Last week I talked about the importance of working on understanding your stress before you take steps to manage it. If you missed that post click here to check it out. This foundation work is so important and it will help make it clear what techniques to use and when so that you don’t try to do too little too late.
When you think about stress management techniques you might picture someone doing yoga or deep breathing or maybe your mind goes to massages or vacations. All of these are good stress management techniques, but just looking a huge list can feel overwhelming.
As a coach that helps get you out of overwhelm, putting you in there is the last thing I want to do.
To help you make sense all the information out there I’ve broken down the many ideas into how much time they take. I’m sure many of you would say that sure a mental health day to decompress sounds like a great idea – but you don’t have time for that.
Unfortunately if you don’t take steps to mitigate your stress before it sends you into burnout (or close enough to feel the flames) then your body will force you to take a break – and it won’t be a quick one.
But what you can do is learn to deal with your stress in little pockets throughout the day so that it doesn’t bring you to a breaking point every day by 3pm (or noon, or as soon as you walk through the door – btdt!)
Whether you have 5 seconds, an hour, a day or a week there’s a stress management technique for that. Just be aware that you can’t just take 2 one week vacations a year and call it done. Our bodies/minds want balance in a day – they can’t hold out for 6 months until that tropical vacation comes along.
While vacations are wonderful and a longer break is very helpful, taking a look at what you do every day, will help you stay sane. Consider incorporating something from each section into your life.
I’ve divided the post up by how long the technique takes. You would be surprised at how one good deep breath can help you if you’re self aware enough to use it early in your stress response. Remember to check out the first part of this series to get the steps to understand how you respond to stress.
One deep breath
If you can change what you’re looking at (look out a window at nature if you can) or close your eyes and inhale as much as you can, hold it for a couple of seconds and blow all the air out. This will cause your next inhale to be deeper too. You’ll flood your body with oxygen which will help calm you down and it will give you that moment you need to decompress and stop you from making a snap decision you might regret.
Stop working for a moment and just scan your body to see how it’s feeling. You might find that you’ve got your shoulders up by your ears or your neck is tight or your stomach is upset. This might be clues that you need a longer break soon. If you find a muscle is tight you can try tightening it as much as possible and then relaxing. It sounds counter intuitive to tighten a tight muscle but often it will relax from being contracted and then releasing.
Think of one thing you are grateful for and enjoy a moment thinking about it. Gratefulness changes your brain and improves how you feel. It has to be something you are genuinely thankful for. And if that thing happens to be something another person did – writing them a quick note or telling them thank you (when you have more time) will boost both of your moods.
What you tell yourself you believe. If you tell yourself negative things, then you will believe them. So why not tell yourself positive things? Instead of thinking to yourself over and over “I’m so stressed, I’m so stressed” change your narrative. Even telling yourself that stress is good and it’s helping you nail that deadline, will improve how you function. And if you need more ideas Pinterest is awash with affirmations.
This is a technique even the military teaches to calm down soldiers in stressful situation. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold the exhale for 4 seconds (wait those 4 seconds to inhale again). Repeat as needed. This technique helps calm down your lizard brain that’s giving you that fight or flight response. While this technique would be better in a darkened room with your eyes closed, I have done it in a room full of people that I was about to give a speech to. It will work either way.
You’re not alone if your to do list is so long you can’t see the end of it from here. But I’m willing to bet that no matter what’s on it, there are 1-3 things you could prioritize that would help you win the day. Taking a moment to get clear on that might put your day in perspective and help you focus your energy on what really matters.
Take a movement break
Get up and walk around. It doesn’t need to be far, but get away from what’s stressing you, while getting your blood pumping. If you have stairs nearby go do a couple of flights. Getting the blood circulating and getting some space from your stressors will help you feel more calm.
Take a mental break
If you can’t physically get away from your desk then try switching your focus. Send a quick email to a friend, or mindfully scroll social media (make the goal finding something to comment on to brighten their day – it will brighten yours as well), or find a funny video to watch (laughter helps reduce cortisol).
