Tips and Techniques for Reducing General Stress
Congratulations American workers and leaders.
According to an annual survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), Americans have set a new record for stress and anxiety. And Generation X (which now forms the bulk of the workforce) was identified by the APA as the most stressed generation in America.
Stress is a fact of life. Fortunately, stress is also something that can be controlled, both in the workplace and outside of work. Here are some tips and techniques for reducing general stress.
Do not negatively judge yourself, your feelings, or your emotions. Accept how you are feeling — tired, anxious, nervous, overwhelmed, afraid, uncertain, etc. Accept the reality of how you are feeling, without judgment or self-criticism.
Pause and reflect on the likely root causes of your feelings, again without judgment or blame (especially without blaming others or events). Own your feelings as yours. Do not try to shift ownership to someone else (i.e. she’s making me feel this way). Your feelings are how you are reacting, consciously and unconsciously, to a situation, the behavior of another, or to what someone has said to you or about you. As Shakespeare wrote, “It is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Self-criticism for having and experiencing your feelings is nothing but an additional stress booster. Hating or chastising yourself is negative energy that stress, and many other bad feelings, feed upon. Objectively assessing what you are feeling and the root causes of your stress are the first steps to regaining control of your feelings and rational thinking. Doing so helps prevent the emotional hijacking situations we discussed previously in chapter three.
Write down everything that is stressing you. It takes less than ten minutes to do a mind dump of everything that is aggravating and annoying you. Writing down this list of stresses, both big and small, eliminates the urge to keep everything bottled up in your mind (thus freeing up much-needed working memory space in your brain). It also usually results in an immediate reduction in stress levels.
Give yourself a break. Your body and your brain both require frequent periods of brief rest. Neither are designed to run at “Mach Two with your hair on fire” for extended periods of time. (Kudos to you if you get the gratuitous 1980s movie reference in the previous sentence.) A good rule of thumb is a five to ten-minute break every 60-75 minutes.
These breaks can be as simple as a quick walk outside to get some fresh air, or moving to a quiet place where you can do some deep breathing exercises and mild stretching of legs, torso, back, and neck muscles. When these breaks are self-satisfying, they not only re-energize your body and brain, but they also have the benefit of increasing your body’s levels of dopamine.
Enjoy a laugh. Laughter is a powerful medicine, especially in the fight against stress. I often coach leaders to replace cable news viewing (a known stress factor) with watching a comedy show like reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Alternatively, 15 minutes of silliness on YouTube will lighten your stress load.
Make exercise an integral part of your lifestyle. When the body moves it releases endorphins that help reduce stress levels. Exercise also helps boost energy levels and reduce incidents of insomnia. The body holds onto stress in both the digestive tract and within tight muscles. By loosening those tight muscles, exercise and stretching effectively lower your stress load.
Focus on the bigger picture. Daily life provides numerous opportunities to be stressed out. But focusing on the irritations, problems, and annoyances of your day-to-day world makes these issues appear bigger than they really are.
Thinking about the larger context of life helps put the daily rhythm of stress into better perspective. Yes, that flat tire you experienced on the way to work needs to be replaced. But at least you did not lose control of the vehicle, causing you to crash or hurt someone. In the context of what could have gone wrong for you and others from a blown tire on the highway, having to miss that “important” conference call is not so earth-shattering after all.
Incorporate meditation into your daily activities. We list a range of meditative practices and techniques in chapter 15 of our book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes.
Practice purposeful rhythmic breathing multiple times every day (see the point above under reducing work-related stress).
All leaders need to start taking immediate steps to reduce workplace-related stress, both for themselves and for the people they lead. Not doing so has long-term negative consequences for themselves, their team members, and their organizations.
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.”