Strategies to Manage Stress

The American Psychological Association defines stress as “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral reactions.” Stress is part of daily life, as we know. Not all stress is bad and in fact, stress that induces the “fight or flight” response to a potentially dangerous situation is necessary for survival.

But chronic stress that results from an inability to eliminate or control an overwhelming or upsetting set of circumstances often precipitates

Self Care

Busy people, whether highly stressed or not, are wise to set aside special time several days each week to devote to self-care. The activities can take the form of cross-training—-kick-off Monday with a run, swim, bike ride, or power walk, Tuesday for yoga or tai chi, Wednesday weightlifting at the gym, Thursday at home for prayer or meditation and Friday can belong to boxing or ballet.

Exercise, meditation and prayer have been confirmed through scientific research to deliver more benefits than I can remember, but among them are improved energy/ stamina, improved self-esteem, lower blood pressure, improved joint mobility, enhanced mood, improved cardiac functioning and a decreased incidence of stress. In other words, everything we need in the physical, cognitive and psychological realms gets better when we move our body and nurture our soul.

Eat well

Good nutrition supports one’s physical health. Maintaining a balanced diet enhances energy, stamina, cognitive functioning, the immune system response and helps the body defend itself against toxic stress. There will be times when deadlines or other intense situations might derail healthy eating habits and fried food bingeing rules.

Refuse to succumb to that temptation over the long- term. Get back on track ASAP and eat simply prepared fresh food, homemade or takeout, to feel, work and even sleep better. When faced with high-level physical, cognitive, or psychological demands, overdosing on sugar, salt and fat could leave one vulnerable to a crash of some sort, because unhealthy food does not adequately nourish.

Caffeine and alcohol are also not your friends when their intake surpasses a certain threshold. Listen to your body. A 20 ounce coffee or tea may get you going in the morning and a glass or two of wine, or a couple of cocktails, may help you to relax in the evening. Jittery feelings, heart palpitations and inebriation are warning signs and if they appear, dial back.

Sleep well

When starting or leading a business, there will be times when burning the midnight oil, if not burning the candle at both ends, will be the story of life. The opportunity and ability to sleep could easily be diminished. Yet it is advisable to guard against long-term sleep deprivation.

Arm yourself to take on difficult challenges by keeping your diet healthy and continuing with exercise and other forms of self-care (e.g., massage or energy work) that provide the stamina, cognitive functioning and decision-making ability that enable peak performance. Getting the work done makes it a lot easier to sleep and maintain a defense against the harmful effects of stress on the body and the psyche.

Medical and psychological researchers have published dozens, if not hundreds, of studies that document the relationship between inadequate sleep and stress. Sleep, like food and drink, is a biological need and we cannot survive without it (but the precise reason is unknown). The National Sleep Foundation has confirmed the long-held consensus that the average adult requires about eight hours of sleep/day. Teens may need 10 hours/ day. Some adults can perform well on just six hours/ day.

If sleep difficulties are the result of the stress related to getting things done, an executive coach may be able to identify ways to resolve workflow and time management issues that will make the to-do list more manageable, improve productivity and make falling asleep and sleeping through the night possible.

While you’re working on rectifying conditions that may be causing toxic amounts of stress, I recommend what I call The 90 Minute Rule, that pulls together a few NSF recommendations: 1) Evening workouts should conclude at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to relax. 2). Dinner should be consumed at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to digest. 3). Take a bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime to promote the release of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleep.

Delegate/ outsource

The struggle to get the work done is sometimes stress-producing, as noted in the preceding paragraphs. Learning to prioritize is integral to time management. An examination of projects and tasks that only the business founder/ leader is equipped to do is Step 1 of time management. The founder/ leader can then delegate other tasks to team members, if employees have been hired, or outsource to Freelancers or other business specialists, in the absence of staff.

Just say no

Today, a start-up founder who runs a vitamin company declined my request for an interview (I have an article in development at the female entrepreneur- focused digital magazine where I’m a staff writer). I suspect that I was rejected by the PR person and the founder was unaware of my request. Nevertheless, the decision was made.

Saying no is occasionally necessary, even when it disappoints someone. Saying no is sometimes necessary to manage time, energy, or other resources.

Say no to enforce your boundaries. Say no to what you feel is unacceptable. Say no to honor your values, self-respect, or priorities. Say no to stress.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual philosophy with roots in China and derived from Buddhism, meditate on Boston Common.

Stress Takes A Holiday

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.

Anger management

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

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.

Meditation

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.

Sleep

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.

Nutrition

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,

Kim