According to the American Psychological Association we are more stressed as a nation than we’ve been in a very long time. When we call ourselves stressed it’s because we are feeling something different than when we are relaxed and calm. Those feelings are physiological changes that occur when we are stressed. These physiological changes overtime are very taxing on the body and chronic stress can lead to serious disease. Chronic stress also leads to weight gain. It’s important to begin to reduce stress in your life and to enhance your capacity for handling stressors that are part of life.
When we feel stressed we tap into our emergency response system even if there really isn’t an emergency; which is most of the time. Initially, stress hormones like cortisol flood the body. When stressed our blood pressure increases, rate of respiration increases, blood is shunted to the major muscle groups, white blood cells mobilize to fight possible infection, and energy sources are readied. Brain activity also increases. That’s a lot of activity! Quick bursts of stress called eustress can be helpful when finishing a project on a deadline or running a road race. But for many of us, stress becomes a new normal; it’s part of our everyday lives.
So, what could our bodies be doing if it weren’t doing all of these other stress-related things? When relaxed, our bodies are basically in a maintenance mode. In this state, the mind is calm and clear, and the body is in the mode of healing and growth. Tension releases from the body and regeneration, digestion, and restoration can take place. Our mind is calm, too, and this is when our best thinking and learning take place.
Importantly stress, like any emotion, is passed off to everyone with whom you interact. Stress is a contagion. So, if you’re physically heightened in this way, you are giving bits of that to everyone you interact with in your day. When we are happy others get a boost. When we are sad others feel that weight of sadness. And when you allow yourself to be stressed, you pass off a little of your stress to others to. In this way taking measures to increase your capacity to handle what comes, and learning how to react less to stressors in your life, is a service to others.
We take measures to manage our levels of stress for ourselves and others.
Here are 5 ways to get a handle on your stress:
1. Do something Active
Asian medicine would offer as a remedy to a mental issue by doing something physical. So, if you are feeling very stressed, burn off the stress in a high-intensity class, HITT training, cycle class, or power yoga class. The concentration required takes your mind off the day and shifts it onto something that’s good for you. The endorphin rush experienced from a high-intensity form of exercise alone may replace the stress sensations. Even a brisk walk outside in the fresh air, can shift your mindset because the heart begins to work a little, the breath becomes fuller, and you begin to feel more relaxed. I talk about how to cultivate a habit of moving the body in this post .
2. Center Your Mind
This exercise improves in effectiveness with practice overtime. Sit at your desk with your spine tall, close your eyes, and breathe very deeply in and out for ten minutes if you can. Try to focus on the breath and maintain a passive attitude where you aren’t judging what you are doing. Allow the breath to become more normalized naturally. You should start to feel more relaxed after 3–5 minutes as the relaxation response kicks in and then your breathing can also become calmer and less intentional. Incorporating a centering practice into your workday every day is a great way to foster a calmer mind, more often. This works cumulatively, as does meditation and a regular yoga movement practice. The more consistently that you do things like centering, meditating, or practicing yoga poses, the calmer you will feel overall. So, center your mind at work every day and watch your feelings of stress fade while the mind becomes more focused and clear.
3. Enhance Your Self-awareness
Begin by looking at your life overall. Inventory those things that make you feel stressed or heightened and take the time to try to figure out why. Not everyone becomes stressed by the same things. This is a self-awareness practice and is a way to begin to regain control of your mind and emotions and address gaps in your EQ or emotional intelligence as well. I discuss emotional control further in this post .
4. Reduce distraction
I like to associate reducing distraction with what is called pratyahara in yoga. If we are too distracted we can’t concentrate or focus, compromising our ability to practice sound judgment. We can reduce distraction in very simple ways. But think of this as an all-day effort. Try to reduce stimulation in your professional life and in your personal life. Offer your mind more quiet, calm, space, and silence in your days and reduce inputs that are stimulating, heightening, distracting, and loud. Here are some ideas:
- Turn off the radio in the car.
- Listen to calming music.
- Watch non-stimulating television shows.
- Read and listen to less news.
- Read inspiring or uplifting material.
- Turn off the extra sounds and chimes from your various devices.
- Turn off notifications from your devices.
All efforts at reducing distraction cumulatively help us to be present and centered in our lives.
5. Change your speech.
Give the word stress a break. I stopped saying “I’m stressed” awhile ago and now even try not to say “I’m busy”. I did this initially because I could tell that it made my Father feel like I didn’t have time to speak with him on the phone. I could tell it hurt him some and in turn it did not feel good to me. Now I try to say my life is full.
Try substituting the word full for the times you would call yourself stressedor busy. This simple word change lightens that negative and heavy association that we have with stress in our lives. And it begins to make you in that moment consider what stress actually means to you. By saying full you may even shift your perspective in a more positive direction. You may begin to realize that parts of this full life make you happier than you would be if your life were emptier.
Inspiring leaders have great habits of health and wellbeing. They invest in their success by investing in themselves. Serving as a great example every day is the best service we can offer the world.
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Tarra Mitchell is incorporating her distinctive background in business and yoga to contribute to the great conversation around leadership and consciousness. Her upcoming book, The Yoga of Leadership, shows how personal wellbeing is connected to success to inspire and empower leaders to lead healthier, happier lives, and better connect with and engage their teams.
Watch Tarra’s author video below to learn more about The Yoga of Leadership.