How to reduce stress? This has off lately become a burning issue with statistics revealing that 3 out of 4 adults are dealing with one or the other form of stress. About 1 in 75 experience panic and anxiety attacks.
What is stress? What causes it? Is there a cure?
Let me take you back to the age-old question of what is cold or what is darkness? Absence of heat is cold. Similarly, absence of light is darkness.
In the same manner absence of mental peace is stress. Read through the series to and understand the simple steps on how to reduce stress.
The productivity paradox:
Surprisingly, there is a law called Yerkes-Dodson Law which depicts a highly logical and correct relationship between stress and productivity.
This is like an upside- down letter U. As stress increases (x-axis), so does productivity (y-axis).But as the stress level reaches the top of the curve or the inflection point (where the upside-down ‘U’ starts to fall down), there is a sharp fall in productivity.
This is best explained by the following scenario.
If you have an hour for the guests to arrive, you are super energetic to get the house in order. You can get the dusting done, order snacks and drinks, arrange books and clothes thrown all over the house.
Now, what if you got to know that the guests arrive in only five minutes. The chances are pretty high that you will run around the house, looking to make a beginning but end up doing nothing.
Most of us are operating on a high-stress zone which is dangerously close to getting us on a downward spiral fall of Yerkes-Dodson curve.
If we learn to shift back and reduce the load on our internal wiring, we would get ourselves back on low stress- high productivity zone.
To do just that, you have to figure out what relaxes you. There is no one formula that fits all. Some prefer taking a long walk, others, listening to music, playing an instrument.
This might sound like adding a burden to your already overloaded schedule. But, remember that you are in here for a marathon and not a short sprint. The only way to avoid burning out is to pull yourself back from the high-stress highway.
Breathe your way out of stress
This is probably the simplest formula on how to reduce stress.
Breathing is the only involuntary bodily function over which we have conscious control. This exception is no accident. It plays a cardinal role in controlling your thoughts, pulling yourself back to yourself and reducing stress levels.
Eastern philosophy has always been preaching breath as a connection between your body, mind, and soul.
Whenever you feel burnt out or draw a blank when looking for a solution, withdraw yourself from all activity and take deep breaths.
Now deep breathing is not just breathing slowly. When you take deep breaths, observe that not just your chest but your belly moves too. Your abdomen must not stay rigid.
Chest muscles cannot inflate the lungs as well as the diaphragm and we end up taking less oxygen than our requirement and lo ! the stress is created.
Practice deep, slow belly breathing coupled by this easy way to meditate.
The best part is that you can do this anyplace, anytime to recharge your gray cells.
Do not operate on just one cylinder
Life is meant to be enjoyed in its full splendor. If we restrict ourselves for the fear of change, we lose out on the chance to enjoy all the different flavors of life.
What if you were asked to eat only cereals for the rest of your life?
Initially, the idea might sound healthy but sooner or later you will get tired of it and that frustration will reflect on other areas of your life.
Do not bind yourself to one idea, routine or lifestyle. If you see something better, go for it. Trying out new things brings new experiences and this has been attributed as a major factor in battling high stress levels.
No wonder our heart starts racing just with the idea of a trip. Our heart seeks change.
Take out time to read a book, have a meaningful conversation with a friend or someone you love, dance, exercise, eat right, sleep well, ask for hugs ( touch has been regarded as an elixir to reduce stress ), and most of all practice Mindfulness.
We are jugglers and not tightrope artist
One of the fundamental approaches on how to reduce stress is to let life unfold at its own pace.
There is a huge false notion to keep everything in our control and that everything that happens should be an act of our own thinking.
We are not tightrope artists to balance every act and reach to our goals.
We are more like jugglers.
Once we accept this idea, we understand that few things will always be in the air and instead of forcing it to keep it under our control, we should keep and eye on its movement and handle the transition with grace and balance.
Every aspect of your life is important. Your family, your career, your happiness and your health. You cannot ignore one over another. It is important to keep an eye on other while working on the current priorities.
Generally you will get signs that will tell you to focus on a particular area.
For example, if your boss has been raising concerns lately, maybe that is a sign to show little more commitment to your work. If your spouse is showing signs of apathy ( or antipathy ..ouch) instead of being empathetic to your needs, then maybe it is a signal to spend more of some quality time.
Most of the times, disasters do not happen overnight and if we are aware of the signs, we can avert the situations in many cases.
For example, you would lose your mind if you gained 20 pounds, or go in a $1000 in debt overnight. But we choose to ignore the daily calories we intake or the debt we incur.
Read the signs and keep juggling to avoid stress.
Respect the Person inside of You
Most of the times we ignore our priorities over others. You stay late in the evening replying to emails, ignoring the fact that you need to eat, stretch and take breaks.
Dr. Joan in her book points out a very relevant point. Would I be doing this to my body if it was inhabited by Buddha, Jesus, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, or our loved ones for that matter.
Take a moment to visualize that your body is a host to the person you love, respect or admire the most.
Would we ask them to skip lunch, burn eyes scanning computer screen, or weaken the body with incessant smoke and alcohol.
Most of us would not think of performing these acts of cruelty to strangers, leave alone our close ones.
Why do we undermine our health, happiness, and priorities?
The more we take care of our needs, the less stressed out we will be. This will enable us to be present(physically and emotionally) for others when in need. You will not be exhausted when you return home and look interested when your kids talk to you.
Every day brings us a choice to practice peace or suffer due to stress. Master the skills that I will be sharing in this series and little by little you will break free from the hold of stress.
For further reading, you can glance over WikiHow material
Part 2 is coming soon.
P.S. – The excerpts and facts have been taken from the amazing book by Joan Z. Borysenko, Ph.D. – Inner Peace for Busy People