BY ROB SMENTEKIn late March, a video went viral featuring a chauffeur hitting a windshield with a crowbar after a traffic incident. While this sort of road rage is certainly inappropriate–not to mention illegal–we’ve all been in situations where our stress level has us on the verge of volcanic eruption.
In an around-the-clock industry like ours, it’s only natural that stress rears its ugly head from time to time. Stress not only affects your demeanor but also can have detrimental effects on your health, some very serious. Unchecked stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
But even during the worst periods of job-related tension, it’s important to realize that you have the ability to keep things well within your control. Using these 11 tips are simple but effective ways to reduce stress in your professional and personal life.
1. Think Realistically
It’s 9:57 a.m. and your client in the back, whose plane was late, has a meeting at 10, but you’re still five miles away in standstill traffic because of a sudden accident. Your brow is sweaty, your muscles are tense, and you feel ready to burst. Will anything go well?
Stop. At times like this, it’s key to realize that you are not always in control of the situations you find yourself in, but you are in charge of your reactions. There is simply no way you could have foreseen the accident and you cannot magically make the traffic disappear. Instead of dwelling what you cannot change, concentrate on being a professional and putting your client at ease.
2. Take a Deep Breath
When you start to feel overwhelmed, the simplest means of relief is often a deep breath. Doctors and researchers suggest breathing from your diaphragm to oxygenate your blood and help you relax almost instantly. Shallow and quick chest breathing, however, causes your heart to beat faster and muscles to tense up, intensifying feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then exhale slowly. It’s a simple strategy that can even be done while driving.
3. Reach for the Sky
Over the course of the day, muscles naturally tighten, and when you’re in one position all day, whether it’s behind the wheel or at a desk, your body gets even tenser. Take some time—at least every hour, if possible—to stand up and stretch. There’s a reason that yoga is often “prescribed” for a healthy mind and body: It works.
4. Get Physical
Stressful situations increase the level of “fight or flight” hormones that are hard-wired into our brains to protect us from immediate bodily harm. However, in today’s world, stress can be rarely remedied by fighting or fleeing—as such reactions are socially inappropriate. Physical exercise can metabolize the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. During periods of heavy stress, hit the gym, ride a bike, or just go for a walk; you’ll not only feel better but also think more clearly and improve the quality of your sleep. Which brings us to...
5. Catch Some ZZZs
The relationship between sleep and stress is complex. On one hand, a lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress; on the other, stress also interrupts our sleep, as thoughts keep whirling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep.
Rather than relying on sleeping pills or alcohol, your goal should be to wind down to prepare your body for rest. Make sure that your bedroom is free from reminders of what causes you stress. Avoid caffeine and alcohol during the evening, as they can lead to disturbed sleep in many people. Then, take some time to veg out. Avoid doing anything work-related several hours before bed. Read a book or watch the game—just do something that you enjoy. Even though a late-night phone call is common in a 24-7 industry, you should do everything possible to regularly have a good night’s sleep ... every night.
6. Count to 10
One of the major side effects of stress is anger. We’re far more likely to fly off the handle over something minuscule during periods of stress. Before you lose your cool and say something regrettable, step away and collect yourself. Use this time to simply count to 10. Generally, this is more than enough time to get your bearings and calm down. Bursts of anger not only can affect your business relationships, but they can also have a detrimental effect on your company culture. Ten seconds is small sacrifice to keep things on track.
7. Have a Snack
Believe it or not, a quick snack is a great way to reduce stress. The energy boost and nutrients in many foods can help you feel better during stressful periods. Before you hit that drive-thru though, it’s best to stick with healthier treats. For instance, bananas are rich in potassium, which is essential for lowering blood pressure. Foods high in carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin, the brain chemicals that help induce calm and happiness. You’re aiming for a small snack because a full meal could make it harder to fall or stay asleep. Also, chomping on crunchy foods, like carrots or an apple, is also a great way to relieve tension ... and much easier on your teeth than a clenched jaw.
8. Turn It Up
Music, they say, soothes the savage beast. In fact, recent studies have shown that music can do everything from slow heart rate to increase endorphins. So when your mind is racing and you’re feeling agitated, turn on the radio. Whether you like heavy metal or smooth jazz, music is a great way to clear your thoughts and relax. If you’re looking for calm, some recommendations include Bach’s Air on the G-String, Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony, Chopin’s Nocturne in G, Handel’s Water Music, or pianist George Winston’s CDs Autumn or December.
9. Switch to Decaf
While caffeine can have some very real health benefits (see our February 2016 issue), it can also compound the effects of stress on the body. Cortisol is the hormone our bodies release when stressed, and its release can be triggered by caffeine. In high doses, cortisol inhibits brain function, slows metabolism, breaks down muscle, and increases blood pressure, but it’s also the reason caffeine gives you a jolt. If you’re a “lightweight” and prone to the jitters after a few cups of coffee, it’s best to stick with decaf during stressful periods—and avoid caffeinated beverages late in the day. Herbal tea has also been found to be beneficial to reduce stress, and some manufacturers have varieties specially marketed as such.
10. Learn to Say No
Overburdening yourself is guaranteed to contribute to your stress and can negatively impact your quality of life. Learn to say no without feeling guilty. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you cannot possibly accommodate everyone. Overcommitting—and underdelivering—is among the very worst business practices. Avoid it altogether by delegating responsibility to your staff, or just say no.
11. Think Positively
Many studies have indicated that optimism or pessimism can affect your quality of life. Being optimistic enables you to cope better with stressful situations, and therefore, reduces the effects of stress on your body. Try and have a “glass-half-full” attitude toward life, and you will often find that stressful situations become fewer and fewer. [CD0516]