Feeling Stressed? Learn How to Control It

Submitted by SharpHealth Team on Saturday 9th October 2010
In this article
  • Why is stress so bad, anyway?
  • Dealing with panic attacks.
  • Other ways to keep your stress levels to a minimum.

At one time or another, most of us have had to deal with stressful situations, whether it was a problem with work, family, friends, or just a by-product of a hectic daily routine.

Today, more and more SharpMen are required to balance multiple roles — perhaps the biggest stress-producer of all. Demands on your time can greatly affect your physical and mental health, leading to headaches, stomach problems, and disturbed sleeping patterns.

Need to find a way to relax? No problem. The fact is, stress is nothing more than a reaction to a situation — and reactions can be controlled. Check out these SharpHealth tips for managing that furrowed brow of yours:

Dealing With Immediate Stress

Five different projects just rolled onto your desk — all due yesterday. You feel your pulse begin to rise and your head feels like it’s being compressed like an old car at the wrecking yard.

OK, just relax.

The fact is that when we allow ourselves to experience stress, we actually diminish our ability to be efficient — and may even cause cellular damage. Huh? Consider this: when our bodies feel the pressure associated with stress, we produce a substance called cortisone, also known as "the stress hormone." Originally, cortisone (along with adrenaline) was the substance that allowed early man to flee from animals and similar urgencies. Today, most cortisone is produced by bosses and clients, rather than lions, tigers and bears.

The problem is that the burst of energy associated with the production of cortisone is also highly destructive to long-term concentration — and even more destructive to long-term health. Some physicians believe that consistent cortisone production actually causes us to age faster and lowers our life expectancy.

In other words, although you may feel that stress motivates you to be productive, in fact, the "quick energy" produced by cortisone only makes you less productive over the many hours you’ll have to put in order to finish your tasks. Moreover, the following day, when you’ll need to get your energy level up for the remainder of the work, your body and brain will be that much more fatigued and less productive.

As it turns out, staying calm and plowing through is the better route for your energy level, your work product and your over-all mental and physical health.

So how do you maintain your cool under fire?

Whenever you begin to feel a level of stress that causes you to panic, try to regain control over the situation as follows:

Step One: Stop. Take a second in your cube or office. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

Step Two: Relax. Try to picture a soothing image in your mind. Your last vacation, your last weekend with the guys, anything that will bring down your pulse level. Focus on some detail — the feel of the sun on your face; the sensation of holding a beer in your fist.

Step Three: Calmly focus on the task at hand. Now take a few more deep breaths and visualize yourself breezing through the work you have to do. Imagine that you are moving at super-speed, being efficient and getting your work done in minutes, not hours. Now, go through the steps required to accomplish your tasks, including the people you’ll have to speak to. Take one more deep breath, open your eyes and go to it.

Once you’ve gone through this exercise once, you’ll find that plowing through work becomes that much easier. After a few times, this routine will become second nature — you’ll become a productive, efficient machine.

Dealing With Daily Stress

In addition to those small bursts of stress that send you into panic mode, daily ongoing stress can cause mental and physical cellular damage. In order to manage this type of stress, consider making overall changes to the way you spend your days, the manner in which you handle your work and the people with whom you spend your time. Check out these SharpHealth tips:

Get plenty of sleep. A well-rested body is a body functioning at peak performance. When you don’t get enough sleep, you deprive your brain and body of the ability to "catch up." For this reason, sleep is an important means of controlling stress. With a good night’s worth of rest behind you, your brain will be more able to handle the various crises that arrive throughout the day.

So stressed that you can’t sleep? Try to avoid smoking or heavy meals immediately prior to hitting the sack. For more information on getting your zzzzs, check out Beating Insomnia.

Exercise. Study after study has shown that exercise helps to relieve stress. Regular physical activity encourages the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain relievers), and increases serotonin and norepinephrine — powerful neuro-chemicals that help control mood fluctuations and alleviate insomnia. Is your schedule too busy for a run or the gym? Try adding physical activity to your daily routine. Take the stairs, ride your bike or take a short, brisk walk at lunchtime. You’ll be surprised how far these small steps can go towards managing the stress you feel in between workouts. Moreover, just the simple act of spending time alone and away from work and family will be helpful to organizing your thoughts. Need more tips on easy workouts? Check out the info in Staying Fit While on the Road.

Clear your plate. How much of what you take on is really necessary? Chances are, when you evaluate the various tasks in your charge, many small items can be delegated to coworkers or family. Does commuting time stress you out? Consider pooling dry cleaning pick-ups with your girlfriend, wife or roommate. Too much on your plate at work? Think about who in your office may be more suited to taking over some of your less important tasks.

Spend time with friends. Many SharpMen recount that the time they spend hanging out with their buddies, their dads or their SharpWomen are some of their most relaxing times. Unfortunately, when these same SharpMen are questioned about how often they engage in these pleasurable activities, the time ratios tend to favor work, errands and other less-relaxing activities. Rethink the way you spend evenings and weekends. Make an effort to plan "hang-out" time with friends and family. The fact is, the more time you spend with them, the more relaxed you’ll be during working hours. In addition, the mere fact of having social plans to look forward to will serve as a pleasurable focal point throughout your hectic day.

Don’t worry. When polled about what subjects concern them, it turns out that most SharpMen focus the majority of their concerns on matters over which they have no control. Will this plane crash? Will my dad have a heart attack? Does my boss have it in for me? In reality, there are few things — apart from our own actions — that we have control over. When we spend time worrying over these other matters, we cause ourselves to become less productive and "waste" time that could otherwise be relaxing or more efficient. Got a worry? Do what you need to do to cover your end and forget about the other stuff.

Consider lessons from the Eastern lifestyle. Eastern philosophies are based on the notion that stress — however urgent — can be maintained via many forms of meditation. While revamping your lifestyle to become a yoga-devotee may not be in the cards for you, consider incorporating some of these ideas — quiet time, deep breathing and visualization — for a short period of time each day. Whether you’re "psyching up" at your desk for a few minutes before work or relaxing during your commute, a few daily minutes of "you-time" will help you relax and focus on your over-all goals.

The bottom line is, regardless of how you choose to manage it, feeling stress is a choice we make, not an uncontrollable force. In other words, stress is merely a mental and physical reaction to external stimuli — one every SharpMan can choose to accept or reject.

This article last updated on Saturday 9th October 2010
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