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3 Uncommon Strategies to Manage Stress

Stress management doesn't have to be "normal"

It's natural for most people to do what everyone else is doing, and in many cases, what everyone else is doing works out fine. But sometimes, this within-the-lines kind of thinking can cause us to forget that there is more than one way to effectuate change or improvement in our lives.

I often see this happen early on in the stress management planning process of most people. Ask for someone's ideas as to what strategies they can use to help them better manage the stress in their lives, and inevitably, you'll hear exercise, yoga, deep breathing, warm baths, massage—all the typical things most people think of when they think about stress relief. And although there is certainly nothing wrong with any of these strategies, there are many, many more ways to reduce stress than the typical ones.

To try and encourage some out-of-the-box thinking, I thought I'd write about a few "uncommon," yet highly effective stress relief strategies. I've used diamonds to rank them in order of difficulty to accomplish (the more diamonds, the harder to do), but with that said, keep in mind that some of the most difficult challenges in life bring about the most rewards.

Rediscover nature.

Remember when you were a kid and the great outdoors was such a wonderous adventure. One of the most unfortunate side effects of modern society is that it has fractured our connection to nature. Sadly, most people today spend a large majority of their time (some say as much as 90 percent) indoors. That's a waste for many reasons, says Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. The premise of his book revolves around an intriguing question: What would our lives be like if we were as immersed in nature as we are in technology?

Decades of research have shown that interactions with nature have a multitude of life-enhancing effects. Referring to connecting with nature as a dose of "vitamin N," Louv says that benefits include an enhanced use of our senses, a reported higher satisfaction with life, a more positive outlook on lie, increased productivity at work, and an enhanced ability to cope with stress and recover from stress, illness, and injury. He also describes a University of Michigan study that found that after only an hour of connecting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent, and a University of Kansas study that found a 50 percent boost in creativity from being outdoors for a few days.

Louv also raises a thought-provoking point. saying that baby boomers "could be the last generation to remember a time when it was considered normal and expected for children to play in woods and fields. When we leave this earth, will the memory of such experiences leave with us? Reconnecting the young to the natural world (as we reconnect ourselves) could be our greatest, most redemptive cause," which provides a nice segue for the next uncommon stress reducer.

♦♦ Give back.

Most people don't think about donating their time or talent as a remedy for stress, but it can be a high effective stress reliever. In an article for American Medical News, Dr. Stephen Post, author of It’s Good to be Good: 2011 Fifth Annual Scientific Report on Health, Happiness and Helping Others, points out, "Just by taking a vacation from your stress and problems and turning your attention to helping someone else, it's a tremendously healthy thing."

Post says that one of the key studies in his annual report was a United Health Care survey of over 4,500 adults that found that 68 percent of volunteers felt physically better as a result of volunteering, 27 percent said it helped them manage a chronic illness, and most reported that donating their time enriched their sense of purpose and lowered their stress levels. Giving back also can help people realize that their problems pale in comparison to what others in need are experiencing, which also can reduce stress.

The reason I gave it two diamonds for difficulty is because many people find it challenging these days to find the time to volunteer, but this is a situation where even a small amount of time can reap much larger benefits. For suggestions about how to find volunteer opportunities that work for you, see Volunteering and Its Surprising Benefits.

♦♦♦ Work to resolve conflicts.

Although many people are not consciously aware of how much stress conflict adds to their life (because we're biologically designed to adapt to the status quo), rest assured it's significant. Ongoing tension and conflict in relationships, whether at home, work, or otherwise, is one of the biggest causes of stress in people's lives. Think about it. Close your eyes and think about a conflict-free relationship in your life, one that you really enjoy. (When I ask people to do this, I often see a natural smile come to their face, or if not a smile, at least signs of relief or lack of tension in their face and body language.) Now close your eyes and think about the person in your life that you have the most conflict with, the one that you dread being around or are apprehensive about being around. By doing this contrast, most people quickly recognize the dramatic changes in how they mentally and physically feel just when thinking about the two relationships.

Conflicted relationships weigh you down by adding significant stress to your life. And even when you're not around that person, thoughts about them and the problems they cause you intrude into your consciousness, making you feel drained, like you're carrying extra weight around.

So try to work it out. What's the worse that can happen? You're already burdened by the conflict. Anything that moves the relationship in a positive direction, even the smallest movement, can only help. You don't have to love the person. Just figure out a plan that will allow you to peacefully coexist in the same space, which can go a long way in removing those intrusive thoughts about the person when she/her is not around. You never know how the relationship will grow from there.

Clients who have succeeded in reducing or resolving their conflicts with others report feeling as if a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders and are often surprised at how unaware they were of how much stress the conflicted relationship had been adding to their life. Is it a challenge to accomplish? Yes. Will it remove a ton of stress from your life? Absolutely.

Hopefully, these three uncommon stress management strategies will not only help you reduce stress in your life, they will also get you thinking outside the box with respect to an overall stress reduction plan. The great thing about stress management is that it can be as unique as you are, so don't be afraid to explore a variety ideas to find the ones that work best for you and fit best into your lifestyle. You are the only one who can determine which stress relievers are the right ones to incorporate into your stress management plan. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, relaxing is in the mind of the relaxer. What works for you?

© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

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Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).

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