Stress is the biggest killer in the western world, destroys relationships and damages productivity. It’s also just a polite way of talking about misery and suffering so here are my top 15 stress management tips. They have been put together using an integral framework and include physical, psychological, social and environmental factors for now and for the longer term.
Sit in an upright yet relaxed position with your feet flat on the floor. Expand your awareness above and below, left and right and front and back, balancing your posture. Put your hand on your stomach just below your belly button and breathe slowly and deeply so your hand moves out as you breathe in. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Put your concentration in the point just below your navel as you breathe. Repeat. Your breath is free and readily available! Search ‘get yourself together Walsh’ on YouTube for a video of this. It is an example of an ‘embodied’ training technique which is great for stress, when stress is physical.
Tense and relax
Tense your stomach muscles, shoulders, fists, eyes, jaw, and all the other muscles of your body while holding your breath. Release and relax.
Exercise is a great stress management technique. Non-competitive forms involving mindfulness like yoga, tai chi and aikido are especially beneficial. Others outside and in nature like golf and hill-walking are good too.
Getting enough sleep benefits stress levels. Common sense has a lot to offer stress management – you can’t cheat your own biological system and get away with it long-term.
For many years Buddhists and other contemplative traditions have known that paying attention to the present moment is deeply relaxing as anxieties about the future and worries about the past disappear. Mindfulness has recently been tested by US and UK universities as a way to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and is being adopted by the British National Health Service. To experience it and reduce your stress, simply bring your attention to your senses. Notice your breathing. Whatever it’s doing is fine, watch it go in and out. Feel the sensations of your body – yourself on your chair, the feeling of your clothes, your feet on the floor. If your mind wanders (this is what minds do) simply come back to the present moment. Repeat for three minutes.
Mindfulness breaks are great stress reduction tools and can be taken as one would take cigarette breaks at work for three minutes at a time. Also bring the principles to daily work activities – doing one thing completely at a time. This will also make you more efficient as you will not waste time swapping between activities. Avoid interruptions wherever possible by only checking your email twice a day for example.
Cognitive reframing: Action and acceptance
How do you think about a particular problem? Is it the only way to think about it or just one way? Are there ways which will make you less stressed? Is it a problem or a challenge? Is the glass half-empty or full? Often just changing the way you think about something will make it less stressful, as stress is always about perceived difficulty, and you can always change your own viewpoint to a more effective one. Where you perceive the control to be is particularly important – are you a victim or an agent in your life? The flipside of control is also important – acceptance. What can you not change that instead of being resentful about, you could come to terms with? See cognitive behavioural therapy for more on this.
Commitment (time) management
Being able to efficiently manage your time is crucial for managing stress and avoiding burnout. I recommend the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen (a thorough system) or ‘Eat That Frog’ by Brian Tracey (simpler). Time management is really about managing commitments; the inability to say no or ask for help is the route cause of much stress.
Managing what grabs your attention (e.g. the mobile you ‘have to’ answer or the Outlook email alert) will help keep you sane in the ADHD-like modern world.
Empathy – really being listened to without judgement or blame is deeply stress reducing, as is getting in contact with the core needs not being met that underlie stress. If you can, call a friend or trusted colleague and ask for them to completely listen to you for five minutes. If no one is available self-empathy – letting go of the judgements we have of ourselves or blaming others – is also a remarkably effective stress management tool.
You’re great you are! Get someone to tell you why, and tell others what you appreciate about them. Be sincere and specific. Make a list of all you have to be grateful for and get some perspective. Gratitude and stress rarely coexist and the positive psychology movement has proven scientifically that this one will make you happier.
NVC, social support and team building
If you’d like to develop listening and empathy skills I recommend Non-Violent Communication designed by Marshall Rosenberg. Developing a good social support network and spending time with friends and family away from work is also helpful for managing stress. Work teams need to spend time doing other things like team building from time to time so that they don’t just associate each other with work stress and can build some social bonds.
Laughter, creativity and play
How many times did you laugh a full hearty belly laugh at work last week? Laughter is something we can all afford and ill afford not to engage in regularly. The most stressful professions often use humour as a healthy coping mechanism.
Similarly bringing some creativity and play into the workplace will also boost productivity and help staff stay happy and healthy. People get stressed when they need to know and control what is going on. Play and creativity are about not knowing and not being in control, and this being OK. Lighten up, you will not only live longer but contrary to fears, get more not less done.
Rearrange your office for five minutes and get your work environment in order to reduce your stress. Outer influences inner. Avoid doing this repeatedly just to procrastinate.
If you have some say over office design and layout make sure that it is relaxing – plenty of plants, natural light and mellow colours help in reducing stress, as does minimising noise levels and and excluding draughts.
Find out the meaning of your life
No joke here. If you’re spending your life not fulfilling your highest calling sooner or later you will be miserable and stressed in your job. Find out why you’re here before you’re not (if that doesn’t make you too stressed). Perhaps, on a more accessible level, remembering the big picture to get perspective and connecting your values to your current situation can make a big difference.
Published On: 4th March 2011