Friday, February 8, 2013
It’s a new year! Holidays have been enjoyed, resolutions made, and now stress is back as our #1 complaint. It should be! Constant stress messes up sleep, makes losing weight tougher, weakens our flu fighting ability, and ignites everything from anxiety to zits. For our clients, stress also challenges effective leadership, erodes confidence, paralyzes many public speakers and gets in the way of realizing objectives.
Since the start of a year is ideal for developing goals and plans, allow me to recommend six essential actions for a less stressed ‘13, ’14 and beyond. These are not nuggets of wisdom. Think of them as vaccines--concrete to-dos for you and your clients to consistently consider, select and employ to prevent or lessen the impact of stress no matter from who or where it arrives.
1. Make a stress spreadsheet
Who and what are the sources of your stress? The successful stress manager—like any manager out to solve a problem—starts by investigating the causes of that problem. So, divide a sheet of paper into two columns. Label the first column “Stress Sources” and list some of the situations and individuals currently causing you stress. Call column two “Stress Breakdown” and subdivide some of those stress blobs that you likely wrote in column one, i.e. finances, work, clients, the post office and global hunger. These juggernauts are too big to de-stress as a whole, and breaking them down into more manageable pieces will make you more likely to start reducing their negative effects. I call this exercise Stress GPS because it provides a starting point and routes to stress reduction.
2. Check your body’s dashboard
Part two of Stress GPS means considering your stress symptoms. Turn over that sheet of paper and list how you feel when you are stressed. I bet your list might include:
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Upset stomach;
- Pounding heart;
- Serious cravings for food or nicotine;
- Back pain;
- Feelings of panic;
3. Counterbalance your stress
Quick! What is the one thing that you need daily to keep you functioning at your best? Did you yell, “8 hours of sleep,” “my run around the lake,” “meditation,” “a lunch break,” or “time with my kids?” Whatever you first uttered is something you should work hard to make happen--everyday. In addition to helping us perform well, these essential activities can also make it much easier to deal with daily hassles and stressful surprises. Counterbalances are timeouts from work and other stress producers and are another vital tool for minimizing stress-induced symptoms.
4. Free your feelings
Emotional intelligence is all the rage, but what about emotional outlets? Another list worth making are the people in your personal and professional lives with whom you can comfortably and confidentially share challenges, process concerns and brainstorm solutions. And don’t just make a list, make sure you use these folks as your support networkers, and let them know you will do the same for them. Bottled up frustration, anger, fear and the like corrode our spirits, and great listeners and supporters in all forms can produce solutions, epiphanies, creativity and lower stress levels.
5. Get and stay physical
Duh, you don’t need me to tell you to be physically active. All I will say here is that regular and elevated cardiovascular activity strengthens body systems that are the punching bags of our stress, and that this foundation of stress resilience does not require a gym. Walk, walk fast, run, swim, bike, jump rope--just do something everyday.
6. Sleep well
If satisfying sleep isn’t one of your must-have stress counterbalances, please add it to the list in #3. Good sleep is the ultimate tonic for strengthening our defenses against stress’s unwanted side-effects, not to mention a vital ingredient in immune system health. Stress and poor sleep are best friends.
They encourage and feed off of each other like two schoolyard bullies who make mischief and misery. The top non-medicinal sleep enhancers remain:
- A cold, dark and quiet sleeping environment;
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day;
- Avoid eating and drinking too close to bedtime--especially foods and beverages with caffeine;
- Easing from stressful activities such as work to sleep with non-stressful ones including reading, sex and Seinfeld reruns; and
- Limiting electronic screen use before sleep as our bodies interpret their blue light as sunshine (so, maybe no Seinfeld).
Jordan Friedman, a.k.a. The Stress Coach, is a global stress management speaker, trainer and former director of Columbia University’s health promotion program. His Stress Coach U teleseminar is part of ICF’s Continuing Coach Education offerings, and trains coaches and other professionals to teach their clients and students stress reduction techniques (www.stresscoachu.com) Jordan is the author of The Stress Manager’s Manual and co-author of The Go Ask Alice Book Of Answers. He provides free how-to videos, exercises and other resources for coaches, trainers and stress- relief seekers at www.thestresscoach.com. Copyright 2013 Jordan Friedman. Published with permission.