How to Relieve Stress
How to Relieve Stress
Cell phones are great! Or are they? The internet is amazing! Or is it? Facebook, YouTube and Google give us so much great information! Or do they? Technology has made our lives easier! Or has it? There is no doubt that technology has changed our world drastically in the last 10-20 years. Younger generations can’t imagine a world without a cell phone in their pocket. But for the rest of us, we have to pause and ask ourselves if this technology has helped or hurt us. As we think back to our lives 20 years ago, were we less stressed or more stressed than we are today? I think most of us would agree we are a lot more stressed today! So how do we relieve stress in a stressful world?
As a college professor, one of my favorite courses to teach is a graduate team leadership course that focuses on self-discovery and coaching techniques. Learners spend weeks on a journey exploring themselves and the world around them and take the time to ask themselves the difficult questions that most of us don’t take the time to ask. One of the biggest lessons learned for my students is how fast-paced our lives have become and that it is absolutely critical that we pause and learn how to better manage our stress instead of just “pushing through”. Obesity isn't the only reason heart attacks are at an all time high. Stress plays a critical role in our health as well. Obesity combined with stress is a lethal combination.
Do you think technology has made our world more stressful or less stressful?
The Bad News
The bad news is that for most of us, balancing work and home life is a challenging and rarely achieved goal. We have too many obligations and no matter how much we get done, there is always more to do. High performing individuals naturally want to improve performance and take on more and more responsibility. Smart phones have blurred the line between work and home. When we are at home, we are thinking about work and checking emails. When we are at work, we are thinking about home. Most days have us running from the second the alarm goes off in the morning until our head hits the pillow at night. And even then, our minds often race when we should be settling in for some much needed rest. Over time, this has serious implications for our health. Our mental stress creates physical stress. How many times have you experienced a stress headache or tension in your shoulders that stretching could not release? How many times have you felt sick to your stomach or found yourself reaching for food to help calm you down and make you feel better?
Review the following table and see where you fall:
How Resilient Are You?
10 Sigh of Lack of Resilience
10 Signs of Resilience Mastery
Nervous, manic energy
Smooth, abundant energy
Wandering, unfocused mind
Ability to focus deeply
Externally driven motivation
Internally driven motivation
Strain in relationships
Fulfilling, intimate relationships
Dullness, lack of inspiration
Creativity and innovation
Depression and fatigue
Vitality and enthusiasm
Achievement via strain and effort
Achievement with ease
Less than optimal productivity
Feeling overwhelmed by situations
Feeling on top of situations
Leadership From the Inside Out
The Good News
The good news is that top executives and CEOs of major companies seem to have figured it out. If some of the busiest people on the planet can manage stress, then there is hope for the rest of us!
Barry Posner, at Santa Clara University, identified an emerging trend in Fortune 500 CEOs. He had a difficult time finding a single CEO who was overweight.
The Center for Creative Leadership followed 757 executives over a 5 year period and identified a similar trend. Top executives are healthier than the average American. They exercise more, including daily swims, Pilates, yoga, marathon training, mediation, massage, and preventative medicine. They eat healthier and drink less alcohol. The fitness level of these executives influenced their perceptions of energy level, competence and self-discipline, which are all necessary to run highly successful organizations. By living a healthy lifestyle, these top execs are able to run large corporations and keep their stress in check.
Brian Cornell, the CEO of Target, states:
When I’m getting reading for a big meeting, I make sure that I get the right combination of rest and preparation time. If someone on my team tells me, “Brian, I was up until 2 am working on this presentation and came back in the office at 7 am”, that tells me they might be prepared, but do I really want this person to lead a big meeting or make an important decision when they are completely fatigued?
Our culture has sent a message that operating with a sleep deficit is some kind of badge of honor. I don’t agree. Also, I like to only take 45 minute meetings for 1 hour meetings. Why? We all need mental and personal breathers in our day. Maybe you can use that time to call home, take a short walk to recharge, or have a healthy snack. Optimal resilience and energy require small but crucial behaviors to ensure that we are all prepared to perform.
As Cornell states, in additional to exercise and nutrition, sleep is critical. The brain needs to go through a cleansing process where new neurons and synapses develop. These top CEOs have also discovered the importance of sleep and use that to relieve stress in a stressful world.
