Today you’re going to learn how to cope with stress.
Whatever line of work you are in, everybody experiences stress: the stress of trying to fit too much into the day; the stress of not having enough work and wondering where the next job will come from; the stress of juggling home and work life; health stresses; and the stress of technology not working the way you want it to, when you want it to.
Stress is your body’s response to certain demands made upon it. It is the same “fight or flight” reaction that our ancestors had in prehistoric times. The heart rate and blood pressure increase, there is a surge of adrenaline, and blood sugars rise.
Some stress is good for you. It prepares your body to tackle certain situations and problems more effectively. It focuses your mind. Research has shown that acute stress can actually boost the immune system and increase your brainpower.
Long-term anxiety or chronic stress has the opposite effect and wears down your immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to infection. It can result in problems with sleeping, headaches, bodily aches and pains, and depression.
The “secret” to coping with stress is to channel it in a positive way and to find methods of dealing with it on a day-to-day basis, instead of letting it build up like a simmering volcano waiting to blow!
The following ten simple steps are just some of the methods you can incorporate into your busy day to focus the good stress and reduce the potentially damaging stress. They may seem simplistic and even obvious, but most people ignore the simple ideas. Try including them into your lifestyle gradually before you resort to more drastic methods of stress relief and before your stress starts to manifest itself through ill health.
How To Cope With Stress:
1: Deep Breathing
The benefits of deep breathing are numerous. As well as reducing stress, regular deep breathing can strengthen your immune system, boost your focus and concentration, calm your mind, raise your metabolism, increase lung capacity, strengthen your abdominal and intestinal muscles, in fact improve just about every function of your body.
Many of us have learned bad breathing habits over the years and tend to breathe from our chests instead of our abdomens. You can re-educate your breathing through various exercises, and the best thing about deep breathing is that you can practise while sitting at your desk without your colleagues even being aware that you’re doing it.
Try the following exercise:
- Sit upright in a chair. Don’t slump forward. Make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are pulled back but relaxed.
- Breathe deeply but slowly through your nose. Feel as if you are breathing from your belly button! Your stomach and chest should both expand outwards as you breathe in.
- When you cannot breathe in any further, slowly exhale through your nose with the same control as inhaling. As you exhale, you should feel your chest and stomach lower. At the point where you feel you cannot exhale any more, contract your abdominal muscles and squeeze out every last ounce of air.
- Repeat the exercise as often as you can during the day. If you are not under the watchful eye of others, place your hand on your stomach while you perform the exercise to ensure you’re breathing from the stomach and not the chest. Your hand should rise as you inhale, and lower as you exhale. If only your chest is rising and falling, then you are not doing the exercise properly.
During moments of stress in your day, notice how your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow, and try to take a few moments to breathe deeply. It’s very hard to remain stressed and tense when breathing in this way.
2: Take a Walk
Too often we work through our breaks and sit glued to our computer screens all day because we think we will be more productive that way, but the benefits of taking a brisk walk outside for 15 minutes can be of far greater advantage.
Firstly, anyone who sits in front of a computer all day should take a break from the screen for 5 to 10 minutes of every hour or risk eye strain, headaches, and fatigue. Secondly, sitting at a computer for long periods of time encourages poor posture.
Even if you are not in front of a computer screen all the time, taking a walk will still reduce your stress and prove beneficial. Walking has been shown to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, aid relaxation and improve mood. The health benefits of walking as exercise are numerous, and a walk during your working day will boost your energy levels and increase your concentration and focus.
Most cities have park areas, but even if you are not based near a park you can take a stroll around the block.
Walk to the shops for a pint of milk.
Take the daily mail-run to the post box.
Enjoy the world around you, even if it’s office blocks and building sites. Aim to notice something different about your environment every time you take a walk.
A walk can also be combined with breathing exercises to enhance its benefits. As you walk, inhale through the nose for 4 counts (remember to breathe from the belly and not the chest), hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts (contracting your abdominal muscles to squeeze out all the breath) and hold for 4 counts.
As well as the benefits of deep breathing, this should prevent you from mulling over work related matters and instead clear your mind and leave you refreshed and ready to return to work.
All exercise can be beneficial as a stress reliever but walking is something that everyone can do, regardless of fitness levels and access to a gym or other sporting facilities.
No, that doesn’t mean throwing the deodorant in the bin and going “au naturel”!
Our sense of smell has a powerful influence on our bodies and minds, and is instrumental in our feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Some aromas we find comforting, some evoke happy memories, others are exciting.
By incorporating fragrances into your everyday routine you can reduce stress and feel more content.
Many of us already use smells in this way without even realising. We all have a favourite shower gel or we prefer a particular perfume or aftershave. Even our clothes smell the way we want them to through our choice of washing detergent and fabric softener.
