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

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The Stress Syndrome

We are on the cusp of the holiday season.  It’s a special time of year but sadly, it is often freighted with challenges.  Responsibilities metastasize and usually include some combination of peeling potatoes; coring and slicing apples; ironing table cloths; Christmas shopping; writing cards; and putting up decorations. Obligations such as attending workplace or family parties can feel like a burden. The expectation (sometimes forced) to have  fun might backfire and instead cause you to feel inadequate if you’re unable to get into a festive mood. Humbug!

Despite the bright lights and parties, the stress level for most of us reaches an annual high at this time of year. The Thanksgiving – Christmas – New Year’s Eve axis can overwhelm the best of us.  It’s easy to feel lonely, or even like a failure.  Business owners and Freelancers may be faced with the realization that income projections were not reached, adding to the anxiety.

What is the antidote? I suggest that a two or three-week out-of-town vacation is the ideal remedy.  Other than buying and writing cards (which can be done while away) and taking care of a short gift list, all other stress-inducing elements could be diplomatically sidestepped. Those unable to budget the time and money to de-camp to the Bahamas are encouraged to put into motion a comprehensive stress management program.

Regardless of the season, stress is a condition that spares no age cohort or socioeconomic stratum.  School children become stressed over homework and piano lessons. Their parents become stressed as a result of a long work commute or increased job responsibilities. Please know that there is good stress, too—buying a home, going away to college, getting married and starting a new job bring into your life stress that emanates from positive events.

The sources of stress will vary, but the need to manage those stressors and the related hassles and anxiety is constant. Giving some thought to how and why the stressful situation occurs is Step One of your stress management program and brainstorming possible changes that might remove or diminish the stress is Step Two.  Improving one’s ability to manage stress by developing coping skills and learning to relax is Step Three.

Stress management is a multi-disciplinary process that includes managing time, adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, anger management and relaxation techniques.  Next week, I’ll return with some specific suggestions.

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Power Through Stress

There are two types of people in this world—those who make things happen and those who allow things to happen to them.  Reader friend,  I know that you are the first type,  a mover & shaker take-charge Freelance professional who knows how to make good things happen.

But every once in a while,  I also know that the best-laid plans will not produce the expected outcome.  Other times, responsibilities and obligations pile on to a distressing level.  Such events might cause even a high-performing Freelance consultant to feel helpless and overwhelmed and as a result, stressed.

University of Florida psychologist Timothy Judge and colleagues encourage us to give ourselves a pep talk during challenging times, to promote the feeling that we are still able to exert control over the levers of our life and business (occasional slips of the grip notwithstanding), because his team’s research quite clearly indicates that those who feel confident in their abilities and in control of their lives are much better at managing stress and getting themselves positioned to capitalize on opportunities and dismantling or avoiding obstacles that block success.

Those who feel as if they are in control of their life and work can simultaneously feel very intense stress and anxiety from time to time.  However, their resilience equips them to manage those feelings differently from the passive types.  The powerful get busy when adversity strikes, while the passive are inclined to accept negative circumstances as inevitable and conclude that there is no recourse. They give up.

The ability to manage emotions and remain calm under intense pressure has a direct link to performance and the ability to perform well has a direct link to success.  Luck plays a role (let us not arrogantly deny that force of the universe),  but we are sometimes able to summon good luck into our lives.  It is often said that fortune favors the prepared.

As regards defeating or minimizing adversity,  realism makes us more resilient.  Prepare yourself for change by accepting that ups and downs are inevitable and the good times will not roll forever.  When billable hours are abundant and additional cash is available,  create short- and long-term savings and investment goals.  If nothing else, add more money to your retirement fund.  Whatever happens good or bad, money will be useful.  Think also of Plan B and even Plan C  alternatives that you could pivot into should unfortunate occurrences darken your door.

