I have a lot of first-hand experience with stress.
I am, by nature, a pretty laid-back person, but if something important needs to be done or if something needs my immediate attention, then I can become a tightly wrapped ball of elastic bands, just waiting to snap, unravel or shoot in different directions. I’m also ruled by emotion, so matters of the heart affect me deeply.
During my years of working in the fast-paced world of TV news, stress had an even bigger impact on my life. Constant deadlines, the need to “win” the story, to get the best live shot location, to get the first interview, and to beat the competition, was ever-present. Ensuring the story was told accurately, that the voices on all sides were being heard, that our TV equipment worked properly, and that the journalists reporting the story remained safe, were all in a day’s work. But the pressures took a slow and steady toll, which, coupled with me having two small sons, both still in diapers, eventually led to unmanageable stress levels. So learning to cope with stress quickly became a reality for me. Me — who I thought was invincible; Me — who I thought was cool as a cucumber; Me — who juggled 3 things at once, because doing one thing at a time just wasn’t fast-paced enough; THAT ME had to learn to SLOW THINGS DOWN! And once I slowed down, once I allowed myself some breathing room, once I redefined my understanding of “doing a good job” — that was when I realized that incorporating just a few things into my life could mean the difference between burning out and chilling out.
Here are some stress-busting tactics that I try to adhere to whenever I can:
1) LEAVE YOUR PROBLEMS AT THE DOOR
This is a tough one for people who have 24/7-type jobs — like journalists, doctors, lawyers, business owners, entrepreneurs and firefighters, to name just a few. It’s tough to leave your work stresses at the door when you get home, because the issues, stories, tragedies and problems that you dealt with during your work day can continue on into the next days, weeks, months and even years ahead.
But despite your occupation, it is important to try to distinguish your work life from the rest of your life — even if your job is your passion, your purpose and your calling.
The reason that we all need a divide (no matter how small) between our work life and our home life, is that we need time to recharge. You owe it to yourself, your family and even to your employer or your business, to take the time to regroup, relax, shift focus and unplug, so that you can have the energy and the clarity to devote 100 percent of yourself to everything that you tackle.
2) LIVE IN THE NOW, MAKE PEACE WITH THE PAST…AND FORGIVE!
This involves not fixating on the past and not pining for the future. Nothing in the past can be changed. It is what it is. It’s how we deal with the repercussions of past actions that affects our present life. So if we can forgive something from the past, or ask for forgiveness, then this would bring about a positive result in our current life. And if we can make peace with things in the past that cannot be changed, then this will give us a sense of calm in our present lives. Also try not to pine for the future. Many of us get stuck in the rut of saying, “I’ll be happy when…(insert wish here)” or “If only x, y and z happened, then my life would be perfect”, or “I’m going to begin being happy as soon as I accomplish x, y and z”. This makes us delay our own happiness.
Instead, try to see yourself as already being on the path towards that goal, and thus already sharing in the happiness of that goal. Turn thoughts of “I wish I had x, y or z” into “I’m actively pursuing x, y or z, and I’m well on my way to achieving it.”
Remember to take time each day to just be aware of your breath and of how it feeds and nourishes your body and your mind. A breath can energize you when you’re feeling sluggish and it can calm you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Take a moment to close your eyes, listen to your breath and enjoy the yummy sensation of your lungs being filled to the brim before the air leaves your body again to rejoin the atmosphere.
4) DO SOMETHING CREATIVE
Creativity sparks activity in the right side of our brains. This is the same side that controls our understanding and appreciation of vivid images, imagination, tastes, passions and colors. Creativity has the power to take us to unexpected places in our minds and to let us forget the troubles of our world. In a way, doing something creative, can have the same effect as meditation.
It allows us to quiet the mind, focus on one thing and gain a sense of relaxation.
So whether for you, doing something creative means painting, making music, cooking, flower arranging, making jewelry, or cutting someone’s hair — it doesn’t really matter what the act is — as long as it elicits a feeling of having immersed yourself into an activity wholeheartedly, with only one goal in mind: to create something that makes you happy!
5) REMOVE CLUTTER
Now, by removing clutter, I don’t mean you have to de-clutter your entire home or life. (Though doing so would be wonderful.) For many, the thought of cleaning out their whole apartment or house is stressful in itself and therefore totally defeats the purpose.
Even just de-cluttering an area, like your desk, your paperwork, the junk drawer in your kitchen, or your nightstand, can do wonders to make you feel more relaxed, organized and happy.
