Whether we like it or not, feeling stressed from time to time is part of being human. Pressures at work and at home can impact your mindset, behaviours, relationships and productivity. The effect of stress is cumulative and chronic stress can lead to health problems.
In its 2015 report Paying With Our Health, the American Psychological Association lists the top causes of stress as job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload and sleep deprivation; 48 per cent of people said stress had a negative impact on their life.
People who are stressed often make poor decisions because access to their adult abilities to think, feel, reflect and choose are impaired by reactive, fear-based ‘black and white’ thinking. Over or under-reacting is the hallmark of accumulated stress.
Get to know your thoughts and feelings and become interdependent
Being an adult gives you the ability to make choices and be accountable for them. Author Stephen Covey argues there are three stages of personal and interpersonal effectiveness:
“Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.”
Being interdependent means not carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Lean on others when you feel stress bubbling up inside. That’s what friends and colleagues are for.
Unless you decide to go ‘off the grid’ or live in a monastery, stress will continue to affect you. Manage it well and you will thrive.
The following strategies will help you de-stress and live a happy and healthy life.
1. Let your emotions out
Emotions are designed to rise and pass to destress your mind. Crying, laughing, venting to a friend or consciously expressing your emotions are all healthy ways to move through emotion towards objectivity. If you don’t express them, they may express themselves when you least expect it. Ride it out, let it pass and you will feel better.
2. Write them down
Some people have difficulty expressing their emotions due to their upbringing or societal expectations. Typically, girls are told not to be angry and boys are told not to cry, depriving each gender of these natural de-stressing functions. Dr James Pennebaker researched and proved the stress-busting impact of writing to express your emotions. Grab a pen and write down what annoys, angers or frustrates you. List your self-judgments, regrets and disappointments. Tear up the page and feel the release.
3. Get moving
We all know exercise is a great stress reliever, but it’s hard to find the motivation when you’re stressed. Buddhists believe breathing is the way to detox the mind. Exercise gets oxygen into your lungs and helps let go of physical tension. It might feel hard at first, but you’ll thank yourself afterwards.
Sitting quietly, allowing thoughts, ideas, worries or temptations to arise and pass, strengthens your ability to be, without fixing or attaining. Sit still, close your eyes and observe your thoughts and feelings without wanting them to be better or different. You don’t need a guru or a mantra to meditate, and it’s a wonderfully powerful way to move through fear towards objectivity.
These are especially powerful when combined consistently across a meaningful period of time – but they will only work if you act on them. Take your mental and emotional health into your own hands and remember that being human is not about being perfect. Pretending to be perfect is just another stressor you don’t need.
If stress is impacting you so heavily that you’re feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to speak to your GP or mental health professional. He or she can provide expert advice and strategies to help you minimise any health impacts and get back to your best.
Your personal and professional life doesn’t have to be stressful. Be intentional with your choices and accountable for how you experience your life. Find a de-stressing routine that works for you, and you’ll catch stress before it catches you.
Peter Shields is expert at assisting individual and collective leadership to create rewarding, profitable and sustainable businesses. Read his new book Leadership Alchemy - a book about transforming business value from the inside out. Find out more at www.corporatealchemy.com.au