April is Stress Awareness Month— so grab your green tea, take a few deep breaths and let’s talk about how we can stress less!
Let’s be honest about stress— it’s everywhere and unavoidable. If not managed well, its effects can lead to anxiety, depression, illness, sleeplessness, exhaustion, water retention, weight gain… and the list goes on and on. None of these help us to achieve our best in health and life.
But, the good news is that stress can be managed. No, we can’t instantly remove stressors like work deadlines, debt, health concerns, family crises, etc. from our lives. But, we can do a better job of coping with them. This was an important lesson for me, as I have a tendency to be a little high-strung— it’s the over-achiever in me. If not armed with strong skills and tools to manage stress, I would be a pacing, teeth-grinding, nail-biting super grump. Not fun for anyone. (Just ask my hubby.)
So, this April (and beyond), let’s stress less. Don’t worry— you don’t have to add a 60-minute meditation or 90-minute yoga class to your already over-scheduled life. (Although if you have time, please do.) Instead, the next time stress strikes, just try out a few of these simple strategies to help ease your tension and get you back on track to your best:
1. Yoga breathing. Yoga breathing is known to be an extremely powerful detoxifier, energizer and stress reducer. It’s essentially deep breathing. I do it for a few minutes at a time in the morning before I get out of bed, during the early afternoon slump and whenever I feel a little stress or irritation coming on (e.g. driving in tons of traffic, on the phone with a difficult client). There is no need to sit in a yoga pose or lay down to perform it, although the more comfortable you are the better. While there are several varieties of yogic breaths, here is a simple description of how one is done:
- Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, filling up your abdomen with air. (Yes, push out your stomach.)
- Continue the inward breath, next focusing on filling your chest.
- The inward breath is complete when the abdomen is extended, the rib cage is expanded and you cannot inhale any further.
- Exhale slowly though your nose, fully releasing the air— first from your chest and then from the abdomen.
- The breath ends with your abdomen being drawn inward as far as you can and your lungs feeling emptied.
- Repeat. (The breath should feel comfortable; however, expect the first few breaths to feel a little forced until you get a good, steady rhythm).
Try out the yoga breathing for a few minutes twice a day. It will refresh you and create a sense of calm and focus.
2. Saturation Praise. Okay, I admit that this one may feel a little awkward at first, but I promise that it works. When worries, pessimism and/or self-criticism overtake your mind, you must crowd them out with positive thinking. One of the simplest methods for doing so is to reverse your internal conversation: spend one minute thinking about or listing things you like about yourself and your life. You will be amazed at how it changes your perspective and puts you in a more productive mindset for tackling any stressor.
3.Sweat It Out. I know that you’re comm itted to regularly working out, but I also know that stress can cause us to neglect training. Don’t let it. Research has shown that exercise helps to diminish anxiety levels. So, lean on exercise as support when you are going through stressful times.
4. Positive Distractions. Like saturation praise, positive distractions help you to achieve a calmer, more productive mindset by disrupting stressful thinking with an activity that you love. From experience, when stress has you at a boiling point, it’s often difficult to think of anything you love. So prepare yourself by making a list of 20 things that you can indulge in when stress gets to you. A few of my favorite distractions are reading a few pages from a great book or blog, writing, hanging out with my pups, calling a loved one or organizing something (yeah, I’m one of those people). One of my friends likes to light a candle, eat a slice of mango and drink a cup of green tea. There are endless possibilities. Have some fun creating the list.
5. Focus Outward. Sometimes the best way to cope with our own problems is to focus on someone else’s. No, it doesn’t make our problems disappear, but it allows us to get out of our own heads and garner some perspective. If I find myself feeling tense with stress, I reach out to someone who I know needs help or a little boost rather than continuing to allow my worries to fester. A simple call, cubicle visit or a few hours volunteering can go a long way for the person in need and for your mindset. That said, it’s easy to get so caught up in helping others that you neglect yourself completely, which will ultimately create more stress. So, make sure to strike a balance between helping others and taking care of yourself.
A Winning Thought
While these strategies will help you ease tension and re-establish a positive and productive mindset, I have found that the key to long-term stress management is all about having a present-focused mindset. To do so, we must stop worrying about things we cannot control, past failures and future uncertainties and invest our energy into what we can do NOW to positively affect our lives. If we do so, stress starts to melt away and all that remains is a series of obstacles to overcome— one thought…one choice…one step at a time. So, refuse to allow stress to take root and keep you from your best. Grab hold of the present, smash through those obstacles and make greatness happen. Be YOUR BEST!