Monday, July 29, 2013

Six Strategies for Tackling Stress

Stress is often a part of our everyday lives, usually brought on by concerns about money and work, according to the 2012 report Stress in America.

While some stress is normal and can help you to react quickly in emergencies, reoccurring stress or stress that lasts too long is problematic.

The Huffington Post reports that stress can shrink the brain, help cancer cells survive against anti-cancer drugs, cause depression and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Strategies for Coping with Stress

 “Combating stress requires an unrelenting, proactive approach, featuring regular exercise, proper diet, and plenty of quality sleep,” said Kevin McCue, corporate educator at Catholic Health who teaches a stress management class.

“Americans are notoriously sleep-deprived, hence the booming sales of highly caffeinated coffee and energy drinks. Regular exercise (preferably aerobic) helps ward off stress and the bonus is that you sleep better. Never underestimate the power of deep healing sleep.”

1. Start an Exercise Program

Of the attendees at his Stress Management class, Kevin said, “I am stunned at how few have a regular exercise program. I urge them to find some kind of exercise that suits them.”

Exercise options include:
  • Biking
  • Running
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Rollerblading
  • Spinning
  • Yoga
  • Ice Skating
  • Tennis
  • Jump rope

2. Laugh It Off

If you’re feeling your stress levels rise, take a weekend to de-stress with what Kevin calls a “laughter weekend.”

“Watch funny movies all weekend long. No dramas. No TV news. No tragedy. Just goofy movies that make you laugh and de-stress!”

3. Engage Your Senses

For a fast way to relieve stress, focus on one of your five senses:
  • Sight: imagine a soothing image or something that brings you joy (such as a pet)
  • Sound: listen to a favorite song, the sounds of the outdoors, a wind chime, a fountain
  • Smell: light a candle, smell flowers, get some fresh air, wear perfume
  • Touch: pet a cat or dog, wrap yourself in a blanket, take a bath
  • Taste: eat slowly so that you can focus on what you're tasting - try coffee or tea, fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate
Related Blog Post: To Live in the Present, Focus on Your Senses

4. Keep a Positive Attitude and Let Go of Control

For many of us, our negative thoughts feel natural and inevitable. In my own quest to be positive, I've turned to a book called Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie.

Bryon Katie believes that when we feel out of control and wish to change something or someone, we're rejecting reality, which is futile and can only cause misery. The solution: accept what is.

Her method asks you to question your thoughts and beliefs. "We are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens," she wrote.

When you find yourself thinking a stressful thought, ask yourself:
  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it's true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?
For example, if you're feeling overwhelmed by your workload, maybe you're telling yourself that the tasks in your queue need to be completed today. But is that true? Which tasks really have deadlines and which are arbitrary deadlines that you've assigned to yourself? Examining your thoughts could uncover that you've created a sense of urgency where there is none.

Related Blog Post: The Power of Thought on Your Health & Happiness

5. Manage Your Finances

The issue of managing your finances could be a blog post in itself. I like to read blogs about frugal living and have noticed a common theme among them all:
  • Keep a budget that details your income and your expenses.
  • Live within your budget, which may mean bringing in more income or reducing your expenses.
  • Change your perception and be happy living with less (Related Blog Post: Living Well with Less).
  • Track and control your spending. Because spending with credit and debit cards is easily forgotten, pay for your expenses in cash, when possible. For example, before grocery shopping, take your budgeted amount out of the ATM. Paying with cash will force you to stay within your budget and keep tabs on what you're putting in your grocery cart.
  • Practice self-control. In the book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson writes that self-control is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes and the easier it is to resist temptation in the future.
Recommended resources:

6. Manage Your Workload

David Allen's Getting Things Done system, also referred to as GTD, is a popular system that illustrates how you can manage your workload without becoming overwhelmed.

Related Blog Post: Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Key points:
  • Not everything is urgent. When you receive a request, your first reaction may be to take care of it immediately. But if you're constantly fielding incoming requests, then you're not spending enough time on the other stuff of your job.
  • Keep your to-do list in one place. Requests on post-it notes, in emails and those communicated in person all need to be collected and placed into one system. I like to use Checkvist, which is a free online task management system.
  • Sort tasks and emails into actionable items. When an email comes in or a project is given to you, make note of the related action items. What are the steps or actions that need to occur? Add these to your task list.
  • Organize your emails into next actions. Create a "Next Actions" folder in Outlook and move these emails into subfolders within it.
  • Do anything that requires two-minutes or less right away. If you receive a request that will take two minutes or less, do it immediately to move it off of your plate.

How Do You Cope with Stress?

When it comes to managing stress, “there is no one-size-fits-all strategy; what works for you might not work for me,” said McCue.

I asked Catholic Health associates how they respond to stress. Here are their strategies for coping:
  • Exercising, including walking and jogging
  • Listening to music and relaxation CDs
  • Watching TV or movies
  • Getting a facial or massage
  • Taking time off of work
  • Getting a good night's sleep
  • Maintaining a sleep schedule (going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning)

For more information about stress, including strategies to cope, visit us on Pinterest.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog. Great tips. I like the five senses advice. Thanks for keeping it relevant!


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