As busy people, stress has become such a huge and omnipresent factor in our everyday lives. At work, we’re under more pressure than ever to get results because of the stagnant economy and because downsizing has resulted in fewer people available to get the work done. Our email boxes are overflowing. At home, we’re spending less time having fun and doing activities that we love, and we’re getting less sleep than we need. We’re addicted to our mobile devices delivering messages to us 24×7. Crankiness abounds. It’s affecting our physical health too. And the stress is even higher if we’re going through a life-shaking transition such as a career change, relocation, separation, divorce, or death of a loved one.
Sound familiar? OK, then take a deeeeep breath. Here are 10 tips to help you manage and alleviate stress … without alcohol, drugs, or chocolate. 🙂
1. Recognize the difference between pressure and stress.
Pressure is imposed by external sources such as events or other people. Stress is created by internal sources, i.e. it’s self-imposed. We generate stress by the way we react to the pressures in our life. This is an important distinction because we may not be able to do anything to eliminate the things causing the pressure, but we can certainly learn to control how we react to it, thereby alleviating stress. The following Tips #2-6 are about how to manage how we react to external triggers.
2. Stop beating yourself up.
The biggest cause of stress is when we beat yourselves up over something we did or didn’t do. We are our own harshest critics. If you find your inner critic shouting “I shoulda,” “I coulda,” or “I woulda,” that’s a sign that you’re beating yourself up.
Separate yourself from your inner critic. Know that your negative self-talk cannot undo the past. It’s only making you feel bad. Use positive self-talk and affirmations to shift your mood and energy. Know that you did the best job you could, based on the information and resources you had at that time, and that you learned your lesson and will do better next time. Be gentle on yourself, and move forward.
3. Accept what is.
Is cross-town traffic grid-locked when you’re late for your appointment? Are the jackhammers across the street so loud you can’t hear yourself think? Is the mother of the screaming toddler on your flight doing nothing to calm him down? Is your ex-husband taking calls from his new girlfriend while you’re trying to have an important conversation with him? Is your blood pressure rising, just reading this paragraph?
An ancient Buddhist proverb says: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” It means that sh++ happens and you can’t do anything about it … but you can choose whether you’ll let it bother you or not. Things bother us when we tell ourselves that “Something’s wrong” or “It’s not supposed to be this way.” Re-frame the situation. Don’t let those things bother you. Just accept them as being “normal,” even if they’re not. Maintain an even keel.
4. Re-set your expectations.
Annoyed because your employee missed another deadline? Upset because your brother never returns your phone calls? Feeling overwhelmed because you thought you would be much farther along on your big project that you committed to have done by next week?
When your reality falls short of your expectations, you feel disappointed, unhappy, overwhelmed, or stressed. Sometimes, the best way to deal with that is to re-calibrate your expectations:
- Realize that your employee works at a slower pace than others. You can either give him more time, or take other actions to manage his performance.
- Accept that your brother may not value staying in touch as much as you do. Don’t take it personally when he doesn’t call you back.
- Forgive yourself for your project delays and allow more time in the future for unexpected obstacles. (And stop beating yourself up.) Take big projects and break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Don’t be such a perfectionist. Other people don’t expect you to be perfect, so don’t pressure yourself to be.
5. Notice what you’re worrying about.
What are the things you most worry about? Which of them are things you have some control over? Which are things you truly cannot control? What benefit are you getting by worrying about these things?
There is a famous prayer that goes “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Focus on the things you have control over, and take actions to make them better. Let go of worrying about things that you can’t control, including trying to change other people’s personalities or behaviors.
6. Avoid people and situations that upset you.
Notice what triggers you. Is it rush hour traffic? Or certain people who exude negative energy? Your ex? The maddening crowds? Store employees who don’t understand the meaning of customer service?
The more aware you are of what triggers you and how you react, the more you can avoid those situations. Set boundaries to protect yourself and your sanity. Learn to say “no” when people demand your time. Take a different route to work to avoid heavy traffic, even if it might take a little longer. Minimize contact with people who are toxic, even if they’re family members. It’s not worth the aggravation. Instead, surround yourself with positive people.
7. Write it down.
Our brains are running at light speed all the time. We get brilliant sparks of genius at the most inopportune times. We’re constantly thinking of all the things we need to get done or all the things we need to remember. Our mind is in a constant swirl, even when we’re trying to sleep. No wonder we get stressed out.
Carry a small notebook everywhere you go. Keep it on your bedside table. When you think of something you want to remember, write it down. By downloading it from your brain, you have more mental space and calmness so that you can focus on being present.
8. Give yourself the gift of peace and quiet.
Give yourself some quiet time every day to rest your mind. Focus on the positive things in your life, and be grateful for them.
People who practice Transcendental Meditation say that they can re-set their minds with just a 20-minute deep meditation twice a day. Even if you don’t practice TM, you can benefit from meditating every day or just engaging in quiet time. For more tips on meditating, see our February 2013 article.
9. Take care of your body.
Prolonged stress will tear up your body and upset your natural rhythms of health. Your body will rebel by getting sick when you’re on overload, forcing you to rest. Your immune system will suffer. You’ll get high blood pressure or ulcers. In extreme cases, you’ll be susceptible to serious diseases or even cancer.
Commit to a regular sleeping schedule so you can re-charge your batteries. Drink lots of water. It’s amazing what water does to enable your body and brain to function properly. Eat well balanced, nutritional meals. Cut back on caffeine and sugar to avoid mood swings and energy crashes. Keep your body moving with regular exercise, especially yoga or cardio exercise. Take an invigorating Zumba dance class. Vigorous exercise generates endorphins, the natural “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Take a relaxing hot bath. Get a soothing massage. Most importantly … Breathe!
10. Engage in fun and enjoyable activities.
Even if you don’t have much time to spare, devote some time each week to do things you enjoy. Have fun. Celebrate small successes. Keep a sense of humor about things that are going awry. Laughter is the best medicine! People have even been known to cure themselves of cancer by engaging in serious laughter.
Life is too short to be stressed out all the time. Breathe. Smell the roses once in a while. Keep a positive outlook on life. Take care of the #1 VIP … YOU!!
I hope you found these tips to be helpful, especially Tips #2-6, which are about how to manage how you react to external triggers. If you feel challenged in this area, consider investing in some coaching.
For a complimentary consultation to explore how coaching can help you and to determine if we’re a good fit to work together, please fill out a brief request form here: http://bit.ly/WFWStrategySession
Wings for Women