Stress is a popular topic in news broadcasts and in the blogosphere. We make stress out to be some sort of villain, when stress is simply how our bodies react to change. The change could be good or bad, it doesn’t matter. It’s still stressful. The issue is not with stress, per se, but with how we choose to react to the stress in our lives. In a class on stress management at Swedish Heart Institute in Seattle, students are taught that approximately 90% of illness in the United States is stress related. Additionally, they’re taught that about 80% of doctor visits in the United States are stress related. If we can find a way to effectively manage our stress, we can dramatically reduce the cost of medical care and it won’t require agreement in Congress.
Two Forms of Stress
Stress comes in two forms: High-Intensity/Low-Duration and Low-Intensity/High-Duration. The first, high-intensity/low-duration is the the kind of stress you experience when you’re in a foot race or preparing for a test, especially when you cram at the last minute. The second kind of stress is low-intensity/high-duration. This is the stress from a bad job, a difficult relationship, financial problems, and similar ongoing issues. It can slowly eat away at you, causing problems such as anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
Is it Within Your Control?
When you find yourself in a stressful situation, begin by identifying whether the source of stress is within your control or not. If it’s not within your control, say, the weather, your best choice is to take a breath and let it go. There are many things in life which are completely beyond our control. When we encounter them, such as government regulations, traffic jams, crowded airports, delayed flights, and so on, our best choice is to just let it go. When there’s nothing we can do about a situation, why on earth should we allow ourselves to get stressed out about it? Take a breath and let it go. Try asking yourself if it’s worth having a heart attack over backed up traffic. (I hope your answer is no!)
If the source of stress is within your control, start identifying what you can do about it. Evaluate your options based on achieving a positive outcome for the four stakeholders: yourself, the organization, your colleagues, and your customers. Depending on the nature of the stress, you may need to evaluate possible outcomes for each of the stakeholders separately. You might also need to involve others, such as a boss or a colleague, in your evaluation of options to deal with the stress. Remember, when involving others, to maintain your calm and act in a dignified and respectful manner.
Dealing with Short-Term Stress
To deal with short term stress, remember the stoplight metaphor: Red means stop, yellow means consider your range of options, and green means choose the best one. It’s similar to what your parents may have told you when you were young: When you get angry, count to ten before you say or do anything. Other tactics for dealing with short-term stress include going for a short walk outside, splashing water on your face, watching funny YouTube videos, or otherwise distracting yourself temporarily from the source of stress.
Dealing with Long-Term Stress
To deal with long term stress, try to objectively look at the causes of the stress and identify ways to deal with it. If the cause is something large and overwhelming, such as a mountain of debt, try breaking it down into smaller chunks so you can have small victories. The psychological effect of small daily or weekly victories can give you a sense of accomplishment that will keep you going toward your bigger goal. Additionally, consider ways to generally maintain your calm such as meditation. If you’re religious, people with an active prayer life also seem to be better able to maintain their calm. If neither meditation nor prayer are your thing, find activities outside of work such as music, gardening, wood working, pottery, fishing, volunteering, running, bicycling, exercise, or yoga. Look for something to focus your mind that has little or nothing to do with your work.
Stress and Your Diet
Additionally, if stress is a problem for you, look at your diet. Consider switching to a diet heavy on fruits, vegetables, and grains and low on animal fat, sugars, and processed foods. Lose soft drinks, energy drinks, and coffee and instead drink lots of water. Just like a car, our bodies, including our brains, require good fuel to achieve optimum performance.
Remember, stress is not the problem. It’s how we respond to the stress in our lives that can become the problem. By identifying the sources of stress in our lives, by letting go of the things we can’t control, and by taking good care of ourselves, we can manage our stress effectively to our own benefit and the benefit of everyone around us.
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