And de-cluttering an entire room, or re-arranging the furniture, can make you feel like you’ve moved into a whole new home. It gives you a new perspective.
There is some truth in the saying, “A change is as good as a vacation.”
6) IT’S OK TO SAY “NO”
This one took me a long time to learn.
I’ve always been a “yes” person.
“Jen, can you do this?” “Yes!” “Jen, can you make this?” “Yes!” “Jen, can you fix this?” “Yes!”
Sometimes I would answer “Yes” without even considering whether I was capable of doing, making or fixing whatever I was committing myself to doing, making and fixing.
It was a knee-jerk reaction…”YES!” “SURE!” “WHY NOT?!”
Well, there are thousands of reasons why not.
For starters, very often, saying “no” won’t have a negative impact on the person you’re saying no to. It just means that you, and the person who requested your help, will need to come up with an alternative, or a creative solution to make things work without so much involvement from you. Often you’ll see that finding another solution isn’t as difficult as you thought it would be.
Being honest about your capabilities, your time-commitments and your dedication to something can mean the difference between doing something out of obligation and doing it out of love.
So it’s worth stopping and thinking whether saying “yes” to something truly is the right thing for you and for the other people involved.
Of course there are times when we sacrifice to make others happy. But just don’t make a habit out of helping others when it harms you or your family. Constantly putting other people’s well-being ahead of your own will eventually run you into the ground — and then you won’t be of any use to anyone!
So sometimes, saying “no” is just fine.
7) BE AFFECTIONATE
Being affectionate doesn’t mean going around kissing everyone, hugging trees and stroking cuddly kittens. Being affectionate means showing love, kindness and compassion in everyday life. Be kind to others — but also to yourself.
Practice “Ahimsa”, as Patanjali describes it. Practicing non-violence and emphasizing loving kindness in all that we do is the ultimate form of affection.
And being affectionate can have a calming, restorative and joyous effect on our mood.
8) GET MOVING!
Exercise — in any shape or form — is important.
Not only does it get us revved up and energized for whatever challenges lie ahead, it also benefits us physically, mentally and emotionally.
The endorphins released during physical activity help us endure pain and help us to feel positive. So whether it’s yoga, running, jumping on a trampoline, dancing, surfing or chasing after your kids, getting the heart to beat a little faster and working up a sweat should be something we do as often as we can.
9) CARVE OUT SOME “ME TIME” EACH DAY
Whether it’s just sitting and sipping a cup of coffee and leafing through your favorite magazine or whether it’s taking 30 minutes to watch HGTV or soak in a hot bath with candles and a glass of red wine, make sure you take some time during your day for yourself. With two boys under the age of four, I find this to be quite challenging. But even with a full schedule, there’s always a way to fit a little bit of uninterrupted ME TIME into the day.
Waking up a little earlier than usual is one way to go about it. Starting your day with some me-time-meditation can put a pep in your step for the rest of the day. But if you’re desperately seeking more sleep as it is, then waking up earlier is not the solution. You’ll have to be more creative then about finding the time in between errands, or at your desk at work, or even on the train during your commute, to just switch your brain off!
Sometimes you might need to solicit some help to make it happen, because ensuring that you have time everyday to decompress is crucial.
My husband and I once hired a babysitter to come over just so that we could go upstairs and take a nap! It was weird telling the eager, wide-eyed teenage girl as she arrived that we’re not actually going anywhere, but that we simply need someone to watch the kids while we desperately try to sleep for two hours so that we don’t lose our minds.
Later, when we emerged like zombies, it was well worth the babysitting money and even the sideways glance that she gave us as she took the money. I could almost read her mind: “You guys are SO old!”.
Which brings me to my final point…
As mentioned, above, sleep is important and even Me Time shouldn’t eat into your precious sleep. Because sleep, in a way, is the ultimate form of Me Time! Experts say that anything between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night is essential to a healthy lifestyle. For some of us, 5 or 6 hours is all that our schedule allows.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “Sleep plays an important role in your physical health…Sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity.” So, I think it’s fair to say that ensuring we get enough rest should be one of our top priorities.
One way of ensuring more rest during your sleeping hours is to maintain a predictable bedtime routine. Try to go to bed around the same time each night and try to wind down as the hours lead up to bedtime. This will ensure that your body knows it’s time for sleep and that it welcomes the shut-eye instead of trying to keep it at bay. Minimize distractions in your bedroom and ensure your room is a comfortable temperature and sufficiently dark.