How many articles on stress relief have you read? It’s OK to admit, since even if you’ve not tried to read any it’s impossible to pick up a printed news source of any kind without hearing the latest “best” way to deal with it and/or prevent it in the first place and how ultimately it will kill us – along with all the stats and studies supporting the latest assertions.
No matter where you turn, there are plenty of people willing to dispense advice – everyone from me to psychologists to hairdressers to journalists to bartenders to rock climbers living in their vans to self-professed yogis living in their parents’ basement. And while I strongly believe we all have things to learn from each other – regardless of education, emotional maturity, circumstance or relative sanity – I do tire of the same boring messages. Besides, despite what all of the learned people will tell you, dealing with stress productively is a long time in the making and is not to be rushed through a few yoga classes or meditation (even if those may help).
Nonetheless, opting to shift the paradigm in which we think about stress, rather than only adopting techniques for dealing with it, will make a real, tangible difference in your life. Start with number 1 on the list below, and as you are working on that, don’t forget to use your favorite techniques – yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc. – to help assuage the unpleasantness and get you through. I’ve given you my two favorites in numbers 2 and 3 below.
1. Change your perspective on stress
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, gives us new advice on stress that has greater power to change our lives than any other we’ve heard. Seriously, and I highly recommend you watch her 14-minute video because your life is worth 14 minutes. If not, please take a few seconds to read this: Changing how we think about stress and understanding that stress is in fact your body’s ability to protect itself can in fact protect you from the dangerous affects of stress. That is, simply acknowledging and believing the stress you are experiencing is in fact your body’s ability to “rise to the challenge” will help you physiologically achieve a result similar to that experienced in moments of joy and courage; your heart may still be pounding and you may experience other physiological stress responses but your blood vessels will stay relaxed. Believing that stress is “bad” results in constricted blood vessels (and a chronic state of stress that may result is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease). Dr McGonigal suggests this could be the “difference between a heart attack at 50 and living well into our 90s.” And it doesn’t even require you to do any exercise. Imagine that.
Watch the video.
Of course, any paradigm shift will take some practice. One can’t just pronounce that “Henceforth I’m going to switch my X thinking to Y thinking.” Rather, the next time you experience stress, your reaction will likely be what it always has been (“OMG, this stress is going to kill me.”) Take a moment to think about this blog post and Kelly’s talk and work on the changed thinking (and in the meantime use your stress-busting techniques of choice).
When stress is getting to me the last thing I feel like doing is smiling. Naturally, I watch something really, really funny. I know other experts will tell you to “just smile” but come on … when you’re in a pissy mood the likelihood of “making yourself smile” is about nil. Forcing the smile via something you can’t help but laugh at is a better strategy. Laughter is an amazing thing. Even if it is for just a light moment in an otherwise crazy day, it will do wonders for hormonal balance. Here’s something to start you off with:
This classic advice is classic for a reason. Physical activity will lead to the release of the “happy” neurotransmitters we know as endorphins which result in you improving your immune system and feeling euphoric (and releases different sex hormones). It is another way in which to help you combat the negative effects of stress. There is a more complicated question of course which is: Why, if I know it’s good for me, don’t I just do it? A question for another day but in the meantime, help create for yourself a system that heads you in the direction of the door for a walk at lunch or during a stressful day. For example, if you know a meeting is going to be particularly stressful at the office, schedule 20 minutes following it to get a breath of fresh air or do some squats in your office (preferably behind closed doors).
During an Olympic distance triathlon years ago I remember feeling so weighed down by stress. I actually had a decent race and a PB but it could have been so much better. After that race, I simply decided I was not going to be weighed down by stress during a race or even a workout ever again. I’ve stayed true to that promise and it feels great to know that some of the negative stress cloud occasionally following me around will undoubtedly dissipate with some physical exercise (and at the same time probably help you reach fitness or weight loss goals faster).
Get to it.