10 SIMPLE STEPS TO RELIEVE STRESS
This information about stress is from the HEALTHbeat e-mail supplement to the Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat magazine.
You can subscribe to the weekly HEALTHbeat e-mail supplement by visiting the publication’s Website at www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat.
Prolonged stress can have serious adverse effects on your emotional and physical health. Many well-respected studies link stress to heart disease and stroke — the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death, respectively, in the United States.
Stress is also implicated in a host of other ailments such as depression and anxiety, chronic lower respiratory diseases, asthma flare-ups, rheumatoid arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems.
Stress is not all bad.
Your perception of a real or imagined threat can spark the stress response, which prepares the body to fight or flee.
Thanks to the swift reflex, you might suddenly jump out of the path of a speeding car or flee from a burning house. But when your stress response is evoked repeatedly, your body experiences unnecessary wear and tear — such as high blood pressure — that can lead to poor health.
Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, the stress-busting suggestions described below can make your days calmer, if not easier.
Sometimes just thinking about embarking on a program of stress control can be stressful. Rather than freeze in your tracks, start small and bask in the glow of your successes. Give yourself a week to focus on practical solutions that could help you cope with just one stumbling block or source of stress in your life. Pick a problem, and see if these suggestions work for you.
1. Frequently late? Apply time management principles. Consider your priorities (be sure to include time for yourself) and delegate or discard unnecessary tasks. Map out your day, segment by segment, setting aside time for different tasks, such as writing or phone calls.
If you are overly optimistic about travel time, consistently give yourself an extra 15 minutes or more to get to your destinations. If lateness stems from dragging your heels, consider the underlying issue. Are you anxious and feel stress about what will happen after you get to work or to a social event, for example? Or maybe you’re trying to jam too many tasks into too little time.
2. Often angry or irritated? Consider the weight of reflecting too much on the negative. Are you magnifying a problem,leaping to conclusions, or applying emotional reasoning? Take the time to stop, breathe, and reflect more on the positive.
3. Unsure of your ability to do something? Don’t try to go it alone. If the problem is work, talk to a co-worker or supportive leader. Ask a knowledgeable friend or call the local library or an organization that can supply the information you need.Don’t stress over it too hard.
Write down other ways that you might get the answers or skills you need. Turn to CDs, or books, for example, if you need a little tutoring. This works equally well when you’re learning relaxation response techniques to help with stress, too.
4. Overextended? Clear the deck of at least one time-consuming household task. If you can, shop for groceries through the Internet, convene a family meeting to consider who can take on certain jobs, or barter with or pay teens for work around the house and yard.Learn to delegate to ease the stress.
Consider what is truly essential and important to you and what might take a backseat right now to help relieve the stress.
5. Not enough time for stress relief? Try mini-relaxations. Or make a commitment to yourself to pare down your schedule for just one week so you can practice evoking the relaxation response every day. Slowing down to pay attention to just one task or pleasure at hand is an excellent method of stress relief.
6. Feeling unbearably tense? Try massage, a hot bath, mini-relaxations, a body scan, or a mindful walk. Practically any exercise — a brisk walk, a quick run, a sprint up and down the stairs — will help with stress, too. Done regularly, exercise wards off tension, as do relaxation response techniques.
7. Frequently feel pessimistic? Remind yourself of the value of learned optimism: a more joyful life and, quite possibly, better health and a stress free life. Rent funny movies and read amusing books. Create a mental list of reasons you have to feel grateful. If the list seems too short, consider beefing up your social network and adding creative, productive, and leisure pursuits to your life.
8. Upset by conflicts and stress with others? State your needs or distress directly, avoiding “you always” or “you never” zingers. Say, “I feel _____ when you _____.” “I would really appreciate it if you could _____.” “I need some help setting priorities. What needs to be done first and what should I tackle later?”
9. Worn out or burned out? Focus on self-nurturing. Carve out time to practice relaxation response techniques or at least indulge in mini-relaxations for stress. Care for your body by eating good, healthy food and for your heart by seeking out others.
Give thought to creative, productive, and leisure activities. Consider your priorities in life: is it worth feeling this way, or is another path open to you by ridding yourself of stress? If you want help, consider what kind would be best.
10. Feeling lonely? Connect with others. Even little connections — a brief conversation in line at the grocery store, an exchange about local goings-on with a neighbor, a question for a colleague — can help you relieve stress and melt the ice within you. It may embolden you, too, to seek more opportunities to connect.
Be a volunteer. Attend religious or community functions. Suggest coffee with an acquaintance. Call a friend or relative you miss. Take an interesting class. If a social phobia, low self-esteem, or depression is causing you stress and dampening your desire to reach out, seek help.
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