minor hassle)  – 10 (worst catastrophe), just how bad is this?

9. Smile and Laugh: Laughter releases “happy” hormones. Laughter releases tension.  Humor is an individual thing, so find what makes you laugh and keep that at hand. Smiling triggers the limbic system to tilt towards calm. So fake it until you make it.

10. Ventilation System: keep up with the maintenance or install a new one if needed. A problem shared is a problem halved. Some times you just need to vent and blow off some steam. Sometimes you need the open ear and relative objectivity of an other person for encouragement or advice. Sometimes you need to ask for help. Talk it out. Write it out- then get rid of it. Count to ten, then react.

11. Get Back to Nature: Helps to get out of our head and focus on something else. You can tend to your garden or your houseplants. Trim shrubs with a hand trimmer. Paint in the yard. Take a walk in the woods or fields. Watch the bird feeder. Cloud watching.

12. Get Some Sleep: If you are regularly short of sleep you pay for it through increased crankiness, decreased energy, decreased concentration etc. which essentially results in being less patience, which in turn results in more things being out of our control which can of course increase your stress response. Write down the thoughts buzzing around you mind and look at them in the morning, appraise and take action as appropriate. Give your brain something calming to focus on like an undemanding book. Keep the same bedtime.

13. Stop Multitasking: Most of us really do not perform at our optimal level when multi-tasking. We don’t really get more done when trying to concentrate on more than one complex task at a time. Slow down and focus on one important task at a time.

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