Copyright 2006 Karin Vibe Rheymer Stewart
Stress in small doses, and linked to positive events, helps you be more productive, active and happier. However, when stress reaches a certain level, it starts to have adverse effects. Adrenalin floods the body, breathing becomes shallower, your thoughts become less clear – everything is framed in terms of fight-or-flight responses. If this state persists for extended periods of time, irreversible physical damage starts to happen in your body – including the brain.
Some sources of stress you can avoid, but many you unfortunately can’t. However, you can make sure that you regularly and actively reduce your stress level, so that you don’t suffer its adverse consequences.
The first key to stress management is good sleep. Yes, it does make a difference: If you sleep enough, you will be able to better handle things that come your way, and your stress response will be muted. So make sleep one of your priorities, and avoid late nights at work as much as possible.
The second key is to weekly make an appointment with yourself for at least a couple hours a week, devoted to relaxation. It can be going to the gym, practicing a sport you love, getting a massage (on this subject, see this month’s spotlight), sit down and read an entertaining book, do some knitting, whatever works for you. The key is that this is an activity that you enjoy, that you practice on your own (i.e. no co-workers to talk business while having a tennis game, no children interrupting you while you are reading your book, etc.) and that makes you feel refreshed once you’re done.
The third key is to make sure to have mini de-stressing sessions throughout the day. It can be as easy as taking a few minutes to breathe deeply; stand up and do a few stretching moves; get out and walk around the block; or use some of the de-stressing tools on the market (see This Month’s Product for examples). Ideally, experts recommend to take a 3-to-5-minute break every hour. It is especially important if you spend most of the day at a desk, and your body is stressed by the mere fact of not being able to move freely for hours in a row. I am in no way, shape or form a proponent of smoking (I don’t smoke, don’t like the smell of smoke, and definitely don’t want you to suffer the side-effects and consequences of smoking), but the cigarette breaks were good in the sense that they provided those necessary breaks both body and mind. So introduce your own non-smoking breaks in your day!
Now is your time to plan: Open your calendar, and figure out when you can include an hour or two of relaxation time in your week, every week until the end of the year. Then ask yourself the following questions: How will you organize your breaks during the day? When can you take a 10-minute break? Which relaxation exercises do you want to focus on?