Getting a Grip: 4 Simple Strategies to Deal with Stress in your Busy Day
Posted on May 19th, 2012 at 8:00 pm
Most of us know how to take good care of ourselves and unwind after work, on weekends, and on holidays. However, research has shown that this does not undo the damage that stress does to us throughout our busy day—the negative effects of long-term release of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. In the short-term, stress is a motivating response and helps us get things done, but long-term unresolved stress can cause mood problems, physical issues (such as hypertension, lowered sex drive, decreased appetite, headaches, and more), irritability, and a host of other negative side-effects. The response to resolve stress (a long vacation on the beach) is a good one, but timing is the problem— to truly function as well as we are capable of doing we need to resolve stress throughout the day, in the moment. Here are four simple strategies which are effective in dealing with stress in your busy day:
- Tune in: Close your eyes and tune in to your environment. A great way that to do this is to find a room with a window and open it. Close your eyes and note what sounds you hear—cars passing on the street, a bird crying, the sound of the wind. Note also any changes in temperature or air pressure from inside the room to outside; the feeling of a raindrop on your hand. I find closing your eyes help tune in to things that otherwise you would not. By tuning in to the world around us, we can help ourselves step out of a habitual stress response and back to our naturally relaxed and energetic level. I find this a great exercise when working with deadlines and in fact opens up the mind to more creative and less linear ideas.
- Take a break: Making a cup of tea is a time-honored tradition in many cultures. Living in Japan a few years ago, I learnt the tea ceremony and ever since have had a deep appreciation for the ritual of making even a simple cup of tea. A small kitchen area works great but even an electric kettle in your room will do. Boiling the water, first fill your cup or teapot for a minute to warm it. Then, empty that water, place the teabag or tea leaves in, and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. I often use green or herb teas and know that if I steep too long the tea will become astringent so paying careful attention is important. By setting this short time as a distinct ritual in your day you take a break from stress and, refreshed, allow yourself more energy to tackle the task at hand.
- Breathe: If you have been dealing with anxiety, depression, or stress in general and worked with a counselor or meditation, you may know how effective this is. You do not have to sit cross-legged for 50 minutes to realize the benefits of focused breathing. Sit comfortably in your chair, with your back as straight as possible and simply notice your breath coming in slowly, to the bottom of your lungs, and moving out, just as slow. See your thoughts come and go and release the need to follow each through, be pushed or pulled around by it, or even the need to forget it. With practice, this can become a habit and whenever you find yourself stressed to the point that you are not able to do what you need to do, you can use deep breathing to re-tune your inner motor.
- Have a hot soak: In some cultures, a hot bath is a detailed ritual which involves first washing yourself and then soaking in hot water. While I do not find the time for a long, hot bath every day, when I do it is permission to refresh at the end of my day. Hot water, I find, works wonders and removes the availability of electronic devices, deadlines, and the constant hum of thoughts about the next day. It helps, in all these strategies, if you turn off your computer screen, smartphone, and other devices while you tune in to your natural rhythms. And this is the key—we all have a more relaxed and functional base-line level of being. This natural rhythm helps us be more effective in our day. Like sailing, by taking small turns throughout the day we can keep on course, lessening the need for dramatic corrections.
What do you do to relax throughout your day? Send me an email or a Tweet to let me know your strategies.