Stress can make or break you. It is now better understood than ever before and people can learn to deal with it.
Life is stressful and self awareness is needed now more than ever. To be alive is to feel pressure and we are feeling it more and more. The Harris polling organisation reported recently that one third of 25-39 year olds were suffering from burn-out syndrome – a term coined in the seventies to describe a state of physical and mental exhaustion.
So, here are seven lessons for handling stress…
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Getting a sense of perspective can do wonders for stress. And that includes the ability not to take yourself too seriously. Often we view situations from a limited perspective with little evidence for our conclusions. Tell yourself that even though you are concerned the situation usually is not dangerous.
2. Remember to breathe
Take a deep breath to a count of four. The secret to instant relaxation is your breathing as each time you exhale, your brain sends a signal to slow the cardiac muscle.
3. Eat the right foods
The so called DASH diet is best. this diet, used to treat high blood pressure, emphasises fruit and vegetables. In particular dark green vegetables supply many nutrients that the body needs such as magnesium, potassium, Vitamin B which all deal with stress. Junk food stresses the body and, in particular, too much caffeine stimulates the stress response.
4. Exercise regularly
If stress stimulates “fight or flight”, exercise uses up the stress response chemicals and brings the body back into neutral. Exercise is truly the silver bullet for stress. Try to get your heart rate up, so that you sweat, for up to 45 minutes as many days a week as you can but at least every second day.
5. Phone a friend
There is strong evidence that those with a circle of good friends suffer less from stress. You need to find support. Do not be afraid to tell people what is going on in your life. Absolute miracles occur when we trust another person enough to share with them our issues and concerns.
6. Get a pet
Fido is man’s best friend for a good reason. Health indicators are much better for those who own a pet and studies show that stroking a pet lowers stress levels. And the pet benefits too!
7. Quiet time
Human beings are not designed to be continually on the go. You need quality recovery time. A car that is always driven at high speed and never serviced will not last long. There are many methods for getting quality recovery time. My particular favourite is meditation. Instruction helps, but simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing works. The idea is to not get hooked up in your thoughts but to gently return either to the breathing or the counting.
There you have it – a stress busting plan. The one thing you should not do is to ignore the risks. Animal research has shown that there is a relatively small period when the effects of chronic stress can be reversed. Human studies are confirming this. You can get stuck for years if your body/mind gets locked into chronic stress. The antidote is listed above.
There is no time like now.
Andrew McLaughlin is the programme director of the IMI Diploma in Organisational Behaviour. He is an experienced executive coach who has worked with national and multi-national companies including Revenue Commissioners, Departments of Industry and Commerce and Defence, OECD and EU. Andrew is a Master Practitioner and certified trainer / consultant of Neuro Linguistic Programming.