Whether through our normal day-to-day or over longer periods of time, most of us experience some degree of stress. Hey, life is a demanding mistress, but stress can negatively impact everything from our health to our work to our relationships with others.
A widely accepted definition of stress, attributed to psychologist and professor Richard Lazarus, is, “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”
In essence, this means that we experience stress when we feel we don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to properly handle a situation. Or, to put it more mildly, we feel like #$&@ is spiraling out of control.
So, why accept a rotten situation when you can change it for the better? Let’s look at some simple ways you can both relieve and reduce your stress levels.
Sweat it Out
One of my favourite things to do during lunch (besides eating lunch) is going to the gym, especially if I feel like my day is slipping away from me. While this may seem counter-intuitive, exercise releases feel-good endorphins, and when you couple this with coming back to your to-do list with a fresh mind, it’s win-win.
If you don’t feel like running a marathon, even a 10-minute walk around the block will do the trick.
Practice Mindful Relaxation
Every day, take a couple of minutes and try and relax with a stress reduction technique such as mindful breathing or meditation.
This is super easy and can be done literally anywhere, even at your desk or in your car. You can even focus on a word or phrase that has a positive meaning to you. If your mind starts to wander or negative thoughts begin to intrude, simply let them come and bring your thoughts back to your breathing or word/phrase. If you find yourself diving into a black hole of negativity later, just repeat the process.
Remember, mindful relaxation is a skill that will improve with practice, so don’t hit the abort button if you find it difficult at first.
Skip the Alcohol and Caffeine
I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but caffeine is a stimulant that tends to increase your levels of stress. And, alcohol is a stimulant in small amounts and a depressant in larger amounts which can increase anxiety and gloominess. So, if you’re neck-deep in deadlines, save the good stuff for a time in which you find yourself in calmer waters.
Instead, try tea, juice, and other things that will keep you hydrated. And, avoid large quantities of sugars unless you want to see your energy levels crash shortly after.
Talk to Someone
Human beings are social creatures, which means we love talking about everything and anything. But, some of us tend to flee inwards when we’re feeling overwhelmed. If you’re one of these people, talk to someone close to you about what’s causing you to feel so stressed out. Not only will you likely feel better afterwards, but since stress tends to cloud your judgement, you may just find a new solution to your problem that you hadn’t yet considered.
Get Some Sleep
“I’m not feeling stressed at all after just having three hours of sleep,” said nobody ever.
A lack of sleep is actually a significant cause of stress. Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble falling asleep (because you’re so darn stressed!), try to maximize your relaxation rather than turning to medication and/or booze. This means avoiding caffeine before bed, stopping any mentally demanding work several hours before lights out, and taking a nice warm bath or reading a book.
It’s also good practice to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable routine, but let’s be honest, that’s not so practical if you’re a party star on weekends. Holla!
Keep a Stress Diary
Keeping a stress diary for a few weeks is an effective tool, as it will help you become more aware of what’s causing your stress levels to spike.
Note down the date, time, and place of each stressful episode, and note what you were doing, who you were with, and how you were feeling. Give each episode a rating (perhaps on a 1-10 scale) and use your diary to understand what triggers your stress and how effective you are in handling it. For example, you may fight the word Monday and a skull-and-crossbones scrawled all over the place.
Take Control of Your Problems
Stress is triggered by problems which seem difficult to solve. So rather than focus on the problem, focus on solutions! Learning how to find solutions to your problems will help you feel in control and dramatically lower your stress levels.
For example, you might want to try writing down your problems and coming up with as many possible solutions as you can in a brainstorm cloud. Decide on the pros and cons of each one and select the best solution: what, how, when, who, and where.
Manage Your Time Better
Yes, for those of us who make to-do lists, they can appear daunting and cause a lot of anxiety as the day progresses. Take a good hard look at yours and you might accept that you’re not a superhero who can do everything at once. Ergo, prioritize!
Make a list of everything you need to do and list them in genuine priority (no, your lunchtime shopping trip probably isn’t more important than that report due at 2:00 p.m.) Note what tasks you need to do personally and what can be shifted to someone else. Record which ones need to be done yesterday, now, in the next week, next month, and when you have a spare moment.
By editing what started out as a giant bombardment of a task list, you can break things down into smaller, more manageable tasks spread over a longer time frame, with some things magically removed altogether!
Learn How to Say ‘No’
We all get into situations where we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and by constantly agreeing to things, you, too, can quickly snowball yourself into a situation where you have too much to do and too little time to do it.
Perhaps you’re up to your eyeballs at work and a coworker asks if you can help him with his project, or, you’re looking forward to a quiet night at home and a friend invites you out to a party (and you have absolutely zero interest in indulging the request).
Learning to say ‘no’ to additional or unimportant asks will help you reduce your stress and may boost your confidence along the way!
You should always have some time in your day for some good old-fashioned R&R, especially if you’re feeling run down or generally unwell. At the end of the day, a little ‘me time’ goes a long way!