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Take control of your life - Part 8
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Dealing with Stress
Perhaps the most pervasive and difficult problem to solve in life balancing is that of stress. Whether you are at work or at home, there is likely some stress in your life, and that stress can interfere with your enjoyment of your career and your social life.
Stress is what we experience when we must adjust to the constant and conflicting demands of our lives. If you like your job and work long hours, if you are very competitive and always trying to win, you may experience a more positive form of stress.
But for most of us, when we experience unremitting stress, and we don’t know how to handle it, it makes us angry, frustrated, irritable, depressed and fatigued. We may get headaches or develop an ulcer, or perhaps we suffer from insomnia.
Unless we can learn to eliminate or mitigate stress, we will function poorly on the job, at home and with friends.
Recognize that stress is real and that it can affect your health, your happiness and your relationships. There are lots of ways to defeat stress, and you’ll need to find the right one for yourself.
Here is a link that will get you started:
There are any number of other sites that focus on stress, many of them sponsored by universities and containing some great information and ideas about specific types of stress and stressful events.
Depending on where most of your stress is, you may want to focus in a different area.
If your boss is a major stressor in your life, if there is abuse or a hostile environment at work, you have a different problem than the stress that comes from caring for an ailing parent, spouse or child or the stress that comes from financial troubles. But, regardless of the cause of your stress, the effects are the same. Extreme stress can be short-lived, as in stress after the death of a loved one, or it can be long-term.
You may ask how and why stress figures into your work/life balance goals.
It is very simple. Whether you are trying to balance your time or simply improve the quality of your life, it is important to acknowledge stress and to understand that there IS something called positive stress, and something called negative stress.
Positive stress is the stress you feel when you are planning your daughter’s wedding or when you are about to make an important presentation. You may be happy about the event and looking forward to the occasion, but that doesn’t mean there is no stress.
That kind of stress is not harmful and can be quite invigorating. But, negative stress IS harmful, especially if it occurs over a long period of time. Consider on-the- job stress, or stress in a relationship because of poor communication or the absence of focused time spent with a loved one – all of these things can damage your health and the quality of your life.
So, start by identifying the stressors in your life, and looking for the places you feel most stressed.
Then address the source of the stress, if you can. Because, the best way to approach stress is head-on. Later, we’ll talk about how you can relieve and mitigate stress if you are in a situation where you cannot eliminate it altogether. But first, let’s look at how and when you can take charge and what you can change.
As we said earlier, you have to start by identifying the stressor(s) and taking stock of your reactions to this stress.
Notice the emotional and physical responses you have to stress.
Do your muscles tense?
Do you get headaches? Do you get nauseous or have stomach pain? Do you get nervous and irritable?
Don’t pretend it isn’t an issue. Be objective about your reactions.
Next, figure out what you can change and how you can relieve or eliminate the stress. Can you take those tasks or situations that cause you the most stress and schedule or spread them out so that you can tackle them when you are prepared and rested, rather than taking them on in a whirlwind with other things going on at the same time?
Can you shorten the time you are exposed to the stress? If your boss is a great stressor in your life, don’t schedule a one-hour meeting with her if you can avoid it. Instead, try stopping by her office to talk briefly, or if you must schedule time, schedule it during times of the day when you are less likely to feel harried.
And keep the meetings short and to the point. Stay on track and don’t get off on tangents that may make the situation more stressful.
If you have times of day or situations where you are under a lot of stress, try to take a break. Walk outside for a few minutes or go to get coffee. Break the pattern and then come back refreshed to finish the task.
If you focus on making changes to avoid the stress – for example, extending timetables to make a project more feasible, or setting more realistic goals – you will hit the problem at its root cause instead of trying to run and catch up all the time.
Try to analyze and alter your reaction to stress. Much of the damage done by stress is not done by the event itself, but instead by your body’s reaction to the event.
Your body and mind perceive danger and react accordingly and everything becomes exaggerated. The danger seems more threatening, the task more daunting, and the outcome more dismal.
Reason with yourself and ask “what is the worse that can happen?” Are you overreacting to the stressor and making your fear and emotional response worse?
