Stress is something we all have to deal with. There’s family stress, relationship stress, work stress, financial stress, and health stress to name a few.
I noticed a client of mine had lost some weight recently. When I asked her about it she told me she had lost 9 kilograms (19.8 pounds) in a little less than two months. She has either stumbled upon the holy grail of diet programs, or she has some major stress to deal with. Unfortunately for Weight Watchers, it was the latter. What’s worse is my client wasn’t overweight to begin with, so I estimate she’s lost close to 15% of her weight rapidly. All due to stress.
I’m not a stress expert by any means, but as she’s someone I’ve known for years, I felt I owed it to my client to find out more about stress and how to deal with it. What I learned surprised me. It also led me to create something I call The Pyramid of Productivity. Essentially there are three main areas of productivity we need to address in order to operate at levels of peak performance – Internal, External, and Support, each being one side.
At the bottom of the pyramid is Internal. The reason this is at the bottom is this sets the stage for everything else we do in life. It consists of fundamentals and it’s everything we do before we even leave our house which are mindset, attitude, habits, personal development, diet, exercise, and breathing.
Most stress is actually self-imposed, but the root causes are external. In certain cases, simply by removing the cause (ie. a partner, a friend, a job) the stress disappears. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Quitting our job might sound good, but new stresses could soon appear in its place; getting a new job, paying our bills, etc. So rather than removing the stress, we need to learn how to manage it. While there are many different strategies, to keep this article short I’ll focus on two areas specifically designed to help people manage their stress. In case you’re wondering, as soon as it’s published, the first person I send this to will be my client.
Who knew a concept as simple as breathing could have such profound effects. However, thanks to books such as Patrick McKeown’s book The Oxygen Advantage, we know from science, that not all breathing is created equal and just how powerful it can be in high performance and stress relief.
Most of the time we breathe from our chest, but deep breathing comes from our diaphragm. Rarely during our days do we take deep breaths as we simply don’t even think about it. After all, it’s as natural as opening our eyes or walking. However, by learning to adopt different breathing patterns we can control much more than the flow of oxygen into our body, but also our emotional state and our hormonal release. One of the best techniques I’ve come across is in one of McKeown’s videos which can be found here.
A coworker of mine was constantly stressed. The smallest things would set him off. No more fajitas at Costco – boom. The lady at the shop didn’t understand him – kaboom. We’d see each other a few times a week and without fail, he was stressed about something. He’d get worked up about everything and anything. I only wish I knew then what I now know about breathing.
Deep breathing, done properly, centers us. It brings us focus. It oxygenates our blood. Most importantly, it brings us a sense of relaxation which is critical in our high-stress, high-speed lives.
I recently learned a deep breathing technique from Brendon Burchard in his High Performance Academy that is something I have incorporated into my own trainings. Simply stand up, close your eyes, take ten deep breaths and bounce in place.
Sounds easy right? However, bouncing with your eyes closed is actually quite challenging and if we add deep breathing to the mix, you’ll find it pretty much impossible to focus on anything else. Just be aware the first few times you try it you may have trouble keeping your balance. It’s an excellent exercise to bring us back to the present and release a lot of the stress we have.
Breathing calms us down. Exercise pumps us up. Nearly everyone I know who is struggling with time management and stress forsakes exercise. We all know we need it, but we’ll get to it “when we have time.” A nice excuse we tell ourselves, but the truth is we make time for the things we value. Many of us don’t want to exercise, so are looking for any reason not to.
Vigorous exercise helps us sleep better (just ask my son) and strengths our body which prevents injuries (sciatica was no fun at all). It’s not a question of whether we should exercise, it’s a question of how much. All my clients are busy, that’s a given, but we can all set aside 10-20 minutes a day to stretch and find 30 minutes twice a week to do something more strenuous. I have a stretch routine I do daily while catching up on one of the shows I’m behind on (chunking), then do Karate and Aikido once a week.
One thing we must always remember as people we always have time for things we value. College students never struggle to find time to go to parties or hang out with their friends. Interestingly enough, they do have trouble finding time to do their homework. Stress is not just a productivity killer but it can be physically debilitating. We must “find” the time to ensure that our health does not become an issue in our lives and this is true for Fortune 500 CEOs as it is for kindergarten teachers. Breathing and exercise aren’t exciting, but they are effective if applied properly to help us deal with the rigors of life both physically and mentally.