Packed schedules. A down economy. World (and office) politics. Life’s disappointments. As M. Scott Peck said in The Road Less Traveled, life is hard. And, yes, it’s also full of joy! But when the hard stuff is upon us, most of us aren’t proactively using techniques to manage stress. Instead, stress manages us and takes its toll in the form of snippiness with others (mostly those closest to us), illness and a loss of motivation.
This week, I thought I’d write this blog to share my ideas for better managing stress and, by writing it, remind myself of the things I should be doing to manage my own. Here goes:
- Get centered spiritually. Begin or continue a daily ritual to center yourself spiritually, either through prayer, meditation, visualization or affirmations. This can be done once per day or something you do frequently throughout the day.
I center daily through prayer and have three types of prayers I work into my day – petitions, regrets and gratitude. In petitions, I ask for grace, strength and healing for a growing list of people that I collect from family, friends and co-workers. Praying for others helps me see how unimportant my worries are. In regrets, I pray for forgiveness for my short-comings and the mistakes I make. And lastly, in gratitude, I pray in thanksgiving for my many blessings, and I work to list as many as I can think of. This helps remind me how phenomenal my life really is. I pray when I exercise (running or yoga), when driving and before sleep.
When centering, don’t forget to breathe! Most of us take shallow breaths that come from the base of our throats or at best, our breast bone. “Real” breathing comes from your lower abdomen and takes several seconds to get a complete inhalation and exhalation. Take at least 10 big “belly breaths” while centering and your sense of calm and positivity will increase tenfold.
- Exercise! I don’t know what I’d do without it. Exercise produces “feel good” endorphins that help reduce or mitigate stress. It makes you feel good about yourself for accomplishing something and also, over time, for having a more fit physique. Exercise allows you to work off aggression that might otherwise spill onto others close to you and clears your mind of clutter so you can innovate or problem solve more easily. We all know how important exercise is, yet we generate good reasons for not doing so regularly. Carol Vorderman has a great quote that helps motivate me, “Those who do not have time for exercise will have to find time for illness." Ouch!
I practice Vinyasa yoga two times per week and run three times per week with unfailing commitment. I schedule exercise in my Outlook calendar and have enrolled my teammates in supporting me in keeping this commitment by protecting that time and not scheduling over it. We hear other strategies from regular exercisers we know including:
- Getting an exercise buddy to keep you accountable
- Exercising first thing in the a.m. so it’s out of the way. I firmly believe that 30 minutes of exercise in the a.m. “lasts” so much longer in terms of energy and stamina than 30 more minutes of sleep!
- Going straight from work to the gym to keep the lure of home from sabotaging your exercise commitment
- Walking in your neighborhood or buying equipment for your home to allow for fast, no transportation exercise options
- Share with someone. If you’re worried about something or having difficulty generating a positive solution to a problem, share your issue with someone you can trust. Make sure the person you share with is someone who can allow you to vent without taking your troubles as their own and will also hold you accountable for generating and following through on solutions. Your ideal listener is someone unafraid to hold up a mirror to allow you to see yourself in an honest light, helping you get to the root of your issues and take responsibility to resolve them.
I count on my husband, my mother and my teammates to listen to any challenges I have, empathize and then honestly reflect back what they see, which often provides me clarity on what I need to change or do differently to relieve my stress. I also know that these people are safe places for me to express fears and be vulnerable. In almost all cases, verbalizing my concerns or challenges weakens their prominence, reducing the stress they bring in my life.
- Change your mind. So much of our daily stress comes from our view or interpretation of given situations – which is almost always negative, cynical, inadequate or fearful. Positivity takes discipline, but it’s one of the best ways to manage your stress. Read my blog on positivity for specific ideas on how to shift your mindset and improve your outlook.
So much relief can come from laughter and fun! Take time out to play a game with your children, tell funny stories with a friend or throw the ball with your dog. Figure out what kind of play you enjoy (it may double as exercise, too!) and make time, even a little time, to let loose and engage in pure play. Read this article on the top 10 benefits of play. They are significant and underscore the value of play in managing stress, worry and conflict.
I love playing silly games with my kids, especially if they involve words, and the sport of making them laugh, which always makes me laugh. I enjoy the humor of my teammates, who can be wry and sarcastic in a way that makes me laugh – sometimes when I need it most. If I want to laugh, I know who to go to and in doing so, I’m able to put any stress or upset in its place.
So, those are my top stress management strategies. What are your secrets for managing stress? Please post a reply to this blog and share what you’re doing to maximize your well-being as your ideas will benefit us all.