Short Circuiting Stress
December 23, 2010
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For every six minutes you experience a high state of negative stress it takes your immune system six hours to recover. That doesn't stress you out, does it?!
Experiencing a rotten, lousy, no good, stressful day creates a chronic cycle that wears your immune system down, leaving you exhausted, sick and feeling even more stressed. The goal, however, isn't to get rid of stress… our brains are hard-wired for it, and we actually need some stress (called eustress) in order to function. The goal is to short-circuit the negative cycle.
Stress has been around since the first human tried to light a fire and failed, only to have his girlfriend show him how it's done. Telling your brain that "not having enough time in the day" does not equate to "being eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger" doesn't work. Attempting to convince your brain that the wooly mammoth in front of you is really just your boss or your mother-in-law is next to impossible. Your brain doesn't distinguish the difference. You've got better odds teaching your brain that the saber-tooth tiger is actually a house cat and that your mother-in-law really doesn't care that you can't cook.
Seems simple. It is simple, it's just not easy, especially when your mother-in-law sighs every time you look at your cookbook.
Stress starts in the brain and then spreads throughout your body. The part of the brain that processes your emotions also controls your immune system. Ever experience a stressful week and then get a chance to take a few days off only to find yourself nursing a cold while on vacation? Within seventy-two hours of a significantly stressful event your body manifests some type of physiological symptom. It's as if you internally vent on your way home, your brain hears you and empathizes with you, and then gives you a migraine, or acne, or both! Really, your brain was just trying to prove you right, you are stressed, so voila, your body now proves it too!
Twenty percent of the oxygen of every breath you take goes straight to your brain. When we’re stressed, one of the first things that changes in our bodies is our breathing - it gets shallower and we take in less oxygen…so right now, just breathe. Take a deep breath …inhale slowly, exhale slowly and repeat. Your brain thanks you, and, it will think more clearly for you, more rationally, thus preventing you from throwing that cookbook at a certain someone.
The mere thought of the holidays sends some people straight into stressed-out orbit.
The ubiquitous themes of time, not enough of it; money, not enough of that; food, way too much of that; and relationships, pleasing everybody, can cause extra anxiety.
This year, give yourself a present first: the ability to stop the stress cycle early, before it sends you to bed. And while it may seem like a great place to escape your boss and mother-in-law, there are better ways to spend the holidays.
Short Circuit the Stress Cycle
1. Prioritize & Simplify Reducing stress is not about creating balance it's about getting focused. Balance is a myth. Let’s get real - when it comes to life activities there is no such thing as balance, only priorities. If you strive for balance you’ll only add to your stress levels, not reduce them, but if you change your priorities, your focus, you will immediately start reducing your stress and feel more in control of how you utilize your time.
Successfully dealing with life’s pressures, demands, and hassles means you need to appropriately respond and manage the tasks at hand in order of priority. Create a list of what you value and need to accomplish over the next two days. (Don’t forget that YOU should and need to be on that list.) Assign each priority a chunk of time and then live within the parameters of that scheduled list. Follow up that time-framed list with another list of new priorities or re-prioritized activities. Every two days (or week) you can create a new list that outlines and accounts for all your responsibilities.
Simplify 1 thing each day. It may be a priority that you serve your family dinner tonight. It's not a priority that you cook it. You can pick up take-out, or pull something out of the freezer. Choose 1 activity each day and find a way to reduce the time it takes, or the energy it requires of you to complete it.
2. Place yourself in time-out. The purpose of putting a toddler in time-out is to re-set her attitude and improve her behavior. (If only we could use that with our colleagues.) Take some time to be silent and reflective, even if it's just 3-5 minutes. There is scientific proof that doing so can decrease blood pressure, pulse rate, and improve blood circulation. By removing yourself from a stressful environment or giving yourself a moment to biologically shift, you aid your immune system in getting back to healthy. A few deep breaths while you're in time-out is an added bonus.
3. Get a giggle. Laughter reduces your stress hormones and literally changes your body chemistry. Humor releases endorphins and antibody enhancers which aid your immune system. Schedule 30 minutes to watch a funny sitcom or read a humorous book. If 30 minutes just doesn't exist today, then give yourself a five minute giggle and watch a youtube video. There are many short clips of truly funny comedians and silly people who will definitely give you a smile that will last awhile.
4. Put it in perspective. Changing your perspective, your thoughts, is the most effective tool we have for reducing our stress and it’s the least used tool by people when they’re experiencing stress. When stressed out individuals scream, "I don't have five bleep-ity-bleep minutes to watch a YouTube video!" there is one thought, one shift in perspective that helps a lot. "It's only five minutes. Big bleep-ity-bleep deal." There are 10,080 minutes in a week. Take 5 of them, so the other 10,075 minutes are more peaceful, more positive, more meaningful. Typically, upon hearing this news, these frenetic, time-obsessed totally stressed out individuals stop holding their breath and suck in a large volume of oxygen. It's a great start!
The objective isn't to fight circumstances. You're not insane, just stressed. Sane people know that arguing with reality only creates more stress because reality always wins. Let it win, and let it go. The goal is to change your perspective to less painful thoughts. Your boss may still growl and snarl, your mother-in-law may still sigh, but wouldn't it be wonderful if you handed her the spatula and said, "I'm so glad you're great at cooking. Please, by all means, my kitchen is su kitchen." And with that, you have not only changed your perspective, you've simplified your life, and given yourself a thirty minute time-out to go watch that sitcom you've been wanting to watch all week. Life is good.
Founder and Intelligence Activist, AmyK Inc., is a speaker, trainer and business strategist. She is best known for helping business leaders capitalize on how the brain and human perception filters work to help them be more effective in business and their personal lives. Follow AmyK on Twitter @AmyKinc
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