Managing stress and the fast moving pace of life is a constant challenge. Too much stress and you burn out; too little stress and you become bored. Performing at optimal levels requires that you take stock of what stresses you and utilize specific strategies for managing those stressors. Recently, Harvard Medical School published a list of the ten most common stressors. Here is that list of ten, along with quick strategies for dealing with each:
1. You are frequently late
• Identify the underlying issue for your lateness. Are you feeling less-than-confident as you walk into a networking luncheon by yourself? Are you feeling guilty about having to confront a friend about something?
• Schedule 20-30 minutes each day, preferably in the morning, to visualize your day. Anticipate the hurdles and challenges you might face and make mental notes for handling.
2. You are often angry or frustrated
• Generate positive emotion by doing something you love – read some jokes, garden, look at old pictures, dance, you name it. Positive emotions not only help return your heart rate to baseline, but they also increase your capacity to generate solutions to setbacks.
• Practice progressive muscle relaxation, which is the process of tensing, then relaxing, individual muscle groups.
3. You are unsure of your ability to do something
• If you can’t figure it out on your own, talk to a friend, co-worker, or your boss, if possible. Look for information online, in books, and other resources.
• Build your self-efficacy, which is the ability to believe you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. Start by keeping a journal of “wins.” Write down all of the times in your life when you have exceeded expectations, accomplished tough goals, and were in control of your life. Review this list often and keep adding to it. If you have to, start small. Small victories create momentum which is a great foundation from which to succeed at more complicated tasks.
• Identify your strengths. People who successfully manage their stress understand that they cannot be everything to everybody and remain effective; instead, they have a keen awareness of how to leverage their unique blend of strengths, skills, and talents.
4. You are overextended
• Identify what restores you and what depletes you both at home and at work. For every item that depletes you, determine whether you can bag it (do you have to do the task at all), barter it (can you have someone else do it), or better it (how you can make it better). For a simple worksheet to help you sort it all out, send me an email at email@example.com.
• Hire help or if money is tight, do a swap with a friend or neighbor. For example, you each agree to watch each other’s kids one night a week so you can catch up on work or have a date night.
• Clarify your work and life mission. Having a busy life is wonderful, but busyness needs to be intentional and purposeful in order to be productive. What do you want to accomplish at work, both short term and long term? Will attending those three new meetings advance that mission? What type of family life do you want to create? Does signing your son or daughter up for another activity fit into your goals?
5. You have no time for stress relief
• Take mini breaks. Sit at your desk and take a few deep breaths. Walk around the block. Chat with a co-worker. Small activities add up.
• Block off “do not disturb” times throughout your day and tell co-workers, your assistant, kids, and spouse that this time is off limits.
• Get out of the weeds by establishing systems. The business book E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, does a wonderful job of describing the importance of systems in the business world, and the idea is transferable to non-work situations as well. Good systems are fluid, measurable, and can and should be changed as better methods are established or as missing pieces are learned.
6. You feel tense
• Practice controlled breathing. Take several deep, controlled breaths from your diaphragm. Notice that when you breathe in deeply, your abdomen rises, and when you exhale slowly, your abdomen falls.
• Focus on positive imagery. Close your eyes and picture a calm, relaxing scene, a place where you feel completely relaxed and at ease. Spend several minutes noting the specific details of the images – who do you see; what are the smells; what are the sounds?
7. You are a pessimistic thinker
• Focus your time and energy on where you have control. If your first strategy doesn’t work, find another one.
• Know that “this too shall pass.” Optimistic thinkers are realistic. They “embrace the suck” and understand that while the ride might be bumpy at times, it won’t last forever.
• Compartmentalize. Optimistic thinkers don’t let an adversity in one area of their life seep over into other areas of their life.
8. You are upset by conflicts with others
• Devote time to gaining a solid understanding the issue that is causing the conflict. Did you jump to conclusions, mind read, or fall into another thinking trap? Be honest about the ways you contributed to the conflict.
• Describe and explain your feelings to the other person. Stay factual and avoid exaggeration and blame.
• Ask the other person for reasonable change and list the solutions you reach.
9. You are burned out
• Take it easy. Dial back your exercise routine, focus on eating healthfully, and get enough sleep.
• Know it’s not all your fault. Maslach and Leiter’s research indicates that burnout is often a sign of dysfunction within an organization, and says more about the workplace than it does about individual employees themselves.
• Clarify your mission and values. Do you need to make a change?
10. You feel lonely
• Connect with others. Start small by having a short conversation with your neighbor.
• Call a relative or friend that you miss.
• Volunteer for a group that connects to your mission.
Stress relief doesn’t have to involve complicated, time-consuming strategies. Pick a stress category and try one or two of the above suggestions. Give yourself time to incorporate the strategies that work for you and celebrate even the smallest successes!
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who helps busy professionals and companies “Find Your Strong” by mastering a set of skills proven to enhance resilience, build mental toughness, develop leadership, and promote strong relationships. Connect with Paula via:
Her website: www.marieelizbethcompany.com
10 simple steps to help de-stress (2012, April 24). Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat. Retrieved on June 9, 2012 at http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/10-simple-steps-to-help-destres...
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. (1997). The truth about burnout: How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.