Is everything as critical and time-sensitive as you think or are you just overly sensitive to pleasing everyone, all at the same time?
Don’t obsess over the negative factors and predict failure. Stick to the positive and, even if there are issues, focus on the things that worked well and note them.
THEN revisit the places that didn’t work so well, with a more objective eye toward improving the process, and try not to place or take blame. Just be sure to learn from your experience and the next time it will go better.
And remember, everyone makes mistakes!
Whatever you do, don’t go into a project or situation by predicting doom. You will never succeed that way and in the process, you will endure the stress of trying to consider every ‘what if’ and failure in the book.
Learn how to mitigate stress by diffusing it when it happens. When your heart starts to race and your palms get sweaty, take a two-minute time out and try some deep, slow breathing. It will reduce your heart rate and bring your mind back into focus.
Consciously relax the muscles in your shoulders and neck, the muscles around your jaw and in your scalp. Unclench your hands and close your eyes. Just for a moment.
You’ll be glad you took the break and so will your body!
Take care of yourself. Exercise three or four times a week. Cardio-vascular workouts like aerobics, rapid walking or running are great to relieve stress and strengthen your heart and lungs.
Don’t eat fast food. Try to eat a well-balanced diet and avoid stress responses like smoking and drinking. Take frequent breaks. Remember you can still think through problems and get things accomplished while you take a quick walk or go for a glass of water.
You don’t have to be at your desk to get things done!
Maintain supportive friendships and relationships and don’t let them die on the vine. It is this replenishment that will keep you going. Set your own goals and don’t let others force you into situations you don’t like.
You will always have some stress and frustration, but if you know yourself and if you build your reserves to meet these challenges, you will lead a much more balanced life and work stressors will not creep over into your personal life.
What if you’ve done all the right things and you still suffer the effects of stress?
What if that stress is not something you can easily change?
Remember, we said that you could always change your reaction to the stress. But, sometimes, just knowing you have to calm down doesn’t help much. We mentioned exercise as a way to mitigate stress, but there are a lot of other structured approaches to mental and physical relaxation, from meditation and yoga to biofeedback, and all of these are beneficial.
Pick the one that works for you.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Deep Breathing – Learning to breathe, deep into your abdomen and to slow your body down sounds easy, but it takes a bit of practice.
However, you can do it anywhere. On a bus, train or plane and once you’ve learned it you will wonder how you ever got along without it.
Because the increased oxygenation of your blood brings more clarity to your brain, you will double the benefit by being able to solve problems better, as well! Biofeedback is a method of relaxation that helps you to control your responses to and change how your body and mind react. Your brain ‘learns’ how to adjust as you use monitoring equipment to track your heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and skin temperature.
Guided Imagery uses affirmations and relaxing images to calm and focus your mind and body, and control your breathing so you are more relaxed.
It is easy to learn and the more you practice the better and faster your brain will response to the cues, putting you into a state of relaxation more quickly every time.
Meditation has become one of the most popular techniques to achieve relaxation. It is not tied to any religious belief, and can be learned alone through self-study or in groups. Meditation changes your brain waves, and alters the response to stress in your mind, your emotions, and your body. You can start and end your day with a brief meditation, and eventually, you may find it so helpful that you will employ this technique wherever you are, and whenever you feel stress.
Focused Muscle Relaxation teaches the student to tighten and relax groups of muscles in turn until the entire body is in a state of relaxation. It is easy to learn and can be mastered quickly and effectively with good results.
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that is based on the connection between the muscles and organs in the body, breathing techniques and the combined effects on the mind. The goal of yogic practice is to restore balance to the body and your emotions through postures, stretching and breathing exercises.
Other forms of exercise, like cardio-vascular workouts, running and walking will increase the release of certain ‘good’ chemicals in your brain, thereby relieving stress, frustration and anger and helping you to sleep.
If you suffer from stress-related insomnia, you should consider trying one or more of the solutions we’ve outlined here. It will help you get the sleep you need to function well, and to keep you healthy and balanced.
Abraham A L
2nd June 2016
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