In an article titled “He Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins?", I discussed stress and how a Japanese company has developed a sleep chair in order to help sleep-deprived citizens get more shut-eye, and thus reduce their stress. Over the last 6 years, I’ve spent some time studying nutrition, changed my diet, and looked at the effects of stress on the body. In particular, over this time I became interested in how increased stress levels can bring on disease. Stress is like an open invitation (or an open party, as we called it in high school) for disease to come in and take up residence. When we’re healthy, our bodies fight off all kinds of disease, such as cancerous cells, every day. When our defenses are down, it’s more difficult for our bodies to fight these things off.
While my change in diet and stress level is still far from what I want it to be (I still have a sweet tooth, for example), I know that I have accomplished a lot. It is very complimentary when women who are 10 to 15 years younger than I am want to know what my secret is for staying healthy and looking closer to their age than “actual. " Several women at one of my client’s offices have even begun to change their diet based on what they have seen me do.
While we can change the food we choose to put into our bodies, stress often comes to us from the outside and unexpectedly. Because of this, we need to recognize what creates stress for us, figure out what we can do to lessen the amount of stressful situations coming at us, and consider adding to our “to do list" the types of activities that we find lessen the load of the stress.
As I was writing this, an example of a poor way to handle stress came to mind. It involves a fictional teacher at a Catholic school whose class was not paying attention. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but this example comes
from a Cheech and Chong recording called, “Sister Mary Elephant" (or about her, anyway) from the early 1970’s. In this piece, the Sister’s class was talking quite loudly. She wanted their attention. So in a regular speaking voice, she said, “Class. " (No response. ) Then a little louder, “Class!" (No response. ) Once more, a little louder, “Class!" (Again, no response. ) Then in a loud, screaming voice, “Shut up!!!" The class quieted down.
Then it was time to check Sister M. E. ’s blood pressure and heart rate.
For Sister Mary Elephant, her stress level increased from a classroom of noisy kids. (She should have thought about that before deciding to become a teacher. )
What creates stress for you?
- Too much on your schedule
- When people work against you
- Financial pressures
- Too many problems to solve and not enough answers
- Looming deadlines
- Work of a complexity that you are not ready to deal with right now
- Boring work, but it’s the wrong time to look for something different
- Issues with spouse
- Issues with kids
It’s important to recognize the types of situations that increase stress for you, to begin an awareness process so that you can at least notice it and perhaps name it.
What can you do to lessen the number and/or intensity of stressful situations coming at you? This is a subjective question with subjective answers. It will take some time to think through which types of situations call for what types of responses, especially on the front end.
For example, if a stressor for you is “too much on my schedule, " what can you do to reduce the load? "I can’t do anything about it" is not a legitimate response, and this is why: One day your body will make you do something about it. And it will do it with disease or a car accident or some other wake up call.
What types of activities help you to reduce your stress?
When I was writing this article, I was just about to go on vacation to Hawaii. It had been a long time since I actually went out of town for a real vacation. In the few years prior, when I reduced my stress level quite a bit, however, I found that I didn’t really need a vacation. I was able to reduce stress right where I was and could “get away" pretty easily without actually going far away. Still, a vacation is a very legitimate way to reduce stress.
Several people wrote to tell me how they reduce their stress levels, especially in terms of work. Here are some of their thoughts:
- As one task falls off my list, I try not to add another task to the list
- I want less stuff
- I let others help me
- I count my blessings more often
- As I get older I care less about things I once thought were important (life isn't that serious)
- I get up a little earlier in the morning and take about 15 minutes to have coffee or tea (outside, if the weather cooperates) and read a book.
- Fit exercise into my schedule 3 times a week
- Don’t spend much time with people who display their anger destructively rather than constructively
- Spend time with my kids, finding out about their lives
- Spend time playing with my dog or cat
- Watch a funny movie or TV show
- Go fishing
- Go anywhere that is peaceful
What can you do to recognize stress-creators in your life, reduce their number and/or intensity, and add activities that, by their very nature, reduce your stress levels?
© 2005 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.
Glory Borgeson is a business coach and consultant, and the president of Borgeson Consulting, Inc. She works with two groups of people: small business owners (with 500 employees or less) to help them increase their Entrepreneurial IQ, which leads to increased profit and decreased stress; and with executives in the “honeymoon phase" of a new position (typically the first two years) to coach them to success. Top athletes have a coach; why not you?
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