Over the years, I’ve been compiling a list of ways to lower stress. These are personal observations, great ideas from other people and tips I’ve gained from colleagues at professional conferences.
My list is pretty long: it has over 70 items! So I’ve narrowed it down to my personal favorites:
Reduce your xanthine intake (found in coffee, soda and tea). Xanthine consumption is strongly correlated with physiological changes like higher blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen demand on your heart.
Get massaged. Massage reduces tension in the involuntary and voluntary muscles in your blood vessels, heart and gastrointestinal tract. It also satisfies the very human need that I call “skin hunger”: the need to be touched.
Avoid vitamin depletion. Low levels of vitamins C, B1, B2, niacin, B3, B6 and choline reduce your ability to cope with stress. If you don’t eat perfectly (and who does?), find other ways to make sure you get enough of these.
Try progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes and systematically relax your muscles from toes to face, breathing in and out slowly. By doing this, you’ll become aware of how both stress (boo) and relaxation (yay) feel in your body. Eventually, you’ll be able to help your body to relax at will: a really useful skill.
Watch your salt intake, especially if you eat a lot of processed/canned/microwavable foods. High salt levels lead to central nervous system irritability and high blood pressure. Fresh stuff has less salt; go there more often.
Delegate work. Okay, all you control freaks, listen up: successful people do well because they take responsibility for getting things done. As you move up the ladder of success, you cannot do it all yourself. Learn to identify what the people around you are good at, and let them help you.
Choose realistic options. When you’re young, everything seems possible. It’s hard to accept limitations. Wisdom (and the 12-step Serenity Prayer) remind us that our options are not infinite. Making choices that are realistic can be humbling, but it’s also a great reality check. This is very effective in controlling perfectionism: we do what we can, and then we let go and see what happens.
Build in relaxation time. We all need time-outs, just like little kids. But adult time-outs are rewards, not punishment: a few minutes to do somewhere relaxing and peaceful. It can be playing video games on your phone or taking a walk at lunch, it doesn’t matter. Just be sure to – somehow – build it into your work day.
Find healthy ways to release anger. Everyone has to work with difficult people, be they clients, bosses or co-workers. You can let it get to you, or you can find constructive ways to release it. One thing I like to do is towel-twisting. Take a few paper towels from the bathroom (5 o 6 should do it) and stack them to make one “thick” paper towel. Put our hands together (like a vise) and twist the towels. Try to rip them in two. As you twist them, imagine the person you dislike. You could say to yourself, “I’d like to wring your neck.” Try jutting out your lower jaw, it helps activate a kind of primitive body response. Remember to breathe.
Reduce noise and people pollution. Find quietude, get away from noisy, demanding people. Find a safe haven – with your favorite people/plants/animals or completely on your own – where you feel totally safe and relaxed.
Don’t gossip. Gossiping creates enemies and distrust. Friends reduce stress, enemies increase it.
Practice visualizations. When you are worried about something bad happening, visualize how someone you know and admire would handle it, then see yourself doing the same thing. It’s like rehearsing for a play or performance, the more you practice (in the form of the visualization), the better prepared you’ll be if this bad thing actually happens.
Choose your friends carefully. It isn’t stress that kills, it’s people. Choose the best people to play with and make love to.