Stress has come to be seen as a fact of modern life. But stress can be managed – and even eliminated!
First, understand what stress is. The clinical definition of stress is feeling as though you lack the tools to do what’s been asked of you. You may lack the tool of time, or of money, or of knowledge, or of support. But always with stress, there is a tool you need and feel you don’t have.
There are three kinds of stress: (1) Situational stress, like being stuck in a traffic jam; (2) Chronic stress, like dealing with a long-term illness, and (3) Traumatic stress, like dealing with an accident, death or marital separation. Understanding the type of stress you’re facing will help you deal with it most effectively.
There are several stress factors to take into account. Feelings of inadequacy, performance anxiety, competition, control issues, financial problems, being hurried, and – the big kahuna – what other people might think. All of these factors add to stress.
Most of the time, unresolved stress manifests itself in the body. Often, our first clue that we’re stressed is a weird feeling in our bodies. Under stress, humans get high blood pressure, upset stomachs, headaches, sleeplessness and fail to eat right. Humans are, afterall, animals – and sometimes our bodies give us messages before our brains register there’s a problem.
That’s why it’s important to Notice, Narrow and Name. Notice that there is a weird feeling in the body. Narrow down its causes. Name the cause. Here’s an example: You’re driving along and suddenly traffic stops. There’s an accident ahead. You drum your fingers on the steering wheel. Your heart rate starts to rise as you consider being late for work. Your head starts to pound as a result of your heart rate. NOTICE your headache and rapid pulse. NARROW it down – why is this happening? NAME it: I am anxious because I am going to be late. Is there a solution? Why, yes! I can call the office and do the meeting by conference call.
Once you NAME it, you can ask these questions: Can I eliminate the stress factor? Can I do it another time? Can someone else do it? Is it really stressful, or am I just making it that way? That last question is a toughie and can be re-stated as “Am I being a drama queen/king?”
Control issues are often a big factor in stress. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is says it’s important to know whether the stressor is “my business, your business or God’s business.” If it’s your business, attend to it. However, if it’s someone else’s business, it certainly isn’t yours. And some issues are best left to the Universe to solve. You can save a lot of time and energy – and stress less – by asking whether getting engaged in a situation is really your business.
A great way to deal with stress is to change your thinking. You can Reframe the situation: did he mean to insult me with that gift, or was he just not thinking? Being Positive is also a key method to reduce stress. If you always see the glass as half empty, your pessimistic attitude will color your life experiences. Try seeing the world positively.
Avoiding Group Think is another key tactic. If everyone in the office grouses about this supervisor, that executive, that mailroom clerk – it brings the group down. Simple solution? Don’t participate. Office gossip is one of the largest stressors in modern work. Don’t play.
Many of us operate under a slew of “shoulds” – “I SHOULD be more successful”, “I SHOULD stay late”, “I SHOULD stab my co-workers in the back and walk over their bleeding carcasses to further my career.”
Shoulds, however, limit us and often fail to reflect our own values. Instead, they often reflect the values of others – our parents, our siblings, our friends, neighbors, the Joneses, the girl down the hall.
Replacing SHOULD with CHOOSE is a great way to lessen their negative impact. How empowering to say, “I CHOOSE to stay late” than “I SHOULD stay late.”
Accepting reality will help reduce stress. Often, we spend time and energy wishing things were different than they are. Accepting that your co-workers are human and make mistakes, or that some people are unreasonable, or even that some people have addictions and problems they aren’t able to address – all add up to less stress for you. If you can adopt a forgiving attitude and accept what’s real, you will go a long way toward a more peaceful life.
Remember, what you resist persists. If you are a procrastinator, you can create stress for yourself. Stuff you don’t want to do doesn’t go away. It just gets harder and harder to deal with. So, break icky jobs down into small parts. Baby steps are still steps forward. Prioritize, and plan ahead and you can make procrastination a thing of the past.
There are some easy things you can do to relieve stress in the moment. You can take a moment when you feel stressed and meditate, pray or find a still place. Remember to breathe. In fact, studies have shown that managing your breath is a sure-fire way to quickly reduce your stress. For more on this, see Dr. Andrew Weil’s work on breath.
Studies have also shown that having friends is a remedy for stress. If you have someone you can call in a stressful moment, you will find relief. A circle of friends and a range of interests help diffuse stress.
The best thing you can do to combat stress is to take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep and exercise, take your medications just as the doctor prescribed them, get regular check-ups, reward your own good behavior. If you value yourself, you start from a very powerful place when it comes to dealing with stress.
If you feel time-deprived, a good exercise is to keep a Time Diary. For a day, or a week, or a month, keep track of how you allocate your time and energy. Review your diary to see if you are using your time to further your own values, or whether your time is squandered living other people’s shoulds. You may find that you have more time than you thought – it’s just a matter of how you use it.
Stress may not be avoidable – but it is manageable. Adopting even a few of these tips and tools will help you reduce your stress level. Promise.