Three Tips for Managing Stress

Making stress management a daily routine

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Having spent 22 years rising in the ranks of corporate America, I understand the work pressures—whether self-imposed or externally derived—to meet deadlines, manage team dynamics, and deliver bottom-line results. The perceived need to check your mobile device on the weekends and even during that much-needed vacation gets reinforced, especially when your boss, coworkers, or customers enable this behavior by responding to your emails and text messages. So your break might not even be much of a break.

For this and other reasons, I contend that stress management works best when it is a part of a normal daily routine—and not just something we try to do during weekends, vacations, and holidays. Below are three tips for making stress management a daily practice:

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal: Small daily annoyances can build up to a point where you are feeling your jaws clench and your eyebrows furrow with stress. At a fixed point every day, jot down one thing you are grateful for. It could be seemingly small, such as I’m grateful for that delicious cup of coffee I just consumed, or it could be a bigger, life-changing event such as I’m grateful for my daughter being born. Just find one thing that you are feeling grateful for in that moment.

When you keep a running log of what you are grateful for, it starts to put things into perspective. Those small annoyances, like someone cutting in front of you to take that perfect parking spot or a distracted coworker texting while you’re presenting at a meeting, have less impact when they’re balanced out by important things for which you are grateful.

2. A Pre-Meeting Meditation: Before diving into the throes of a meeting, consider taking about two minutes to do the following. Sit comfortably in a chair with feet on the ground and hands on your lap. Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath. While you exhale, feel your shoulders drop from your ears, your brows and jaw relax. Feel your body being supported by the chair and the ground. Focus on your breath as you breathe in and out. Notice the air going in and then leaving your body.

If you find your mind wandering, try counting your breaths. One to inhale, two to exhale, three to inhale, four to exhale…continue slowly to ten and then start over at one. Repeat this as many times as you need to feel your body relax. I have found that it usually takes about two minutes to feel a noticeable difference.

3. Being Present: Being present means not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. It’s about the here and now. Sounds easy, but it’s very difficult to do. Practicing this concept of being present can be done anywhere, but I personally find this best done outdoors. Consider going outside and then find one thing to look at or listen to and just focus on that one thing.

For example, if you walk out of your office and there is a large pine tree, just look at that tree and notice everything about it. The needles, the texture of the bark, the way it moves in the wind. Notice the bird that’s perched mid-way up the right side, and that there is a slight piney smell in the air. Keep looking and noticing everything about it. During that moment, when you’re not thinking about anything but that tree, you will find a sense of calmness and peace.

Managing stress is similar to the other kinds of daily managing you do. Just as you keep up with your projects, emails and status reports, keep up with your internal housekeeping so stress doesn’t pile up and make your inner world feel like a mess. Then when your weekend or vacation arrives, you might find you’re already relaxed!

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