At the turn of the century — before the fax, modem, computer and cellular phone era — the average American workweek was 60 hours long. By 1970, it was down to 37 hours. In the 1990s, the average worker puts in 46 hours a week at the office and six more at home for a total of 52 hours, according to a recent survey. In addition, 40 percent of those surveyed said they’d work up to 10 more hours for extra pay, adding up to 62 hours — two hours longer than in the horse-and-buggy days.
Thus most people feel they experience less leisure time and more daily stress as they juggle a career, family, friends, perpetual to-do lists, goals, and their community. In spite of life’s demands, there are some simple and effective steps which can reduce daily pressures. Here are 21 ways you can lower your stress each day:
1. Begin the day with Power Questions. Rather than jumping out of bed and rushing to start your day, take a few minutes–from five to 15–to ask yourself these questions:
What am I happy about in my life now?
What am I excited about in my life now?
What am I proud about in my life now?
What am I enjoying most in my life right now?
What am I committed to in my life right now?
Answer these questions, to yourself, out loud, or write them down to start your day in the right frame of mind, and to remind you of how today is perfect.
2. Go somewhere else for lunch.
Get out of the office and enjoy your noon meal at a park. Use this time to be with nature. Try this once or twice a week, especially now that the weather is getting warmer. Eat slowly, enjoy your meal, and relish the fresh air to rejuvenate you.
3. Remember, you WILL make mistakes.
They’re called lessons. And you learn from lessons, yes? Many people are forever beating themselves up because they had forgot a meeting, forgot their lunch, only worked out for 20 minutes, had a piece of coffee cake, or didn’t complete their to-do list.
The important thing to remember is: we all make mistakes, and will make mistakes. It’s our job to focus on SOLVING or LEARNING from the problem or mistake, not wallow in it.
4. Carry the serenity prayer with you. (Got this idea from a client.)
This 25-word prayer, written years ago by Professor Rein hold Nebular at Union Theological Seminary in New York, has helped many people regain balance in their lives: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Carry those words with you and memorize them.
5. Give yourself a much-deserved pat on the back.
Each day, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all the things you did. This will shift your perspective, helping you appreciate the great balancing act you pull off daily–working, parenting, volunteering, maintaining a social life, caring for elders, etc.
6. Create an image of peace in your mind.
Several times during your workday, pause briefly to create a peaceful image in your mind. For example, picture yourself flying (NOT in a plane, but YOU flying over mountains, meadows, forests, oceans, gently gliding across the sky, admiring the view below. The more you practice this technique, the easier you will relieve daily stresses.
Reading is a great way to escape, educate yourself, and expand your horizons for personal and professional growth. If your life is hectic, this is a great way to relieve stress. You’re now doing something for YOU. Read at lunchtime, in the evening (instead of watching TV), in bed before you go to sleep. Consider using audio books that you can listen to on your way to and from work.
Greet everyone with a smile. This will make others feel good about being with you. In turn, smiling will give you a deep sense of ease, calm and peace.
9. Check how you breathe.
Are you breathing deeply? When we are relaxed, our breathing is slow and even. However, when we are anxious or upset our breathing becomes shallow. When you notice yourself becoming stressed, say to yourself, “Stop.” As you breathe in, repeat the word “peace,” or say something that brings peace to you. As you breathe out, smile. Meanwhile, let your shoulders drop and your hands relax. Repeat this sequence several times.
Experts note that exercise is effective in burning the excess adrenaline that fuels feelings of anxiety and stress. Exercise also releases endorsing, the body’s natural chemicals which block anxiety and pain. So take a brisk walk during your lunch hour or get your butt to the gym for a stress- busting weightlifting workout. Head to the gym after work to “work off” the stress of your day.
11. Think positively.
During a day when you face a crisis, think “challenge.” Remember, it’s all in your PERCEPTION of the situation that determines how stressful it is. Approaching any stressful event in this manner will positively boost your energy. So the next time you face a conflict, think in positive terms. When you face an obstacle, think “opportunity.”
12. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Try to see a conflict or difference of opinion from another person’s point of view. The other person is right, too. When you see the situation from the other side’s view, you gain a different perspective, and quite possibly a solution. Most of the time you’ll find your anger disappearing. |
13. Beware of what you drink.
The coffee or soda you drink throughout the day can be a mental health nightmare. Too much caffeine can cause shaky hands, restlessness and irritability, all of which increase stressful feelings.
14. Do the very best you can, right now.
This is another way of learning to be less-than-perfect. Trying to be perfect leads to destructive behavior and procrastination. In other words, commit to completing your task or project by giving your all. That’s EXCELLENCE – the commitment to completion. Just do it.
15. Just say, “No.”
You don’t have to accept every project, invitation to become involved or every opportunity to attend a meeting. You’re not a prisoner to your phone or your friends. Acknowledge what you want and don’t want to do. Say, “No, thank you,” to requests you don’t want to accept. Period.
16. Interrupt your disruptive habits with “peace” habits.
As soon as you begin to feel angry, hostile, cynical, skeptical, irritable or impatient, repeat a word that can offset the negative energy. Some examples include “peace,” “love,” “hope,” “faith,” “joy,” “patience,” etc.
17. Reminisce happy memories.
Tap into the power of your memories. In a time of stress, look back and remember a pleasant experience or satisfying moment that brought you great joy. Your wedding, the birth of your child, a time where you were publicly recognized for an achievement. Relive them for the purposes of helping you feel better.
18. Listen to the music.
The right music can take you from a highly intense state to a relaxed state in a short time. The right music is generally instrumental rather than vocal and tends to be performed by instruments such as flute, harp, piano and string ensembles. Many people find the sounds of nature combined with musical harmonies to be very relaxing.
19. Simplify your life, dramatically.
Permanently cut out 3 projects, tasks, responsibilities, shoulds, coulds, wants, goals, habits, or routines that are not necessary. Delegate or systematize 12 tasks, activities and habits that you don’t think much about, but that waste your life away. Go deep with this. Even go as far as tossing out your personal to-do list!
20. Don’t bring work problems home.
Leave your cares behind at the office. You and your family will feel better, and you will return to work refreshed, energetic and more creative. Saki F. Santorelli, Ed.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, offers these tips: “At the end of the workday, sit quietly and consciously make the transition from work to home. Take a moment to simply be, enjoying the moment. You may feel as if you’re heading into your next full-time job–home. When you pull into the driveway or park on the street, take a minute to orient yourself to entering your home and being with family members. Try changing out of your work clothes when you get home. This simple act might help you make a smoother transition into your next ‘role.’”
21. End your day with Power Questions.
Same concept as #1, however, use these questions:
What have I given today?
What did I learn today?
How has today added to the quality of my life or how can I use today as an investment in my future?
What can I do right now to turn myself/this situation around?
You may also add the Power Questions from #1. Suggestion: start journaling. You can effectively “close” the day on a high note and be refreshed for tomorrow.
Finally, keep in mind these tips and techniques are simply general guidelines. Allow your own sense of possibility and curiosity to evolve as you explore and discover your own techniques to reduce stress during the workday.