Stress is a natural condition; it is how your body reacts to challenges and demands. Heightened stress levels can help you avoid danger or meet a crucial deadline in a work setting. The problem we face as businesspeople is that stress becomes a constant and eventually all-consuming.
It is unrealistic to think you can make stress magically disappear. Even Buddhists suffer from anxiety; they just cope with it differently using traditional practices. In this article, we’re going to discuss various techniques that will help you turn your “stress-flame” down a little.
The problem with stress is that it has a habit of building on itself. A minor stressor can lead to a larger one, which causes another stressor to appear – you get the idea – it’s a downward spiral. All this stress can lead to sleep loss, poor eating habits, increased alcohol intake, less exercise, dehydration, lack of energy, and demotivation.
Once in this state, you tend to work harder to keep up and keep your chin above water. It is a fallacy that the more you work, the more you will achieve. Studies have shown that meditating, even for very short periods, enhances productivity. A Zen proverb states, “If you don't have time to meditate for an hour every day, you should meditate for two hours.”
At this point, you may think that this meditation malarkey is not for you but don’t worry; we won’t ask you to start uttering mantras in the boardroom.
Self-awareness is one of the keys to turning the flame down on stress. Pause when you begin to feel stressed, notice it, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you are feeling stressed. What precisely is causing you concern right now? Is it a single stressor, or is it a culmination of things that together feel like they are the last straw?
If you can identify your stressors, you may be able to confront and mitigate them. For example, perhaps another deadline has been dumped into your lap, and you are pulling out your hair in exasperation. Stop, take a breath, actually, take ten breaths in and ten out. Count, in-breath one, out-breath one, in-breath two, out-breath two – you get the idea. This 30-second exercise will allow you to distance yourself from the emotion you are feeling (the stress) and discover a more balanced reality. Look at the situation rationally. Prioritize each deadline and choose the least urgent. Now, calmly analyze what you might do to reduce the stress it is causing. Can you negotiate an extension? Can you delegate the project as a whole or in part? If you are out of options, look at the next least urgent. You may not think it, but there is always something you can do to ease the pressure you feel.
Identifying the exact cause of your stress is the first step to alleviating that pressure. Be realistic. There is no magic wand to make all anxiety instantly disappear; your goal should be just to lower the flame.
Here are a few other ways to help you turn down the flame.
Meditation. A few minutes of meditation can make you more productive and focused. We’re all busy people, but even 30-seconds of deep breathing before you start work or during the day will produce incredible results.
Mindfulness. A quick Google search will show that many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies regularly use mindfulness practices.
Short breaks. Get some air – step outside for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths. Walk around the office, and talk to a few people. The key is leaving your computer for a few minutes and thinking about something other than your stressors.
Reward yourself. Do something that you find rewarding (not work) that makes you forget about everything else for a few hours.
Exercise. Even if you hate it while doing it, you will feel better physically and mentally and better able to manage stress.
Monitor your stress levels. Create a spreadsheet of your stressors. Three times a day, give each stressor a one to ten score. Each morning, review your chart; where are you doing well or poorly, and why? Focus your energy on the highest stress factors.
Accept. Recognize stressors that are not within your power to change. You are not superhuman. If you can’t change a stressful situation or reduce its impact, accept it or delegate it to someone better placed to manage it.
You will never reduce stress to zero, and you don’t want to; there is a value to being hyper-alert and ready to deal with the challenges life and business throw at you. However, you can turn the flame down and learn to manage stress, so it doesn’t overwhelm you.
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