Get up, rush out of the door, traffic jam for miles, no breakfast yet, grab a coffee, get to work, boss shouts, do work, always rushed, drive home, traffic jam for miles, get in, kids need to be fed, bathed, and put to bed, and breathe! Breathe. Relax now; it’s all over until the morning. Does this sound like your life? If so we need to talk about stress.
In today’s world where everything seems a bit rushed, it is easy for stress to build up. Stress should be taken seriously. It amounts to nothing but fatigue, illness, and mental strain. Stress temporarily shuts down the immune system, increases blood pressure, and has been linked to mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia. In today’s busy society, and in your busy life, it is increasingly important to implement ways to reduce stress.
What is Stress, and Where Does It Come From?
Stress is defined as a “mental or emotional strain that is created by demanding circumstances.” It is often related to time, and to meeting deadlines. Without these factors (wo)men would be free to create at their own pace, and little stress would ever occur. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, even for most artists and freelancers, who have self imposed deadlines created by the need to get money. Money, and having enough of it to survive, is also therefore a form of deadline, as is paying rent and bills. A modern busy life involves a lot of deadlines, and hence a lot of stress.
The first step to reducing stress, is in reducing the pressure of deadlines, and time. This will depend on exact circumstances but if you want to live a less stressful life, take on less. This is especially true of business persons who should try to take on enough, but never too much. It is empowering to learn to say no to a boss, and to explain that you are not able to take on too much more. Similarly, try not to create extra deadlines and stresses outside of work life if you are finding yourself ridden with stress. If you find yourself seriously stressed at work, then it is possible to take time off to recover. Don’t be afraid to take days off to recover.
Certain lifestyle changes can help with the reduction of stress. When you have found your work equilibrium, and are taking on an amount of work, and a pressure from deadlines, that you can handle, try working on some lifestyle changes.
- Eating- Research has made significant links between stress levels and diet. Food with high levels of vitamins and minerals help to reduce the symptoms of stress, and allow for higher levels of pressure without stress invading your life. Such foods include fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurts and herbal products.Other foods have the opposite effect, and are often high in carbohydrates, fats, and chemical additives. They include fried foods, butter and margarine, and sugary products. Try to eat a diet that is high in vitamins and minerals and low in junky foods.
- Alcohol, and drugs- All of the stress that has been built up during a busy week can peak before the weekend, and for many people the end product is self-indulgent escapism, often using drugs and alcohol. This may seem like a tempting release but if we cycle between a stressful life, and a weekend of escapism, we are not dealing with stress or taking steps towards its reduction. In fact the opposite is occurring and we are simply storing stress ready for reactivation on monday morning. What we really need to do, is spend a lot of our spare time relaxing.
- Exercise- Research has also demonstrated a correlation between physical health and lower levels of stress. Those who exercise burn off the energy accumulated from stress in a healthy manner, much more so than people who resort to alcohol. Exercise releases endorphins, and allows more oxygen to the brain and muscles.
Relaxation; the Antidote to Stress
The opposite to stress is relaxation. The next step to counteracting stress then, is to relax! Sounds nice doesn’t it. I bet some of you think you don’t have time to relax? This is not true of anyone, unless they work for the full day, right up until the point of going to sleep. Very often people who claim they have no time for deliberate relaxation, are wasting a lot of time in the evenings engaging with useless information, very often in the form of television. This may feel relaxing but is not the sort of relaxation that allows stress to be reduced. Watching TV still involves the passive absorption of useless information, and is therefore unlikely to reduce stress. Instead try some of these tips and techniques for reducing stress:
- Massage and Spa- Nothing is more relaxing than lying down and having someone rub the tension out of your muscles. Massage has been shown to improve immune system functioning. Professional massage may be pricey, but it is also possible to massage yourself, or to enjoy a massage with your partner. For some serious relaxation try the local spa. Pampering yourself is physically stress reducing, but what is also important is the time you dedicate to yourself.
- Deliberate Relaxation- Relaxation does not always have to be as elaborate as massage and days out to the Spa. Simply taking half an hour after work to just lie and do nothing will suffice. Rid yourself of many distractions and just let your mind mull over the day. Organize your thoughts and then just enjoy lying there with no deadline for a while. This is also good practice in the morning to set you up for a productive day ahead. Giving yourself time is one of the most important and easy ways to reduce stress.
- Meditation- Meditation, or if the word scares you, simple breathing techniques, can help to alleviate stress. When we are stressed we breath in a short and ineffective way that restricts oxygen flow. Deliberate practice of deep breathing allows us to restore our sense of peace, and of plentiful oxygen, by breathing from the diaphragm. As we come more familiar with the meditative state we can develop our own ways of finding peace; through imagination, and being more present in the moment. It all starts with breathing.