Stress is an inevitable byproduct of modern life, and it is compounded by the fact that most of us have too much to do and too little free time.
Are you getting seven hours of free time a day? According to new research from Direct Line Insurance, seven hours – or six hours 59 minutes to be precise – is the minimum we need for perfect work/life balance. The reality, of course, is a different matter. On average, we tend to only get around four free hours daily due to time pressures at work and home.
Work and free time used to coexist in a state of relative equilibrium up until 1995 – around the time that personal computer use really took off. Since then, the optimal balance between work and play has steadily been deteriorating because of longer work hours, increased accessibility of wireless phone and networks, and the resulting stream of 24/7 demands.
Quite frankly, stress is a killer. It is responsible for 40% of work-related illnesses. A large international study recently found that stress can increase the likelihood of a heart attack by almost 50%. Stress has also been implicated in a host of health problems including back pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, migraine, asthma, digestive problems, infertility and allergies.
Moreover, scientists found that an individual is affected as much by their perception of stress as by the actual levels of stress they experience. In other words, stress triggers the body’s physiological fight or flight response, whether the stress is an actual reality or simply something you think about as bad.
In fact, most of our mental or emotional stress is caused by our resistance to what’s happening or to the situation we’re in. Our bodies interpret resistance as stress.
Since stress is a fact of modern life, it is essential to your health and well-being that you learn how to cope with it effectively. And the first strategy is to adjust your attitude.
Adjust Your Attitude
If you expect life to show up in the way that you want, your day can be filled with frustration and stress.
If, on the other hand, you recognize that you do not have absolute control over what shows up in your day, you can let go of resisting it and focus on a more effective response: you can control your attitude and the way you respond to life.
By shifting your attitude to do what you can with what shows up instead of resisting it, you are letting go of the dissonance that causes stress.
Just think about it: today is the very future you’ve been worried and anxious about. Your future has shown up and you are still here, still breathing! Stressing about it did not change the course of time – it merely added to your levels of annoyance, frustration, worry and fear. Stressing does not change the course of life; it simply makes you unhappy and causes disease.
The way I see it, tomorrow will show up anyway. You can choose to stress and worry about it, or you can choose to trust in a benevolent universe doing what it knows to do. And since stress only hurts you, you might as well choose to trust. When you accept that there is an Intelligence far greater than your own that created life and is still at the center of all that unfolds, you will experience peace of mind instead.
At times, it may appear as if your life is adrift on the stormy seas of life, and there is no land in sight. These are the times when you need to remember that the Universe knows your name. Wherever you may find yourself, you are intimately known – and supported – by your Creator.
The answers may not always show up in the way or at the time you expected – just let go of resisting what shows up and let it guide you to a healthier response. The outcomes may surpass anything you’d imagined!
Once you’ve made this all-important attitude adjustment, there are numerous practical steps you can take to cope with stress. I lump them together in two categoriess: proper self-care and healthy boundaries.
Practice Proper Self-Care
The most common way people cope with stress is by consuming sugar or alcohol. Having an energy drink doesn’t help either – these products are stimulants that ultimately backfire because a stressed body is already hyper-stimulated. Over time, they contribute to adrenal exhaustion or burnout.
Instead, take a break away from your desk when you feel stressed. Move your body – go for a brief walk. Refocus your mind and focus on your breathing. Slow down your breathing; breathe deep into the belly and exhale slowly.
Take care of your body by preparing and enjoying healthy, nutritious meals. Take extra B-vitamins. Have an early night to catch up on sleep.
Call a friend, love your pet or find ways to make you to make you laugh – it is physically impossible for the body to be relaxed and stressed at the same time. A colleague recently told me how he collapsed on the couch after work one night, exhausted from the day’s stress, and started watching Disney cartoons until he’d laughed so much, all the stress drained from his body. His favorite was Donald Duck in Early to Bed – you can watch it on YouTube here.
When you interrupt the body’s physiological response to stress in this way, you prevent it from escalating. Beyond that, you can learn specific relaxation strategies and techniques. You can even take up yoga or go for a massage.
Start by taking small steps: push back against stress by nurturing yourself. Proper self-care or relaxation is not a luxury; it is essential if you want to stay healthy and effective.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Realistically, you may not be able to quit your stressful job cold turkey or move to a desert island to avoid stress. But doing something to cope with stress is clearly better than doing nothing!
Nobody else knows just where your personal limits are, so it is up to you to create healthy boundaries in your life.
Learn to say ‘no.’ Don’t let others guilt you into an onerous commitment that leaves you resentful because you are spread too thin. Say no without guilt, and you will be able to say yes with a happy heart when the right opportunity shows up.
Review your support system. Are too many people draining your energy? Are your friendships providing support and sustenance for both parties? Perhaps it is time to eliminate the frenemies who leave you drained, or to enlarge your circle for more comprehensive support.
After an intense workday, set healthy boundaries by turning off your phone when you finally get to spend time with family. And just as you would schedule a meeting at work, you need to schedule enjoyable activities during your free time.
Take a sabbatical. Friends have learned that I do not respond to email or socialize on Sundays. I fast words – taking a much-needed break to spend time in nature, meditate, garden or even just watch the birds at the feeder. This mini-sabbatical lets me start the workweek with renewed clarity and vigor.
Above all, know that you are not alone. Everyone deals with stress; yet you can learn to cope better by learning skills to adjust your attitude, practice proper self-care and set healthy boundaries.