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Stress is a part of being human, especially in the corporate world. Spirit-breaking work is often revered, and constant connectivity can make jobs seem all-consuming.
Though stress is a daily occurrence and can actually be helpful in a number of situations, extreme or prolonged stress can have disastrous effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, exaggerated stress can cause physical and emotional side effects such as fatigue, anxiety and lack of focus that can ultimately decrease performance, both at work and in the home. Constant stress can lead to inflammation in the body, which becomes a risk factor for chronic disease.
Although stress is inevitable, it is important to develop an understanding of your personal stress response to keep it from being deleterious to your health and productivity. Here are six tips to stress less and achieve more this year:
1. Learn to manage your stress. Research has shown that some stress can actually boost productivity. The trick is to learn to understand when your stress is useful and when it is beginning to detract from your performance. Take note of how you are feeling when stress begins to make you lose focus or energy. The next time you begin to feel this way, take a break to let some of the built-up tension dissipate.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are one way to manage your stress. Developing a regular meditation practice can help you recover from stressful situations more quickly and become adept at regulating difficult emotions. If you are new to meditation, I recommend trying several modalities to find a technique that supports you personally.
2. Tune in to your body to understand when stress becomes problematic. Though stress might seem like a mental phenomenon, emotions show up in the body in a number of ways. If you learn to understand how stress manifests in your body, it can make it easier to identify when these emotions are getting in the way of your productivity. Physical symptoms of problematic stress can include headaches, fatigue, sleep difficulties and digestive issues, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you begin to feel these indicators regularly, it is likely a sign that you need to engage in some stress-relieving practices to help you reground, reenergize and refocus.
To help, there might be small adjustments you can make in your personal life, such as avoiding foods and beverages that you find make your stress spiral (like caffeine, alcohol or sugar). Stress triggers a response in your nervous system that tells your brain and body that you are in danger. This apparatus causes your heartbeat to race and your blood pressure to rise, so adding certain substances might stimulate these physiological reactions and increase stress. If you feel this is what you’re experiencing, you can adjust your diet, though you should consult with your doctor when making dietary changes.
3. Evaluate and organize external stressors. Understanding what in your environment is causing your tension can help you manage your stress. Every time you begin to feel stress arise, you can write down what is occurring and whether the response it invokes feels helpful. After about a week of this exercise, review what you wrote down, and try to identify external stressors that you can release or delegate. For situations that you can’t avoid, create an action plan for managing the stress that will likely arise the next time you are in that environment.
4. Allow yourself to wind down at the end of the day to avoid stress build-up. A nightly relaxation routine can help you release the stress from the day and ease you into a deep, rejuvenating sleep. Researchers have found (paywall) that sleep deprivation contributes to a decline in productivity, so even if you’re incredibly busy, it is imperative that you rest throughout the night. A few ideas for practices to incorporate into your bedtime routine include turning off screens about an hour before bed, partaking in a tactile activity such as a puzzle or reading a paper book and practicing gentle yoga or meditation.
5. Schedule in self-care. Self-care isn’t just about taking bubble baths; engaging in nourishing activities can help you increase your productivity and cognitive function. If you find yourself feeling that you don’t have the time or energy to nurture your body, mind and soul, try scheduling time into your calendar. Book your self-care sessions weeks out, and treat the appointment with the same respect as you would a client or employer meeting.
6. Make time for movement breaks. Exercise is said to be a stress reliever, boosting energy and productivity. To leverage the benefits of exercise, make it a point to take short movement breaks throughout the day. Take a walk around the block, practice some light stretching at your desk or duck out for a lunchtime yoga class. You could also try incorporating deep breathing into your movement sessions.
It is impossible to lead a stress-free life, and entrepreneurs and business leaders understand this. However, with a little mindfulness, you can manage your stress in a way that can accelerate your journey toward success.