“My computer crashed at work, my boss was being difficult and I got stuck in traffic on the way to pick up my son from school” — Caroline Greenwood, Surprising new stress-busters that’ll take the tension out of your day, Woman’s World, May 30, 2000
Things haven’t changed in the twenty years since Caroline made that comment in Woman’s World!
Haven’t we all been there? We’ve got an important call to make, but we’re waiting for one more piece of information that was promised to us two hours ago. Time! It always comes back to time. There’s never enough time. There are so many things to do and so little time in which to get them done. Reports are due. Project deadlines are coming up. A major client hasn’t paid your latest invoice and there are bills to be paid next week. Stress is closing in on all of us. Stress is affecting not only the way we do business, but our bodily health at the same time. While we can’t make stress go completely away, there are some things we can do to reduce our stress levels and make us happier and more productive, which reduces our stress levels and makes . . . and so on and so on.
At one time my wife and I had three local cable TV programs running at the same time. When it comes time for a scheduled program, those programs need to be delivered and ready to roll at broadcast time. Sometimes they were delivered as late as fifteen minutes prior to air time. Now, that’s stress. Stress can be your friend, but it can also be your enemy. It all depends on how you face it and deal with it.
” . . . stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” – mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
Here are twelve things (and a couple more) anyone can do (yes, even you) to reduce stress:
- Replace the phrase “I have to . . .” with “I get to . . .” – Even the most miserable of tasks seem easier and less stressful if you get to do them. It’s kind of like a reward. Oooeee, I get to make cold calls today. It gives you a positive feeling. By removing that feeling that you “have” to do something, you’ve reduced some pressure and stress.
- Cut out the coffee, hot chocolate, and soft drinks – Caffeine can cause anxiety and make things more stressful. So, you might want to limit your trips to Starbuck’s when you are suffering from stress.
- Write down your stressful situation – By putting your thoughts on paper (or in the computer) you can transfer your emotions from your mind to something more tangible. After you’re done with the writing you can delete it from your computer, or crumble up the paper and throw it away, or light a match to it and let your troubles go up in smoke.
- Exercise – I have an ancient “Thigh Master” that I use to exercise my upper body and my thighs when I’ve been hunched over a desk for too long. Getting away from the desk and exercising for just a couple minutes can reduce stress remarkably. If you can get away for a walk, that’s even better. Think about pleasant thoughts and not about your problems — that helps, too.
- Keep toys on your desk – My wife used to keep “Transformers” near the phone. Transformers were plastic robots that changed their shape depending on which way your turned them and moved their body parts. She played with them while she was on the phone. It gave her something physical to do and mental at the same time, and helped reduce anxiety. When I was president of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 I kept “Don’s Jar o’ Toys” at the head table. We would generally have between 150-250 people in the audience. I offered our guest speaker the opportunity to select the toy of their choice. It was surprising the length of time they would spend choosing the right toy for them. By giving them a toy they relaxed.
- Tackle the most stressful tasks first – As we become more tired, our stress defenses go down, so it’s best to handle the most stressful events when your body is most alert and rested.
- Get some oxygen into your body by breathing deeply – Headache expert Dr. Jeffry Finnigan in his book Life Beyond Headaches says that one of the main keys to a healthy body is getting oxygen, which we can’t do if we’re all slumped over and stressful. Take a few minutes and close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. I like to tell myself that with each outgoing breath I am becoming calmer and less worried and stressed. If you can stop and breathe deeply for ten minutes a couple times a day, you can reduce your stress dramatically. “Take a deep breath in. Now let it out. You may notice a difference in how you feel already. Your breath is a powerful tool to ease stress and make you feel less anxious. Some simple breathing exercises can make a big difference if you make them part of your regular routine.” – Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief – webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques#1
- Eat a sweet – When you’re feeling really stressed, take a minute and eat a bite or two of candy (watch out for chocolate, which has caffeine in it). Researchers have found that stress levels go down when we consume sugars.
- Make yourself at home . . . even at home – Personalize your workspace. Surround yourself with photographs of home, posters from favorite movies or plants and flowers. Familiar, homey-objects help relax tensions.
- Drink some orange juice – Scientists have discovered that vitamin C can reduce the production of stress hormones. Eat an orange, drink some juice, take a 200 mg. supplement, or eat other foods rich in vitamin C like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, grapefruit and cantaloupe.
- Sing a song – This tip does double duty: music and singing relax the body, AND by singing you breathe more deeply. Depending on your voice, however, you might create more stress for the people around you. My office is in my home, so I can take a break and sit down at my baby grand and play a tune or two. You can do the same if you’re working from home. Break out the old accordion, a guitar, even a tone drum. It’s surprising what music can do. “Singing is a simple and effective way to reduce stress and improve your overall health well being, both mentally and physically. These benefits can be classified into three broad groups: physical, emotional, and social.” – Three Ways Singing Makes You Healthier – makingmusicmag.com/three-ways-singing-makes-you-healthier/
- Cut out multi-tasking – The more balls you have in the air, the more stress you can feel. Reduce the number of balls and reduce the tension and stress.
- Watch a funny video – Laughter like singing gets more oxygen into our lungs, so watch something that gives you some belly laughs. Blazing Saddles always works for me. I know most of the lines, but so what? Mel Brooks says the essence of humor is anticipation and payoff; just like reducing stress. For a quick fix, I go to Youtube and search for Dry Bar Comedy, which is clean comedy and never offensive. It’s easy to share with friends, clients or co-workers. Laugh, relax, and then slip back into work.
- Find out more about stress – Read a book, listen to an audio book, watch a video. You’ll see that you’re not alone and that there are many ways to overcome stress and the way you handle a stressful situation.
No matter what kind of work we do or where we do it, stress is part of our lives. We can reduce our stress levels, but we can’t eliminate stress; however, we can learn to control it and live with it.