For many people around the world September 1 is the reminder that a new school year is almost upon us. With that comes the morning scramble to get kids out the door fully-prepped with lunches, school supplies and matching shoes.
My shoulders still tense at the memory of those busy mornings when my stepson was little and we juggled bathroom time, clean clothes, safe school snacks and a good breakfast before heading out to school and work. I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time but I began most mornings with a tension throughout my body that caused me to take short, shallow breaths and created a crease between my eyebrows that no amount of wrinkle cream can erase. My commute and work day were continuations of my stressful morning and day after day I couldn’t seem to get out from under this overwhelming pressure. Like most people, I was living with stress.
Eventually, the stress became too much for my body to handle and it lashed out. I lost a lot of weight, and hair, couldn’t sleep through the night or focus at work, developed IBS-type symptoms. All indicators of a body living with stress.
Anyone who’s seen the public service announcements knows that Stress Kills.
So, as we head into a new school year, or new work season, it is imperative for our mental and physical well-being that we learn to manage our stress. I don’t know anyone who leads a completely stress-free life, but there are definitely ways to minimize its effects on our body. Here are a couple of discrete things you can do throughout the day while sitting at your desk.
Breathe. As deeply as your lungs will let you. Do this right now three or four times.
Drop your shoulders. Pull them down toward the ground and rotate them in circles a few times, clockwise then counter clockwise. Women especially tend to carry most of their tension across the top of their shoulders, as if we are carrying the whole world. We’re not. So just let that weight slide off the edge of your shoulders.
Bend. If you prefer to do your exercises with some privacy find a quiet spot and add to the above by bending forward at the waist and hanging with the weight of your arms pulling you down toward the ground. Don’t bounce. Hang there for a count of 30. Slowly roll yourself up into standing position and with a slight, slow twisting motion continue to stretch your back muscles by swinging your arms in front and behind you gradually increasing the twist. Continue to take deep breaths while you exercise.
If you’re concerned about attempting any of these activities, speak to your doctor first, and do not attempt if you already have a bad back.
If you find yourself forgetting to take breaks throughout the day to do these activities, try setting a reminder on your computer or phone that goes off every couple of hours.
These are obviously physical activities you should do to alleviate stress in your body, but there are more important techniques that will take a great amount of courage and confidence to implement. You must learn to actually decrease or eliminate the things in your life that cause you stress. Two critical ones that many of us find difficult to do are:
Saying no. Chances are you take on a lot of things at home and work that you don’t need to. It’s natural for us to want to be able to do it all for everyone, but it is unrealistic. Do you really need to attend every single office meeting, or show the new person around? Do you really need to bake a batch of cookies for the entire class, or take five other kids to soccer practice? You really don’t. So just say no, firmly but graciously, when you find yourself faced with these types of nice-to-do, but unnecessary requests. Just say no.
Delegating. Just like saying no, delegating can free up your time and sanity. We do not need to do it all and if we want people to ever be self-sufficient (and we do want people to be self-sufficient) then we need to delegate to others. Your co-worker is capable of learning to maintain that tricky metrics spreadsheet and researching company intelligence. Your six-year-old can gather their dirty laundry and lunch items, put dishes in the dishwasher, and feed the dog. It will take a few gentle reminders, without you taking over and doing it yourself, but many of your regular tasks can and should be delegated.
I know these sound counter-intuitive for time-stretched individuals, but other habits you can build to minimize stress include:
- Getting enough sleep every night. Do not watch TV or poke around on your laptop or phone for at least 45 minutes before hitting the sack.
- Reducing caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.
- Eating well-balanced meals.
- Walking your dog. I mean really walking your dog. It will benefit the both of you.
- Exercising or meditating regularly.
- Establishing a past-time just for you such as reading, writing, doing crafts, learning a language or instrument, or taking up a sport (and not feeling guilty about it!)
Remember that stress can build in our children just as easily as it builds in us. Look for signs of stress in them and teach them to manage or eliminate it. Don’t overload their schedules or try to manage every hour of their day. Just like adults, kids need their own guilt-free down-time to be creative, play, or even help out around the house in an unpressured environment.
As always, I am available to work with you to help build healthy habits. To find out how, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation.
When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed again take a good, deep breath. Then follow it up with another.