When we‘re in an emergency or a tense situation, we feel stress. Often our heart rate increases as our body prepare us for this new challenge. We all know from firsthand experience what stress is, but how do we beat it?
When your car skids on an icy road, your body goes on full alert, ready for action. This stress response can save your life because all your faculties are at their highest pitch and your energies are directed toward controlling the car. But more often, stress does not call for a physical response. For example, when you have an argument with a friend, your body may become charged up but there is no physical outlet for your energies. When this happens repeatedly, stress builds, adversely affecting your health.
Things that cause stress called stressors—do not affect everyone in the same way. Much depends on how we perceive and cope with the trouble. If every problem is considered a catastrophe, the level of stress is greater. You should think about your problems in the coolest way you can.
It is possible to have too little stress. We work better with a certain level of stimulation. If the level is too low, we get bored.
Stress is a normal part of life and usually comes from everyday occurrences. Eliminate as many sources of stress as you can. For example, if crowds bother you, go to the supermarket when you know the lines won‘t belong. Try renting videotapes rather than going to crowded movie theaters.
Clear up the clutter in your life by giving away or throwing away the things that get in your way. A garage sale is one effective way to do this.
If you are always running late, sit down with a pencil and paper and see how you are actually allotting your time. Say it takes 40 minutes to get to work. Are you leaving your house on time? You may be able to solve the problem (and de-stress your life a bit) just by being realistic.
If you can‘t find the time for all the activities that are important to you, maybe you are trying to do too much. Again, make a list of what you do during the day and how much time each activity takes. Then cut back.
Avoid predictably stressful situations. If a certain sport or game makes you tense (whether it‘s tennis or bridge), decline the invitation to play. After all, the point of these activities is to have a good time. If you know you won‘t, there‘s no reason to play.
If you can‘t remove the stress, remove yourself. Slip away once in a while for some private time. These quiet moments may give you a fresh perspective on your problems.
Avoid stressful people. For example, if you don‘t get along with your father—in—law but you don‘t want to make an issue of it, invite other in-laws at the same time you invite him. Haying other people around will help absorb some of the pressure you would normally feel.
Competing with others, whether in accomplishments, appearance, or possessions, is an avoidable source of stress. You might know people who do all they can to provoke envy in others. While it may seem easy to say you should be satisfied with what you have, it‘s the truth. Stress from this kind of jealousy is self—inflicted.
Laborsaving devices, such as mobile phones or computer hookups, often encourage us to cram too many activities into each day. Before you buy new equipment, be sure that it will really improve your life. Be aware that taking care of equipment and getting it repaired can be stressful.
Try doing only one thing at a time. For example, when you‘re riding your exercise bike, you don‘t also have to listen to the radio or watch television.
Remember, sometimes it‘s okay to do nothing.
If you suffer from insomnia, headaches, recurring colds, or stomach upsets, consider whether stress is part of the problem. Being chronically angry, frustrated, or apprehensive can deplete your physical resources.
If you feel that stress (or anything else) is getting the better of you, seek professional help a doctor or therapist. Early signs of excess stress are loss of a sense of wellbeing and reluctance to get up in the morning to face another day.
Here‘s how to manage the many small stressful events in your daily routine.
Plan ahead for the morning crunch. Set the breakfast table and make bag lunches the night before.
Plan what you will wear. Check clothing for rips, runs, or missing buttons.
If a child needs help deciding on clothing or gathering books and papers for school, get this organized the night before.
Get up before the rest of the family in order to have some time to yourself. Then read the newspaper or do the crossword puzzle in peace.
Store plenty of microwavable meals for your family that can easily be put on the table.
Too many errands and chores to do? Enlist your children‘s help, or hire a trusted neighborhood teenager to do some of these tasks.
You can use a standard kitchen timer to help manage your schedule. If you don‘t want a telephone conversation to get too lengthy, set the timer for 15 or 20 minutes. Also, use it to time exercising or housecleaning (‘I‘ll do this for just twenty minutes’).
Get an aquarium. They come in all sizes, for any size room or budget. Watching colorful fish swim gracefully through the water will destress you in no time.
Spend time with your children. Flying a kite or playing a favorite board game is relaxing and makes the whole family feel closer.
Spend time away from your children as well. Occasionally hiring a babysitter can make a big difference in your stress level. To save money, consider forming a babysitting co-op with other parents.
Take time out for a hobby you truly enjoy, whether it‘s knitting, playing the piano, or puttering around the garden.
Listen to music. Start with lively music that matches the way you feel, and work into slower pieces. Or do the opposite—start with soothing melodies and end with energizing music.
Get enough sleep. Most adults need at least eight to eight and a half hours a night. Your efficiency the next day will more than makeup for the extra time lost to sleep. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning— even on weekends—if possible. This way you won‘t tamper with your body‘s rhythms.
Try volunteer work. Nothing will take your mind off your own troubles and give you a greater sense of accomplishment than volunteering your time and energy to a good cause (see ‘The Rewards of Self—Improvement‘).
Buy cards and gifts throughout the year. Then you won‘t have to rush around before birthdays and holidays.
Keep a record of the things that make you feel stressed. This will help you to become aware of the real stressors in your life.
Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Let the dishes go unwashed one night.
Getting a pet is another excellent way to reduce stress. Not only will a pet give you warmth and unconditional affection, but merely petting a friendly animal can help lower blood pressure.