If you are presently in the clutches of challenging circumstances, you have my deepest sympathy.  Moreover I can empathize, because I’ve been there and I’m terrified of returning.  Respectfully,  I suggest that you take steps to shift your perspective to adopt the viewpoint of power and gain the confidence to take the reins. There may be aspects of your dilemma that are beyond your control,  but you are capable of controlling your response to it.  Long-term wallowing in self-pity is not useful.

Stress and anxiety can put us into a chokehold.  To slip out, take action to build up your body’s hormonal stress-busters,  endorphins and serotonin,  with some regular exercise.  Any kind will do,  so long as you partake three or four times each week for a minimum of 30 minutes.  Please see my post from December 22, 2015. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/exercise-leadership-in-the-new-year

Once you peel away a few layers of stress and anxiety,  you’ll be able to apply your renewed confidence to identifying corrective strategies.  It may take a while to engineer your repackaging or pivot,  but the time to begin the transformation  rom passive to powerful is now.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

So Take A Vacation, Already

A 2011 survey by American Express revealed that fewer than half of U.S. small business owners will take a vacation this summer.   37 % cited that their work schedules would not allow them to take time off.   29 % reported that they were unable to afford a vacation.  16 %  stated that they do not take vacations,  period.  A 2013 study by Staples reported that more than 40 % of small business owners find it difficult to relax and enjoy themselves when they do take a vacation,  due to constant concerns about what may be happening to their business while they are away.

Regardless of the habits of American small business owners,  research indicates that vacations are more beneficial than they realize and that all those who work would be wise to take time off.  Doing so confers benefits to both one’s health and business productivity.  The landmark Framingham (MA) Heart Study revealed that women who on average took only one vacation in six years were nearly eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who vacation annually.  A 2008 study reported that men who do not take a vacation every year are 32 % more likely to die of a heart attack than men who do vacation every year.

No doubt other factors were involved in bringing on those coronary events,  but there is still a demonstrable positive correlation between stepping away from the grind of work and overall health.  To function optimally,  both the brain and heart like a little rest now and again.  Without adequate rest,  we descend into fatigue and fatigue makes it difficult for us to think either rationally or creatively and we are less able to make smart decisions.

Peter Handal,  CEO of the venerable leadership development company Dale Carnegie strongly recommends that workers take a few days off and do something that they enjoy.  A recent study by Intuit found that 82 % of small business owners who took a vacation experienced an increase in performance when they returned to their business.  A 2005 study by organizational psychologists Charlotte Fritz of Portland (OR) State University and Sabine Sonnentag of the University of Manheim (Germany) demonstrated the phenomenon of a post-vacation boost in energy reserves that results in greater productivity per hour worked.

The Protestant Work Ethic that the Puritans imposed onto the United States has in many ways done more harm than good.  In terms of the number of vacation days and holidays awarded to workers by companies in the industrialized nations,  the US ranks dead last.  Americans foolishly think that the workaholic is the virtuous, high-producing hero and that the more hours worked,  the better.  But Henry Ford,  who conducted various productivity studies at his Detroit plant for 12 years,   learned in the 1920s that worker productivity falls sharply after 40 hours/week.  That’s why he reduced his factory worker’s week to 5 days,  40 hours from 6 days,  48 hours.

Research about the optimal length of vacation time off is conflicting,  with some researchers advocating for shorter breaks and others recommending 2 weeks or more,  as is the standard in Latin America and Europe.  Vacations can be difficult for the self-employed,  who often have inconsistent income streams.  Still,  whenever you can,  take a few days off when you are not busy and get out of town.  Stay with a friend or get a bed from Air BandB.  Participate in low-cost activities that you enjoy,  whether it’s camping,  hiking,  going to the beach,  attending free outdoor music festivals or visiting museums.   Your smart phone will help you keep up with important emails.   You are guaranteed to lose a few layers of stress,  improve your overall health,  increase your productivity and feel better about your self.

On Thursday morning,  I will travel to Portland, ME for four days of R & R that will feature a scenic cruise on Casco Bay and lots of lobster!

Thanks for reading,

Kim