Tend to your needs
If you’re hungry get a snack, if you need to use the bathroom GO! These are the very basics of self care, and yet we so often push down the things that our bodies need until they just give up on us. Don’t stress yourself out even more by ignoring your fundamental needs.
Take a few minutes to think of a wonderful time in your life that you want to relive (your happy place, if you will) or visualize what the reward is on the other side of this stressful moment. Tying your work and stress to something deeper and more meaningful helps motivate you and make the work seem easier. Seeing the positive result at the end helps improve your mood because your brain reacts as if you’re already there.
Delegate or say no
If the reason that you’re stressed out is because you’ve put too much on your list (even after you set your priorities) then it’s time to set your boundaries and say no to something. Don’t make this a snap decision but take a moment to scan your to do list and see what you can delegate to someone or say no to. Getting something off your list that you don’t have to do will be a great relief.
Go for a walk – a real walk – outside
Either alone because you need to get away from people or with a friend because you need companionship. Getting into nature helps clear your mind and getting the blood pumping helps you blow off steam and come up with better ideas.
Don’t just skip this one! I have ADHD and I KNOW what it’s like to say I can’t shut my brain down and I can’t sit still. Trust me, meditation isn’t a competitive sport. You don’t “lose” because you couldn’t do the whole time or you couldn’t shut your brain off. It’s called a practice for a reason. If you can’t stand the idea of just sitting there for 10 minutes, there are walking meditations and guided meditation. Find something that works for you.
Get off the grid
Turn off the phone, walk away from the computer, shut it all out. Find some non-technology distraction for yourself as your break. Read a book, talk to a coworker, step outside. Just leave your phone at your desk. The world can live without you for 15 minutes – especially if that means that you come back refreshed.
As an alternative to unplugging you could go plug in your headphones and blast some of your favorite music. While classical music has been show to calm you down, any music can help put you in a better mood. I recommend having different playlists on your phone based on your mood to help you use that energy and turn it into something positive.
30 MINUTES – 1 HOUR
Sleep is one of the ways that the body reduces cortisol (the stress hormone). Getting a quick power nap can leave you refreshed and calm. I usually give myself 30 minutes – 5 to get settled, 20 to sleep, 5 to get up and going again. It may not feel great at first if you’re not used to it – but power napping can be trained. It just takes some practice.
While working out is great for your body, it’s also great for your mind. Workouts help relieve stress and improve focus for 2-3 hours afterwards. You can choose a heart pumping exercise or something slower like yoga. Each option has it’s benefits, so play around with different routines and see what’s right for you – and when.
Have a coaching or therapy session
My sessions last 45 minutes and can help you understand and work through your stress. Often the things that stress us appear over and over in different parts of our lives until we learn how to deal with them. Digging deep with a coach or therapist can help you get clear on why you’re so stressed and to come up with an action plan to finally deal with it.
Watch a show
While I don’t recommend binge watching – one or two episodes of your favorite show can help you escape a bit from your stress. If you can find something funny that’s even better because laughter helps reduce cortisol.
Work on a hobby
Hobbies are another great stress relieving activity. They offer an escape and often involve creativity or another part of the brain that you might not engage while at work. It can also have a meditative effect if it’s a rhythmic activity such as knitting where you can do something with your hands and also let your mind wander.
Make a healthy meal
While it may not seem like tending to your body will relieve stress, it actually will. Your mind is partaking of whatever you feed yourself and if you feed yourself junk, your brain gives you junk. While it’s hard to think about making a meal when you’re stressed the act of being mindful about preparing it and eating it can help relieve mental stress. Plus feeding your body well helps reduce physical stress that makes you feel bad and have poor performance.
There are so many options here. It doesn’t have to be “dear diary” to be helpful, though getting clear on how your day went and why you felt the way you did will help bring more self awareness. You can also do a quick roundup of the things that you are thankful for and the things that happened today that you want to continue. If you just started eating healthy today, put that down there to remind you to keep going. Starting a beneficial new habit can be difficult in the beginning, but being more mindful about it will help get your momentum going.
If you’re struggling with stress, please contact me. Coaching can help you improve your stress and be happier and more productive.