Similarly, we are attracted to other people by the way they smell, even if it’s subconsciously.
Find a smell that makes you feel calm and relaxed, or one that evokes memories of a place or time when you were particularly happy and contented. Take that smell to work with you (either wear it on your skin or have it on a handkerchief) and just take a sniff occasionally, particularly when you feel your stress levels rise.
It may seem ridiculous to you, you may be embarrassed at the thought of work colleagues discovering you smelling a handkerchief, but certain smells can really lift your mood and make you feel more relaxed.
Try Citrus smells for improving your mood and increasing mental awareness, or Lavender for reducing anxiety (also good for aiding sleep). Coconut is another scent that can reduce the heart rate, perhaps because it evokes memories of holidays and being on a beach, and the fragrant smell of Ylang-Ylang has been used for decades as a mood booster and to relieve worry.
4: Don’t just eat…dine!
Be honest, how often do you wolf down your lunch while still sitting in front of your computer screen (1)? Or eat so fast in order to get back to work you barely taste your food? Or miss lunch altogether because you just don’t have time?
Missing meals is counter-productive to your working day. By skipping meals, you are missing out on the vital nutrients and energy that you need to maintain concentration and focus.
Take your full lunch break and find somewhere to eat away from the office. If you are self-employed, switch your voicemail on and resist the urge to pick it up when it rings. You owe yourself the break and you can always return the call later.
Find a pleasant place to eat. Avoid eating in front of a television or anywhere that might distract you from your meal. Try to eat sitting at a table, instead of off your lap. Eat good nutritious food that looks, smells and tastes appealing. Enjoy and savour every mouthful of your meal, giving it your full attention.
Eat slowly and put your fork down between mouthfuls.
The more focussed you are on what you eat and the more of an event you make it, the more likely you are to eat only what your body requires and to feel physically and emotionally satisfied by your meal. There are many other health benefits to eating in this way including preventing impulse snacking or over-eating during your evening meal.
After “dining” you should feel relaxed, refreshed, and ready to tackle the rest of the day.
5: Enjoy your pets
Not everybody can have their pets at work, but spending time with your pets before or after work can have a dramatic effect on your wellbeing. They encourage relaxation and help keep you healthy, being beneficial on a mental, physical and emotional level.
Having pets around has been proven to reduce depression, loneliness, anger and stress. Stroking an animal lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, while watching fish swimming in an aquarium relieves anxiety.
Pets give unconditional affection and are great listeners. They will let you unburden your problems and never judge you. Granted, they may not offer you any solutions to the problems but you will find the talking therapeutic.
Animals are also a good excuse for getting away from the things that are causing you stress. Dogs need to be walked, cats demand petting and attention, and even fish need to be fed and have their aquarium cleaned on a regular basis. Focussing your love and affection onto an animal will give your mind a holiday from worrying and help you become more in-tune with your emotions.
6: Be positive
During your day, remain positive and encourage others. Don’t moan and whinge your way through the day. Instead talk about the good things that are happening in your life and work. Your enthusiasm will lift your mood and that of those you speak to.
Negativity breeds negativity. Allowing unconstructive thoughts to over-ride an optimistic and upbeat attitude means you are less likely to succeed because others will sense a lack of confidence and self-belief.
In the Introduction, I talked about using your stress in a good way. By focussing on the important aspects of your work in a positive way you are using stress to your advantage. Your optimism will become infectious and people will want to work with you and be associated with you.
Similarly, you should spend your time with people who have an uplifting attitude. Too long in the company of a pessimist will only have a negative effect on your own state of mind.
A positive attitude makes change easier to deal with. Obstacles become opportunities, the unknown offers endless possibilities, and mistakes are viewed as lessons not failures. Positive people attract positive circumstances and, quite frankly, are much nicer to be around.
When you talk to others, say something encouraging. You know how good it feels to receive encouragement, especially when it’s sincere, so give that to somebody else.
Your support and confidence in that person will raise their self-esteem and when your colleagues and contacts feel good about themselves and life in general, you are more likely to share a positive and fruitful relationship.
7: Laugh…A Lot!
We all know the saying “Laughter is the best medicine,” and the evidence suggests it is most definitely good for your health, relieves stress and increases wellbeing.
Laughing releases endorphins into the body, which have been proven to alleviate anxiety and depression, as well as offering relief from physical pain. Laughter has the added benefit of projecting positive attitude (see Technique #6). Many people bottle-up their emotions but when we laugh, we are finding a harmless outlet for those feelings and anxieties.
If you are frustrated over a problem and cannot see a solution, having a good laugh could be the answer. The feeling of happiness that laughter invokes encourages a new insight, sharpens the senses and makes it easier to think creatively about a problem (2).
