Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ten Ways to Cope With Stress

So I've been putting several posts on business and economics since those, among other areas, are part of my background (I do hold several degrees and therefore sometimes it is difficult to have just one point of view). In the past professional years I've been working mainly as a management consultant and because of that I normally work on stressful environments and I face stressful clients.
Pressure on the job is not always bad as it may help you to be more efficient and precise in a more timely manner, however there is so much pressure a person/employee can take and if it is not looked carefully signs of stress can start to appear... which unfortunately can lead to a burn-out.

Today I am going to share with you ten ways to cope with stress. Hopefully these can help some of you.

1. Exercise Regularly
 If you have an anxiety disorder, you may find that ongoing stress aggravates your disorder. While we cannot eliminate stress in our lives, we may learn to manage it. By making changes in different areas of our lives, we soon may find that we are better able, mentally and physically, to handle stressful events, with the ultimate result being less severe anxiety symptoms.
Stress is your body's reaction to change. It is an internal reaction, although external factors (such as work pressures) may trigger stress. Exercise helps your body release pent-up stress. It also will make your body stronger and better able to cope with ongoing stress. The best type of exercise for improving the way your body reacts to stress is aerobic. You have many options for aerobic exercising, from walking to racquet-ball.
Some people with anxiety disorders worry that aerobic exercise will induce a panic attack. Indeed, as your heart rate increases and you begin to sweat, you may feel as if a panic attack is starting. My advice? Start slowly! Try walking a little bit every day, at first. Exercising is a good way to help yourself distinguish between a panic attack and those "false alarms" many of us experience. Of course, always check with your doctor before starting any exercise regime.

2. Relax
 You might be surprised by how quickly your mind may relax if you learn how to relax your body. Many of us don't know what actual relaxation feels like. Progressive muscle relaxation is one type of relaxation in which you'll notice the results. With progressive muscle relaxation, you systematically tense each muscle group in your body, holding the tension for about ten seconds, and then releasing the tension for another ten seconds. The contrast is a great way to teach yourself the difference between feeling tense and relaxed. You may learn progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
Relaxation exercises must be practised, preferably once a day. It only takes ten to twenty minutes (even less as you become more familiar with the exercise). If you practice relaxation exercises regularly, you will begin to feel more relaxed in general (not just after the exercise) over time. In addition, you will be able to perform "mini" relaxation exercises throughout the day, when you really need it.

3. Sleep well
Not getting enough quality sleep may make your body vulnerable to stress. If you have difficulty getting to sleep each night or staying asleep, you may have a sleep disorder. If you feel exhausted all day or if you actually fall asleep at unexpected times during the day, you may have a sleep disorder. Even if you don't have a sleep disorder, you may be causing yourself problems if you don't get the correct amount of sleep for you.

If at all possible, try to sleep the same hours every night -- including weekends. You cannot catch up on sleep, so don't try to cut yourself short on week-nights and then make it up on the weekend. Also, your body likes cycles (remember -- it reacts to change). Here's one cycle you have control over: your sleep. Start by getting up at the same time each morning, and adjust your bed time as needed until you have a regular schedule. It may be rough for a week or two, but, ultimately, it will help.

  1. Talk to your doctor. You'll want to rule out physical causes as well as discuss all options for coping with your problem. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications you are taking.
  2. Make and stick to a sleep schedule. A schedule means going to bed and getting up at the same time every night, including weekends.
  3. Adjust your sleep schedule as needed. Keep your wake-up time the same and adjust your going-to-bed time until you find what works. Most adults need 8 hours of sleep per night.
  4. Learn relaxation and breathing exercises. Find a relaxation exercise you like and practice it until you can do it naturally in bed. An added benefit is it will help with anxiety.
  5. Create a bedtime ritual. Follow the same steps every night before bed, and your mind will soon associate these steps with sleep. Relaxation, a warm bath, etc., can be a part of the routine.
  6. Eliminate caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Besides interrupting your sleep cycle, these substances also may increase anxiety, so there are many good reasons to quit.
  7. Create a comfortable sleep environment. Keep the temperature cool. Eliminate or block noises. Keep the room dark. Use comfortable bed linens, blankets and pillows. Be sure you have a good mattress.
  8. Use your bed for sleep (and sex) only. Remove the television and telephone. Don't work or read in bed. (You may be able to add these elements later, but, for now, you want to associate your bed with sleep.)
  9. Exercise. Regular exercise has been shown to help with sleep. A 20-30 minute walk per day may help (and it will help anxiety). Don't do it too close to bedtime or you may feel too energized to sleep.
  10. When you can't sleep, don't stay in bed. Don't toss and turn. Get out of bed and do something relaxing (avoid stimulating activities like going on-line) until you feel drowsy.
  11. When you've had trouble sleeping, stick to your sleep schedule. Get up at your scheduled wake-up time no matter what. The first few days will be difficult, but soon you'll feel tired on schedule.
  12. Keep communicating with your health provider(s). Be sure your doctor, psychiatrist, and/or therapist know about your problem and whether or not you're improving.
Other Tips:
  1. Don't let a sleep problem go on indefinitely. Good sleep may help your anxiety recovery immensely. Bad sleep may hurt it. Make your health provider(s) know that sleep improvement is a priority.
  2. Certain medications used to treat anxiety (such as SSRI's) may cause insomnia. The side effect may go away with time. Discuss options with your treatment provider.
  3. Keep a sleep diary to help you understand your problem and possible causes. This will help you communicate with your doctor about the problem.
  4. Ongoing sleep problems could indicate a sleep disorder. Be sure to discuss all symptoms with your doctor.