More Good News
Dr Leonard Poon, from the University of Georgia, conducted a 5 year study that explored the common characteristics of active people over 100 years old. He found they had 4 common characteristics:
- Optimism – having a positive outlook instead of negative had a significant impact on their resilience. Their glass was almost always half full instead of half empty and they were not plagued with worry.
- Engagement – They didn’t sit on the sidelines and let life pass them by. They were actively engaged in life.
- Mobility – They were physically active. This doesn’t mean they were doing high intensity training; however, they were and walking or gardening daily.
- Adaptability to Loss – They were able to stay balanced and adapt and accept loss. Even though most of them had experienced significant loss of a spouse, other family members, and friends, they still had a zest for life and for learning.
These productive 100 year olds live a healthy lifestyle, are happy, involved, and active. They have mastered resilience.
If some of the busiest CEOs can find balance and some of the oldest people on the planet can find energy and a zest for life, there is hope for the rest of us yet!
The Resilience Model
So taking a few of the previous suggestions and adding a few more, what can we learn and how can we improve our own resilience and relieve stress in a stressful world?
- Be Optimistic: As Dr. Poon discovered with his study of 100+ year olds, positivity is key. When life throws a curve ball, do you focus more on complaining about it or are your focusing your energy on solving the problem? Do you expect life to be perfect and easy? Do you accept that “life happens” and you use your tools and resources to deal with the problem or do you let it overwhelm and consume you and you do nothing to make it better? Not one person on this planet is immune to heart ache, struggles, and injustice from time to time. Know and expect that life is going to happen and when it does, learn from it and don’t let it consume you.
- Find your Purpose: Figure out your “why”. What is your driving force and what gets you out of bed in the morning? What excites you and energizes you? When we are clear about our purpose and have a guiding light that is marking our path, it is much easier to deal with the ups and downs in life. We need to have something else to focus on, other things that we are involved with, and something else to energize us when “life happens”.
- Focus on Energy Management instead of Time Management: This was a life changer for me. I have always prided myself on having excellent time management skills, which is fine; however, when I realized the power of energy management, I was able to maximize that time. We only get 24 hours in a day, but we have a lot of flexibility in how we use those hours and how productive we are. What times of the day are you at 100% where you have the most energy and most focus to work on your hardest problems? What times of the day are you more at 50%? Budget your time wisely. Also, think about how much sleep you need to have the most energy. Burning the midnight oil to get more done usually backfires. You may get a few more things done today, but if you are dragging and only at 30% capacity tomorrow, you won’t get as much done tomorrow. And think about exercise, spirituality, meditation, fun, etc. to give you an energy boost as well.
- Exercise: There is no doubt that exercise makes us feel better. Countless studies unanimously agree that exercise is a natural antidepressant. It gets our blood pumping, it gives us energy, our endorphins are elevated, we just feel good! But exercise should not be painful! So many people go overboard and that is why exercise is often dreaded. Most of us are not elite athletes and if we are honest, probably don’t want to be. So why should be train like we are? The purpose of exercise is to take care of the “house” we live in. We only get one body to live in and we better take care of it. Also, remember that there is a strong mind-body connection. Our mind will be stronger if our body is stronger and vice versa. This is why the top CEOs in the world are fit. They recognize the importance of the mind-body connection and they probably wouldn’t have achieved as much as they have if they didn’t take care of their bodies.
- Have fun: Life is hard sometimes, so it is really important to remember to have fun! All work and no play makes us dull! Play games with your kids. Go on hikes and explore new places on a Saturday morning. Go golfing with friends. Have a date night with your significant other. Go on a retreat. Take a vacation. Unplug from the world and just breath. Lay on your back and stare at the sky. Play with your dog. Do WHATEVER it is that you enjoy and do what recharges your batteries. Schedule time throughout the week and throughout the year for fun! Don’t let work or life problems creep in and steal this time. Protect it at all costs, because this is what will allow you to recharge and prepare for tomorrow.
At the end of the day, remember that life is a journey and the joy and beauty in the world can be seen everywhere. Don't let the beauty of the world be over shadowed by everything you have to do. Force yourself to slow down and pause. Learn to "be" instead of "do". And above all else, enjoy your journey!
How Resilient Are You?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Darleen Barnard