Even looking forward to a good laugh can boost the immune system and reduce stress. During your day, if stress is building up and you cannot find anything to laugh about, plan to speak to a friend after work who always makes you laugh, or to watch a DVD of your favourite comedian, or to hire a comedy you’ve been wanting to see.
I laugh a lot in the company of my family and friends; in fact, my young nephew often comments that whenever I visit their house there’s always a lot of laughter. There have been times in my life when it didn’t feel like I had much to smile about and yet seeking the company of certain friends or my sisters would inevitably help me forget my troubles and find absurd things to laugh about with them.
Try to find those things that evoke the same response for you and aim to laugh genuinely at least once a day.
Don’t spend your whole day focussed on yourself. Take the time to really listen to others and what they have to say.
This may sound easy but truly listening requires a great deal of concentration. You need to avoid distractions, rid your mind of your own problems and anxieties, and become involved in what the speaker is saying.
Give the speaker your complete attention by looking directly at them if they are in the same room as you. If they are on the phone, turn away from your computer screen, avoid looking out of a window or allowing your mind to wander to what others in the room are doing. If your mind does wander to other things, push those thoughts out of your head, change the position of your body and try to concentrate more fully.
Let the speaker finish before you talk. When you interrupt it looks as if you aren’t listening, even if you are. It also prevents you speaking before you have fully digested what the other person has said.
Respond appropriately through a nod, laugh, frown or just silence. When you do speak, ask questions that show you are interested and trying to comprehend what is being said. Most of the time the speaker is not looking for you to provide answers or solve their problems; they just want someone to care enough to listen.
Being a good listener is a skill that will help you forget your own anxieties for a while and bring success to your business dealings. You will build better relationships and become more competent and efficient.
9: Make some noise
Like laughter, making some noise can help create a release for stress and anxiety.
Obviously, this is not one to do while surrounded by colleagues, but if you find a place to let rip, just shout out your frustrations. It doesn’t matter what you shout; let it out and then feel your body relax. Follow-up with some deep breathing exercises.
Another way to make noise without embarrassing yourself is to turn the music up loud and sing along.
Pick a song you love, one that lifts your mood, and sing as loudly as you like.
If you are in the car, don’t worry about who is watching. We all sing while driving at one time or another and seeing somebody else doing it simply serves to put us in good humour. So, not only will you feel better but you might make someone else feel happier too.
It’s not surprising that African drumming has risen in popularity as a pastime in recent years; banging a drum as loudly as you can seems like a great way to relieve stress. It might not be something you’ve ever wanted to try but there are other ways to achieve the same effect.
For example, a weekly sporting event where you can shout out encouragement at the top of your lungs and stomp your feet in the stands along with hundreds of others might be just what you need.
Clutter can be depressing. Having piles of paper lying around and no obvious organisation contributes to our frustrations and encourages inefficiency. When you physically de-clutter you often mentally de-clutter too.
There are many times during the working day when you have the odd few minutes with nothing to do, maybe while waiting for the computer to boot-up. Instead of twiddling your thumbs, work through a pile of papers and file them away, or clear your desk of coffee cups, old post-it notes and stray pens.
Take a few minutes every day to organise your email inbox. Delete unnecessary stuff and put emails that you need to keep but are no longer current into relevant folders. Only keep emails in your inbox that still require action.
Similarly, at home you can start to work through your cupboards in short spurts and throw away anything you haven’t used in a given time period (such as 6 months or a year). When I moved house a couple of years ago, I had possessions in my under stairs cupboard that hadn’t been used, or even moved, in the ten years I had lived there.
It’s the same with clothes; if you haven’t worn something in 12 months or it doesn’t fit, bag it up and give it to charity. Get your children to contribute by giving away toys they never play with or sorting out clothes that no longer fit them. A decluttered home can go a long way to making you feel more relaxed.
Decluttering isn’t just about physical possessions, emails or bits of paper. Sometimes stress is brought on by simply trying to remember too much at once. Instead of keeping your “To Do” list in your head, write it down and work through it gradually.
By having it on paper or on your computer or phone you will feel less stressed about trying to remember everything and you will feel great satisfaction every time you are able to cross something off as being completed.
The techniques I have shared here may seem overly simplistic but sometimes simple and obvious work best. How much better would it be to utilise some of these techniques instead of going straight for drug-induced stress relief from your medical practitioner or waiting until stress is compromising your health and preventing you from working and looking after yourself and your family?
Of course, there are more than ten ways to deal with stress, such as improving your diet with good nutrition, cutting back on caffeine, meditation, downsizing your life or changing jobs, but these techniques require the least amount of effort for the most reward and you could easily incorporate just one each week or each month into your regular routine and make it a habit.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to cope with stress. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.