4. Laugh It Up 
I probably don't need to tell you that laughter may release stress -- but I may need to remind you to do it more often! Don't wait for humour to come to you. Sit down (right now!) and think about what makes you laugh. It's an individual thing, you know. Maybe you feel like you're wasting time by watching The Simpson’s every week, but it's therapy! If you can't tear yourself away from the computer, go exploring on the Web. I guarantee you'll find something to tickle your funny bone.

5. Make time for fun
Somewhat related to the previous tip, this suggestion is about giving yourself some leisure time. It's not easy, and I'm not saying that it is. However, you need to do it. Again, you need to sit down and decide what is leisure for you. Whatever activity you choose, you must do it regularly, and you must not feel guilty for taking the time to do it. Explore a hobby, play soccer with your kids, take a drawing class, walk in the woods . . . anything. Just devote a little time to yourself (not necessarily alone, as long as you're indulging in something you enjoy). You needn't spend a lot of money, and you needn't make excuses to anyone for being good to yourself.

6. Improve your Diet
There are a number of different dietary changes you may make to help your body cope with stress. Consider eliminating caffeine. Caffeine is a drug, and it is a stimulant. It may cause your body to react as it would to stress; therefore, your body may be more sensitive to changes in your life and less able to cope with them. Caffeine may also cause panic attacks. If you decide to eliminate caffeine, do so gradually. As with any drug, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you quit too quickly.
Another stimulant to avoid is nicotine. If you smoke consider how this drug is affecting you. Nicotine may produce effects similar to those I described with caffeine. As with caffeine, it's up to you to decide if you need to make the change. Deciding when to make the change is also important as quitting may cause an initial increase in anxiety and stress.
Alcohol also may increase anxiety and panic, particularly over time. Even if it makes you feel relaxed at times, over-indulgence may result in the opposite effect. If you're taking any medications, they might not have a chance to work if you drink regularly.
Finally, take a look at what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat it. Eating a healthy diet will make you stronger. It's not easy to stick to such a diet, but you'll be surprised at how much better you feel and how much better you may cope with stress when you're sticking to a healthy diet.

7. Create a Support Network
If you have an anxiety disorder, there are three main kinds of support that may help you with stress. The first is support from other people with anxiety disorders. In dealing with everyday stresses, only people who understand anxiety may know how you feel. They are the people who may offer the best little bits of advice for coping with the small AND the big stuff.
The second kind of support to consider is a therapist. A therapist should help you learn coping techniques for both anxiety and stress. A therapist also is someone who will listen to you when you're going through a stressful times. Therapy is a place to talk when you don't want to overwhelm your family and friends with every detail of your life.
Finally, while they shouldn't be your only means of support if you have an anxiety disorder, don't forget to turn to family and friends. Not every person in your life will help you with every problem you have. In fact, some of them might not even know about your problems. It's a good idea to think about how each person fits into your life (and how you fit into theirs). While one friend might help you with desensitization exercises, another friend might provide simple fun -- just as necessary for stress relief and anxiety disorder recovery. The main point: Don't isolate yourself. Don't expect everyone to understand and to be there ALL the time, but don't underestimate the power of friendship and love.

