Life is filled with pressures. Some are gentle nudges that throw us temporarily off balance, others feel like hard marble bookends, steely vises, or giant grinding compactors. Pressures– especially those “have to’s”–create stress. Learning to manage stress can make a strong positive contribution to success and personal well-being. Stress isn’t necessarily the enemy. Moderate amounts can enhance performance, producing exhilaration and a sense of well being, like the endorphin high experienced after aerobic exercise. Good stress contributes to attaining goals and fulfilling commitments. Bad stress is created by negative emotions, unmanageable (or unmanaged) events, environmental pollutants of various kinds–even good stress in excessive amounts. Continually placing mind and body under stress can eventually lead to lapses in judgment, reduced creativity, emotional burnout, and a host of degenerative diseases. One way to help yourself manage stress is to make a list of the stressors in your life, then examine each one by asking yourself:
- What’s so bad about this–why is it stressful?
- How do I usually respond when this happens?
- How do situations like this usually get resolved?
- Can I reduce the impact of this stressor through better self- management? …by improving a relationship? …with an attitude adjustment? …by changing a health practice or taking a stress break.
To a point, the stress of being active and involved is exhilarating–it’s good stress. Only you know when you’ve slipped over the edge into distress–the hazardous zone. When the amber lights start flashing, good personal management offers one of the quickest paths to stress reduction.
- Set goals. Decide what’s important and pursue it; decide what’s not important and demote its priority ranking. Learn to say no.
- Get organized. Keep a detailed calendar to remind you of even the smallest tasks.
- Be creative. Find new and better ways to do routine tasks. Challenge yourself to shave a few seconds off a job each time you do it.
- Keep your life in balance. Develop interests and supports outside your primary work environment. Join a support group and pursue a hobby.
Humans beings need other humans beings the way a computer needs a power source. Women need contact with other women–and men. Relationships energize us, and energy in turn relieves stress.
- Expand your people base. Invite someone you like but don’t know well to have lunch with you.
- Choose a “secret pal” — and begin a playful correspondence.
- Write thank-you notes to individuals who assist or collaborate with you.
- Always address people by name. If you think you’ll have trouble remembering someone’s name, ask the person to write it down for you.
- Listen. Listening is a priceless skill and a rare gift to offer others. It also reduces stress by ensuring that your busy brain captures messages and instructions the first time.
Feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, jealousy, and boredom have an emotional and physical price tag. Do you really want to pay it? When you find yourself nourishing negative emotions — brooding, worrying, plotting — remember that by changing your thoughts, you can also change your feelings.
- Take “play breaks.” Keep a box of “toys” in your work area. Occasionally take a few minutes to juggle, work a puzzle, or throw a few baskets into one of those miniature nets.
- When you’re working on a tough project, cheer yourself up with flowers.
- Keep a book of poems nearby. Occasionally, take a break and read one–silently or aloud to family or colleagues.
- Keep a bulletin board of cartoons, whimsical items from the media, and inspirational messages.
- Infuse a little life into routine tasks. Practice line-dance steps while you’re walking the dog. Include a cartoon in your next letter or report. Walk around the block while you’re waiting for copies to be printed.
Health and Vitality Skills
Sometimes you can’t make stress go away, but you can combat the effects of stress so they don’t drag you down and make you sick. You wouldn’t board a plane that you knew had worn tires or a faulty landing gear so don’t try to handle long-term stress with your body overfed, undernourished, or out of shape.
- Enroll in an exercise class–one filled, not with grimly determined hard-bodies, but with folks having fun.
- Get outdoors and take a walk. Make a game of noticing little things you’ve never seen before.
- Use a balanced nutritional supplement program. Antioxidants are a must for combating stress.
- Reduce air pollution by running an air purifier at home or work. You might also try using an aroma-therapy diffuser with different combinations of oils.
- Take frequent 5-minute breaks to stretch, do self-massage, meditate, or just clear your head.