The Stress Epidemic
Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, and in many ways it has. We can order nearly anything we need online, communicate long distance instantly, and monitor our homes remotely. But our constantly-on environment, combined with back-to-back meetings, growing workloads (thanks in part to stagnate hiring), and a deluge of information and communications, create a perfect storm for stress. And too much stress will break you.
I recently wrote an article for CEO Magazine instructing company leaders about how they could create policies and cultures that reduce stress and promote healthy environments where people are engaged and productive.
But you don’t have to be a top leader to make changes that will take you from burned out (or blah) to brilliant. You can take on the responsibilities that come with a role you already possess: CEO of your life.
In his blockbuster book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield offers that in order to have a great life, you have to first take 100% responsibility for that life. That means shifting from blaming people and circumstances to that which is in your span on control.
Here are some tips for things you can begin doing today to reduce stress and have productive, fulfilling, connected days.
1. Breathe. Instead of rolling out of bed and checking email or the news, spend five to ten minutes noticing your breath. I highly recommend using an app to help you focus. I love MyCalmBeat. Built with the help of neuroscientists, you can adjust the timing and number of breaths per minute. This helps you build heart-beat variability, which increases your ability to regulate stress. I say to myself, “peace” on the in-breath, and “love” on the out-breath. Your mind will still wander and that’s ok; the point is to build up your ability to notice and interrupt your thoughts, bringing them back to neutral, where you can then decide what to think. My most successful clients take a few deep breaths before interactions with others, and are intentional about how they want to be in the conversation.
2. Plan your day before doing any work. Prioritizing your day is a huge energy drain on your brain. Note whom you need to hear from in order to make progress on your most important projects, and then scan email for those names. Then close email and get to work.
“Choosing how we spend our time is the hardest decision we make.”
3. Do your most important work first. Decide what task, if completed, would make the biggest positive difference, and leave you feeling like the day was productive. Set a timer for at least 30 minutes and focus on that one task. Make sure to turn off all notifications during this time.
4. Smile. Nothing changes your mood faster than smiling. Research has shown that even a fake smile, produced by making a long e vowel sound (e.g. “cheeeeeese”) or holding a pen between your teeth, boosted mood.
5. Pack healthy snacks and lunch, and politely decline all the candy and high-carb foods that people will offer you throughout the day. You’ll have more energy and less regret.
6. Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s been said that we judge others by their actions, and ourselves by our intentions. The next time you find yourself judging someone poorly, ask yourself, “I wonder if they are hungry, tired, or stressed.” People can sense your judgment and resentment whether you verbalize it or not. To improve your own stress levels, as well as your reputation and relationships, assume that others mean well, and get curious instead of judgmental.
Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
7. Learn to say no with grace, not guilt. You simply cannot say yes to every request that comes your way. You may have unlimited potential, but you have limited capacity. You have a body that needs sleep, food, movement, and repair, and you have just 24 hours in a day–and an unknown number of days to live. Strategically choose what you will say yes to, and what requests and habits you will decline or avoid. Learn the six steps for declining requests with grace and clarity here.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
8. Control your technology. Most of us are mental slaves to our technology. App designers know how to hook you, and they are only getting better at it. Remove distracting apps from your phone (including Facebook) and install an app like Checky to tell you once at the end of every day how many times you checked your phone. Set your phone to do not disturb (or off) during meetings, important conversations, and sleep.
9. Gather a board of directors. No one succeeds alone. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to stay stuck. Gather wise, talented people to support you in all areas of your life: career, financial, emotional, spiritual, physical health, and relationships.
10. Upgrade your thoughts. According to neuroscientist Dr. Evian Gordon, We have five times as many neural processes for negative thinking over positive. The most productive, happy people know how to think about thinking. When they feel negative emotions like anxiety, resentment, or worry, they back up and look for the thought that created those emotions. Then, before they take regrettable action, they upgrade their thought so that they feel better and take action that produces desired results.
“If I want to retain my inner peace, I must be willing to consistently and persistently tend the garden of my mind moment by moment . . .”
~Jill Bolte Taylor
What have I missed?
What do you do to reduce stress and be your best self?
Denise is a speaker, writer, and executive coach dedicated to helping people ignite their potential, and go from burned-out (or blah) to brilliant. After a successful career in Corporate, Denise founded Brilliance Inc., a coaching and training corporation. For over a decade, she and her team have helped thousands of people feel less stressed, and have more ease and fulfillment in all areas of their lives. She knows what it’s like to overcome major setbacks: after a car accident in 2003, she was told by a doctor that she might never be able to work. Denise has been referred to as a mini Tony Robbins because of the humor, compassion, knowledge, and pragmatism she brings to helping people to transform their lives for good.
Denise R. Green, founder Brilliance Inc. author of Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life and Health You Crave.