8. Change Negative Thinking
Many people call this positive thinking, but that's not exactly what I mean. I do not mean that you always need to be happy, optimistic and cheerful in order to cope with stress. Bad stuff goes on in the world and, probably, in your life at times, and I wouldn't expect anyone to forget about it.
However, if you put yourself down a lot; feel angry much of the time; have trouble being assertive; dislike yourself; constantly criticize yourself; and/or generally never have a single positive thought in your head, you probably won't be able to handle stress very well. Cognitive therapy may help you learn how to reverse some of these thought patterns, but you may also do some or all of the work on your own.
Negative self-talk is a destructive habit and part of an essential defense mechanism that we often develop to protect ourselves. Many people end up talking themselves out of actions that may be scary or uncomfortable. "I can't do this" is really just a way of saying "I don't want to deal with the experience of doing this." We are all strongly influenced by our feelings, often determining how and what action we ultimately take. If the feeling is uncomfortable, negative self-talk results; then we often decide not to take any action at all.
  • Tried and Failed - Many people assume that if a past experience produced a certain result, there is nothing they can do to change that experience in order to produce a different result. "I've tried every diet there is. I know what I should do; I just can't do it. Please understand that you can make the choice not to repeat old patterns of eating, non-exercise, and negative thinking. You have the ability to choose the emotions you have. If you don't like feeling guilty, frustrated, or doubtful, you can choose not to. You, and no one else, must decide what is comfortable for you. In order to become successful at making healthy choices, you must avoid negative self-talk and start practicing positive thinking.
  • Self-Talk - Positive or negative self-talk plays a big part in your decisions. Be on the "look-out for negative self-talk and notice how it influences your choices; notice how it can negatively affect your efforts to change. For example, perhaps you've just returned from a week's vacation where you took a break from exercise and low-fat eating. You tell yourself, "I feel so fat. I'm back where I started." You feel guilty and frustrated. "I don't have enough will-power to start all over again. Maybe I'm just meant to be overweight." Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, you give up.
  • Reflect and Re-think - First, reflect on the feelings you had before you decided to give up. You basically told yourself that the healthy habits you learned before your vacation were all for nothing and that you have to start over. Ask yourself if these feelings are reasonable. Are you really back to ground zero? Of course not. You accepted change and developed a new way of living; these skills are yours forever. The vacation might even have done you some good: everyone needs a break sometimes. Otherwise, you might have felt deprived and not really enjoyed yourself. It's time now to tell yourself: "It felt good eating whatever I wanted and taking a break from exercising; I had a great time. But now I'm going to focus back on the low-fat, active lifestyle I was enjoying before vacation. There is no reason to beat myself up; I'll just take it one day at a time." Now you can rethink your previous decision and take action that will move you forward towards more positive change. As you begin to understand your reasons for negative self-talk, you'll find yourself recognizing it more and more quickly after it occurs. Eventually, as you practice, you'll be able to recognize and stop negative self-talk before it interferes with your decisions. 
  • Practice, Practice, Practice - It is very important to practice positive thinking and to remind yourself that you're a worthwhile person whatever you do. Try to consistently acknowledge that you are making positive changes to improve your health. You should be proud of yourself. Visualize yourself as capable, happy, and confident. These positive feelings will help the process of change. Remember, there are bound to be times when you're feeling frustrated or depressed. Positive thinkers know that these feelings are valid, and they don't try to ignore them. Positive thinkers acknowledge and try to understand them, but they don't blame themselves for the conditions that lead to these feelings. Good luck, stay positive, and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of a healthy lifestyle!

9. Learn to Manage your Time
"Time Management" can be an ugly phrase. The very thought produces stress all on its own. Maybe it's the word management? Well, try not to think about it as some enforced way of living. Time management should be flexible and very, very personalized.
Stress often comes when one feels rushed and overwhelmed, so making sure that you have enough time to do everything in your life may help you cope with stress. Time management might mean that you have to cut one or a few activities out of your life. It might mean creating a number of firm routines so that you have flexibility in other parts of your life. Only you may decide what is right for you. Remember: Stress results from change, so why not create a few predictable cycles in your life? You might change those routines later, but help yourself stabilize for a while. Time management may involve learning new skills such as saying "no" to every volunteer opportunity, delegating household chores, and learning assertiveness in order to put it all into action.

10. Stop Being a Perfectionist
Perfectionism is tied in with those negative thought patterns I mentioned earlier. Sure, it's good to expect yourself to do well, but perfection is absolutely impossible. If you don't let go of perfectionism, you really can't fully recover because you'll always be critical of yourself. The two main goals for eliminating perfectionism are:
  1. Learning the difference between "the best you can do" and "perfect"
  2. Praising yourself for every last accomplishment, every day, no matter how small it seems

These changes may not come easily, but it's important to make them.

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Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in London, UK. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.