The holiday season has arrived and with it a boatload of potential stressors, good and bad. The delight of being a party host or guest are examples of good stress (and if this is not the case, your stress management assignment begins with asking yourself why you bother?). The process of Christmas shopping and the associated costs of time and money, along with holiday cooking and cleaning, are examples of potentially bad stress. In this post, I offer stress management techniques that can prove to be beneficial all year round.
Time management and boundaries
The always-on 24/7 lifestyle that so many of us feel compelled to lead is a huge stressor. The ability to set priorities and boundaries is more important than ever. In most cases, there is no need to be available for professional matters before 8:00 AM or after 8:00 PM.
In your personal life, learn to say no to controlling people and time-wasters, even if those individuals happen to be family members. Have the courage to acknowledge what is important to you and distance yourself from manipulative people. Unhook your feelings of self-worth from the need to “save” people. Help yourself to achieve goals and fulfill responsibilities by making lists and schedules and allow yourself sufficient time to complete tasks. Learn to delegate. Accept that some tasks are low priority and may need to be removed from your list.
Learning to handle our emotions is a lifelong proposition. Awareness is the first step. Be advised that all of our emotions are “justified” because that is how we feel at that time. It is your right and responsibility to define and acknowledge the emotions you feel. The skill set called Emotional Intelligence teaches us to refrain from allowing our emotions to overwhelm us, cloud our judgment and lead us to do or say things that may damage our relationships and credibility.
Anticipate encounters with people who you may find upsetting and rehearse your responses to words and behaviors that you may experience as hostile and disrespectful. Role play with yourself replies that could potentially defuse a stressful conversation and allow you to put distance between yourself and the stressor, limiting contact and helping you to control your emotions. Be mindful that some people enjoy trouble and they are constant agitators. They crave attention and control. Do what you can to banish these individuals from your life.
Exercise releases into the body hormones (endorphins and serotonin) that counteract the “fight or flight” response hormones that are released when we are under stress (adrenaline, ACTH). Exercise also improves the functioning of the immune system and in the process helps us to fight off certain diseases. Some experts recommend that we would be wise to participate in physical activity four or five days a week, for at least 45 minutes per session. You may play a sport, ride a bike, swim, walk, do aerobics, yoga, Pilates and/or lift weights. Experiment with different types of exercise to learn what you like and do it on a regular basis. Exercise provides physical release and reduces tension and stress, calms and clears the mind, helps us to sleep better and improves self-esteem.
The relaxation response is enabled by meditation and other self-regulated relaxation techniques. Meditation requires only a few minutes of your time and a private, quiet and comfortable location. Watch a YouTube video to show you what to do. Shut off the television and your telephone. Choose a word or short phrase to silently repeat to yourself as you close your eyes and breathe in and out, slowly and deeply. Meditation enthusiasts recommend that you meditate early in the morning before starting your day, or in the evening just before dinner.
Inadequate sleep is epidemic these days and it is seriously detrimental to one’s health and ability to manage stress. Surprisingly, sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which increases appetite. When we are fatigued, our choice of foods is usually unhealthy and laden with sugar for an energy boost, or high fat, or salty. The stage is then set for taking on unwanted pounds.
Being tired undermines creativity, judgment and decision-making, productivity and self-discipline. Do what you can to get in those eight hours each night. Be advised that caffeine and alcohol are for many the enemies of sleep and intake should be limited near to bedtime.
Physical, mental and emotional stressors drain the body of complex nutrients that support optimal physical and cognitive functioning. If these nutrients are not replaced fairly quickly, coping skills diminish, decision-making ability suffers, fatigue ensues, mood and emotional control deteriorate.
Avoid the temptation to consume foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, or consume excess caffeine or alcohol, while in the midst of a stressful event. Do yourself a favor and eat a bagel with peanut butter, a rice bowl with vegetables, a sandwich, or a plate of pasta. Over the long-term, eat a balanced diet that supplies adequate amounts of green vegetables, fruits, proteins and carbohydrates.
Thanks for reading,