THE INSTANT—CALMING SEQUENCE
Many stress-reducing methods are designed to untangle knots after you are stressed. The Instant—Calming Sequence is
a technique you can use beforehand, in a potentially stressful situation.
Train yourself to continue breathing normally. Most of us stop breathing for a few seconds in a stressful situation. This reduces oxygen to the brain and can fuel feelings of anxiety, panic, and anger.
Keep a smile on your face. A positive facial expression, no matter what your mental state, may increase blood flow to the brain and help with the transmission of key nerve impulses for preventing feelings of distress. And even a slight smile will help you stay in a positive mood.
Keep a good upright posture. Many of us collapse into a slouch when confronted with stress. This restricts breathing, reduces blood flow, and causes muscle tension.
Take a tension inventory. Make a quick check for any parts of your body that may be tightening with stress, from your forehead to your toes. Then consciously release that tension.
Keep your mind calm and clear. Thoughts of blame or helplessness will only contribute to a loss of control of the situation. Simply accept what is happening and choose a wise response.
60 SECOND STRESS BUSTERS
Need a quick cure for stress?
Look no further.
Close your eyes and make yourself feel a wave of relaxation that starts at your head and goes down to your toes.
Munch on a rice cake, piece of fruit, or other snacks in small bites that you take precisely every 10 seconds.
Close your eyes and visualize your greatest achievement.
See if you can point your finger or a pencil at something for 60 seconds without shaking.
Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. As you do this, visualize the air coming in and going out.
Try to stand several coins on edge.
Suck on hard candy and think only of its flavor.
Pick an age between 5 and 25. Try to remember where you lived at that age and who your friends were. What was your daily routine?
Make a paper airplane and sail it across the room.
Listen to the sound of something nearby—the air conditioner, traffic, or similar sound. Close your eyes and try to turn it into a soothing sound.
Give your pet a 60—second scratch.
Having friends may well keep you healthier. Some studies show that people with close friends have a greater ability to fight disease than people who are solitary.
Make friendship a priority. Find the time to be with your friends even if it means letting the lawn go unmowed or the dishes unwashed for a while. When you can‘t get together, use the phone to keep in touch.
Open up to close friends. Maintaining a deep friendship requires a level of ‘psychological intimacy.’ Don‘t be afraid to express your inner fears and disappointments.
Listen to your friends when they have problems, but offer advice only when it‘s wanted. Help reaffirm friends‘ self-esteem when they are shaken by a job loss, divorce, or another such event.
Have different friends for different activities, such as going to the movies, singing in a choir, and participating in a bowling league.
Don‘t wait for a friend to ask for a favor. When a friend has the flu, offer to go to the store or drive the children to their after—school activities.
Never take a friendship for granted. Like a good marriage, friendship needs nurturing and patience.
Become a joiner. Find a group that matches your interests. You might look at your church or synagogue for activities. Or try a library, a health club, or an amateur sports group.
You can also start a group, such as a discussion group on gardening or books. Place an ad in a community newspaper to find people.
Talk to strangers (using discretion and common sense, of course). Conversations started in museums, laundry rooms, or bookstores can lead to firm friendships.
Enroll in an adult—education course. A classroom is an ideal place to meet others with similar interests (see ‘The Rewards of Self—Improvement‘ )
There are organized support groups for alcoholics, cancer patients, and women with menopausal problems, among others. If you can‘t find a group that answers your needs, consider starting one.
STRESS IN THE WORKPLACE
The time you spend at the office may be the most stressful part of your day, but it doesn’t have to be. You have a greater ability to shape your office environment than you may realize.
Take breaks throughout the day. It will help clear your mind and relieve pressure. Something as simple as going to the water cooler for a drink may do the trick.
Enroll in a noontime or an after-work exercise class. This will give you time to unwind and a way to relieve stress.
To help your workday go smoothly, try pacing your activities: do more demanding work in the morning, when your energy level is higher, and easier work later in the day, when you may be tired.
Try listening to music, recordings of nature sounds, such as a pounding surf or songbirds, to help you relax. Such tapes are sold commercially. Use headphones if you‘ll be listening to them in the middle of the workday.
Get to work early or stay late once a week. You may be able to accomplish more when you vary your routine.
If your stress comes from job insecurity, take stock of yourself. Update your résumé, and remind yourself of your strengths and skills. Also, make sure you keep up with new developments in your field. This will make you valuable to employers.
Don‘t let work rumors, which are usually false, cause you to worry. A co-worker may just be thinking out loud about worst-case scenarios.
If your office is less structured (or if you are the boss), consider a company mascot. A cat or dog can do wonders for workers‘ morale.
A STRETCH FOR OFFICE STRESS
If sitting at a desk makes you feel stiff and stressed, head for the nearest doorway for this 30—second stretching routine.
Walk to a doorway and place your forearms against the frame. Slide your right foot in front of your left and slowly lean forward. You should feel the stretch in your chest and shoulders.
Keeping your arms against the door frame, slide your right foot farther forward to focus the stretch on your lower body. The farther forward you slide your foot, the more you stretch your calves and hamstrings and the muscles around your hips.
Now twist your torso to one side while braced against the door frame and leaning forward. This will stretch the muscles over the ribs and hips. Hold for a count of three. Ease up, then twist to the other side. Repeat the three steps, this time with your left foot forward.