On your journey toward creating success for yourself, you’re going to face the daily grind and pressures that come with any endeavour. Many people complain that they’re overwhelmed with stress in every area of life: at work, at home, with their finances, relationships, and health. This pressure can lead to irritability in your relations, fatigue and diminished effectiveness on the job, and a compromised immune system.
What is stress? Stress is our emotional and physiological response to any perceived threat or pressure that we don’t think we can handle. And the key word is “perceived,” because the threat doesn’t even need to be real. You could be managing a crippling social anxiety disorder or simply ticked off that the lineup for coffee is too long. If you think that something is worth getting stressed over, you’re going to get stressed.
The “stress response” or fight-or-flight response is a beneficial physical reaction to a mortal threat, such as running into a bear in the woods. Your body gears up to either run for your life or fight to the death. Every bodily function involved in running or fighting is augmented, and everything else is diminished. Your heart begins pounding, circulating blood and oxygen to the major muscle groups. Your breathing becomes rapid and shallow to conserve energy usually spent in respiration. Your digestive system shuts down. Your immune system is compromised in fighting illness and disease. Adrenaline gives you superhuman strength. Endorphins block the pain signals in case you’re injured. You’re bulletproof and able to accomplish incredible acts of strength. We’ve all heard stories of a mother lifting a car to free her child.
All of these responses are valuable when running from a bear in the woods. But they’re terrible responses when standing in a board room trying to give a PowerPoint presentation to the CEO. Because of this, stress management is a key toolbox of skills to have in order to be effective in high-pressure situations. Here are some powerful ways to relieve stress:
Stop the event from ever happening. Some things that stress you out, such as a car accident, are quite random and difficult to prepare for. Other things, such as sleeping in and being late for work, might be quite routine and you can predictably expect that they will occur again tomorrow. The first line of defense is to ask yourself how much of this event you can control. Steven Covey wrote in his landmark book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that we should be proactive and focus on those things within our Circle of Influence. If procrastination, disorganization, or conflict avoidance are creating situations that cause you stress, that’s great news, because you have absolute control over them. Maybe getting your kids up for school in the morning leaves you running behind. If that’s the case, get as much prepared the night before as possible. If getting caught in traffic causes you stress, leave 10 minutes earlier than planned.
Manage your perspective. Two people put in an identical situation can have wildly different reactions to it. One person might remain calm while the other person has a panic attack. Why is this? Because of the meaning we attach to events. Often, the culprit is our perspective – the story we tell ourselves about the events. For example, if you’re trapped in an elevator and you’re in a rush, you might be frustrated and ticked off. But if someone suffers claustrophobia, they will perceive being stuck in the elevator as a terrifying mortal threat. We often make mountains out of proverbial molehills. The key to changing your state is to change your focus. Author Tony Robbins explains that to change our focus, we must ask positive questions. A great question would be “What is positive about this?” You might initially think that nothing about a situation is great, but when pressed, you can usually turn over something good. If the engine in your car explodes, what’s great about that? Well, you’re probably getting a new car. If your flight is delayed, what’s great about that? Perhaps it gives you more time to review your notes, make some important calls, or enjoy some unscheduled leisure time and read a good motivational book.
Burn off stress through exercise. Having a fit, healthy body has many benefits. The action of exercise itself is a powerful ally in managing energy. When we’re stressed, we go into the fight-or-flight response, which is a physiological defense from a threat. Your body is flooded with adrenaline; your heart rate increases, and your sense and response time are heightened. You’re on edge, ready to respond instantly to an attack. This reaction, though valuable in a legitimately dangerous situation, is a physically exhausting response. One of the best ways to relieve stress is to burn it off through intense exercise. Hit the treadmill or lift weights – intensely. You’ll burn off your stress response, give yourself a healthy outlet for aggression and frustration, and get a dopamine boost to the brain, helping you feel great. You’ll probably also be proud of yourself for doing what many people merely talk about.
Use humour to calm down. Laughter releases endorphins, the body’s version of a natural painkiller. It boosts your mood and immediately cuts through the stress response. So, add some laughter to your day. Listen to your favourite comedians as you commute to work. Watch some funny videos on YouTube on your break. Share a joke with a colleague. Doing this with make you feel great. It’s pretty difficult to feel the pangs of stress when you’re enjoying a deep belly laugh. Learn to find the humour in daily activities and you’ll never run out of comedy material.
Deep breathing. One of the best stress reduction techniques is also a powerful relaxation technique. When we’re in the fight-or-flight response, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow to conserve energy. However, breathing is one of the few bodily functions that you can actually take conscious control over. Most of the time, our breathing operates almost on autopilot, and we’re unaware it’s even happening. However, when we force ourselves to breathe slowly in for a count of four, pause, and then exhale for a count of four, something amazing happens: we begin to calm down. Why? Because you’ve taken conscious control over part of the stress response and forced it into a relaxation pattern.
Our busy lives bring multiple opportunities to experience stress. Make a conscious choice to use these techniques and you’ll find yourself enjoying a more relaxed, productive, and stress-free day!
CJ Calvert | Contributing Writer
CJ Calvert is a professional speaker and the author of Living an Exceptional LIFE. With over 15 years of training experience, CJ speaks on a daily basis before world-class organizations like IBM, Microsoft, Bank of Montreal, and The Co-Operators. Because of his expertise, he has been a featured guest on Breakfast Television. He makes his home in Ajax, Ontario with his amazing wife and son.