Stress is the number cause of poor performance – whether that’s at work or at home. Not only does it affect our memory and ability to learn, it also reduces our capacity to think clearly and make good decisions. It can also cause sleep disturbances which impair cognitive function and performance even further.
Perhaps more importantly, stress affects our behavior. Frequent and unexplained mood swings, a quicker-than-normal temper, overreacting and heightened sensitivity are all common signs of stress. Exhibiting these type of behaviors can be detrimental to our relationships, at home and in the office. And poor relationships can increase stress levels even more.
So what can you do to keep your stress levels down? Here are some ways you can start to effectively manage your stress levels – starting now:
1) Be realistic
One of the problems with stress is that is feeds worst-case scenario thinking.
Let’s take the stress of meeting a work deadline. The fear of missing the deadline might cause thoughts of being fired, having no money, losing the car, the house, your spouse and kids. You’ve gone from trying to meet a deadline to being destitute, alone and living on the streets in about 30 seconds. Be realistic. What’s the most likely thing to happen if you miss the deadline? Chances are, like all of the other times you have been stressed before, things will turn out OK. After all, you’ve survived so far, haven’t you?
2) Anticipate the stress
If you experience frequent stress in specific areas of your life, ask yourself, “What measures or plans can I put in place to experience less stress in this scenario in the future?” Do you need to put a plan B in place so if A doesn’t work you have something to fall back on? Also ask yourself, “Who do I know that could help me with this problem?”. You don’t have to go it alone. Ask for help. Your happiness is worth it.
Note – if there is one area consistently causing you stress (e.g. your job) maybe it’s a sign to make a change.
3) Ground yourself
Stress is normally a fear of something going wrong in the future. It’s important to recognize that whatever it is you are imagining to go wrong is just that – your imagination.
The process of grounding is a technique to help you get out of your imaginary future and into the reality of the present moment. Whenever you find your mind in overdrive with all of the potential outcomes of a given situation, do the following:
i) Think about 5 things you can see in your present environment. Look at them in detail. Think about the color, size, shape etc.
ii) Think about 4 things you can hear, focusing on their volume, type of sound, pitch etc.
iii) Find 3 things you can touch. Touch them and really pay attention to their texture
iv) Find 2 things you can smell. Maybe a cup of coffee or some flowers, and sniff away!
v) Take one slow deep breath
Repeat the process until you feel grounded and back in the present. Notice what is ‘right now’ and how differently you feel about your imaginary future… it doesn’t feel so real now, does it?
4) Know your triggers – and learn from them
Generally, people have certain things that make them stressed i.e. triggers. For some it might be things not going to plan. For others, it could be a threat to their reputation. Once you’ve identified your triggers, look for the lessons and work on them. For example, if you hate things not going to plan, the lesson could be flexibility - remembering life as we know it won’t suddenly implode just because something changed. Having the flexibility to adapt to unexpected change is the key to leading a stress-free life. And if you’re concerned about your reputation, the lesson could be to stop caring so much about what others think and live your life the way you want to.
Research has shown that even just a 3-minute burst of exercise can help reduce stress levels. If you can, take a break and go for a brisk walk around the block. Failing that, sneaking into an unused meeting room and doing 3 minutes of fast jumping-jacks can really get the blood pumping. Just make sure you lock the door first.
6) Find a role model
Seek out someone who handles stress really well and model them. Watch how they behave in potentially stressful situations. Ask them for tips on how to stay calm and, if possible, to mentor you.
7) Breathe / meditate
It’s amazing how taking a few slow, deep breaths can really help reduce feelings of stress. As you breathe in, shift the focus away from your thoughts and focus on your body instead. Focus on the physical sensation of taking a deep breath. Feel the air in your nose. Feel your lungs and muscles in your rib cage expand. Observe what else happens in your body when you breathe deeply. Do this for a few minutes and notice how both your mind and body become calmer.
8) Be honest with yourself
Do you regularly get stressed, even at the smallest of things? It could be because on a subconscious level, you’re addicted to stress. Having problems and stress in your life, makes you feel significant. You equate busyness and stress with importance. If your work, life and problems weren’t important, why would you get stressed about it? Be brutally honest with yourself – does being stressed make you feel important? Does it get you more attention at work or home? If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to let go of this habit and “get your need for significance met for doing something positive - rather than for your problems.”SHOW MORE