Remove Drama to Reduce Stress and Increase Energy

“Because we celebrating no more drama in our lives”

 Mary J Blige, Family Affair

I have a confession.  I love drama.

I suppose that isn’t surprising since I have a bachelor’s degree in drama and spent years in various stage productions.  There is nothing quite like the thrill of developing a character and getting caught up in all the story lines as they unfold around you.  It’s a great feeling to be a part of it and part of a group of people creating an imaginary world where problems arise and play out as directed.

It’s a great feeling unless it happens at work.

actorA friend of mine was talking about the dynamics in his office recently.  He works in an office with a small staff, all in relatively close quarters.  These people have worked together for years and know each other pretty well.  Unfortunately from time to time there are some personality issues and these issues tend blossom into fireworks in relatively short periods of time.  It even seems like some of the staff enjoys the drama and feeds the fire to keep people on edge and uncomfortable.

This isn’t an unusual situation.  I have worked in both large and small offices and regardless of size there always seemed to be some sort of Tony Award worthy production going on.  Some people call it office politics but it really comes down to drama.  People who feel threatened tend to create situations to discredit the person who is threatening them.   Then they try to enlist other members of the community.  They create entire story lines that have no basis in reality.  The result is an unhealthy working environment, higher levels of stress, and decreased productivity and job satisfaction.

Drama takes up a lot of time and energy.  Not only in the workplace but in personal arena as well.  Oftentimes people create their own drama in order to avoid dealing with issues that challenge them or make them uncomfortable.  After all, if you are have a major problem demanding your attention or you allow someone else to upset you then you don’t really have the time or energy to focus on what is important to you.  And the truth of the matter is that most drama is our own creation.  It ebbs and flows, and in the long run it only matters if we allow it to.

At one point in my corporate career I was hired to fix a  large dysfunctional accounting department.  I was relatively new to management at that point, but it quickly became clear to me that there were so many factions in this group that is was like being in a corporate version of “Survivor”.   No one was working with a common purpose in mind, nor was anyone working in conjunction with their core values.  So much energy was wasted in the daily soap opera that was office life it was no wonder that the bills weren’t being paid on time.  It wasn’t until they could identify what was important to them about their jobs (not just a paycheck) that they could focus on getting the job done and feeling good about it.  It was not a popular management theory at the time, but it got results.  And I got an efficient department that was actually an enjoyable place to work so it was a double win for me.

Drama is a great indication that someone is not connected to their purpose or working in conjunction with their own values.  This holds true in both personal and professional life.  Coach and author Brendon Burchard states that “people on a path of purpose don’t have time for drama.”   I’ve been part of management teams who lived for drama and also part of teams that got things done.   When I was part of Team Drama I was stressed and exhausted at the end of each day–and not from the work.  It wasn’t until I was able to separate myself from the distractions and focus instead on what I found meaningful about my job that I felt I was successful in my job.  Working with Team Value was exciting and exhilarating.  Recognizing common goals and working in conjunction with complimentary core values made the projects easier to accomplish, the time fly by, and enough energy left at the end of the day to enjoy a personal life.

So I still love drama.  Now I just love watching it, not being in it.  These days I know when drama starts to creep back into my life I am losing sight of my chosen purpose.  I would rather use my energy to create a life filled with things that matter to me than waste that energy caught up in someone else’s story or distracting myself from my own.

After all, this life is not a dress rehearsal.  We don’t get a lot of do-overs, so we should do our best to make this performance count.

Do you let drama sap your energy or do you think the best place for drama is on the big or small screen, but not your living room?  I’d love to know what you think.  

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Stress Out or Not–Your Choice

Waiting in LineToday is a beautiful day in the Napa valley.   The sun is out, the rain is over, the air is clean, and we are breaking 70 degrees.  I am in short sleeves for the first time in weeks.  It really is a perfect Northern California January day.   Even during cold spells, which we have had a lot of lately, I always consider myself lucky to live here.  So I was quite surprised to hear people make themselves miserable today.  Perhaps I should explain.

During lunch I ran an errand up to my HMO pharmacy to pick up a couple of prescriptions.  Nothing major, just a regular thing for me.  I had re-ordered them online, and had gotten a call that they were ready so it seemed like a good idea to pick them up.  When I got there, after waiting in line to get to the counter, I found out that only one of the prescriptions had been filled.  No particular reason–it just didn’t get done.  The woman helping me was apologetic and asked if I would like to wait if they could rush it.  Although it was inconvenient, it was just one of those things so I took a seat to wait for my name–again.

I was sitting near the entrance to the pharmacy, so I couldn’t help but hear people as they queued up behind my chair.   As I sat, I was amazed at the reaction as people entered the pharmacy on a Friday afternoon.  The line was actually not too long, maybe ten people at a time.  But as each person came to pick up their prescription it seemed as though they were surprised that anyone else needed to do the same thing that they did.  I heard more than one expletive, and several conversations about how poorly the pharmacy was run.  As these people talked,  they seemed to feed on the negative energy, making the wait balloon into one of worst things that could possibly be happening in their lives.   The rising stress levels in the line were almost palpable.

Now, I have to say that people are not usually at their best when in a pharmacy.  They are probably there because they are ill and less than their best.  However, in today’s world standing in line to buy anything is not really a surprise.  And getting angry about having to do it is neither productive nor healthy.  I couldn’t help but think that this was a classic example of choice and picking your battles.

When we are faced with situations that are unpleasant we have to make a decision.  Can we do something about it, or is the situation out of our control?  And if it is out of our control, how do we choose to react to it?  These are fundamental questions but our world moves at warp speed these days and we don’t always have time to think about them.  The result is a lot of frustration and unnecessary stress.

In this example, the situation is out of our control but we do have a choice in our reaction.  We can wait or we can come back later.  Both are probably inconvenient, but getting angry about the inconvenience will only make us feel worse.  Perhaps a better way of dealing with the situation is to make a choice and take responsibility for it.   Wait or come back–our choice.  Getting angry and blaming the pharmacy, or worse the person behind the counter, will not change anything.  It will only raise blood pressure and most likely put a damper on the rest of the afternoon.   And that doesn’t seem like the best choice to me.

I’m not naive.  I know people are busy, and most are over-scheduled.  But letting situations over which you have no control upset you will do nothing but stress you out unnecessarily.  I know this because  I used to be the first to stress out if I had to wait for something.  I was busy, tired, and certainly didn’t have time to stand around and wait–I had a schedule to keep.  That was several years ago in my corporate life.

Flash forward to now.  I’m still busy (although I sleep better these days so I’m not really tired much), and don’t really have time to wait around for something.  I still have a schedule.  But I have a different perspective now. Indignation caused by inconvenience does no one any good.  I know that I can’t control everything and I take responsibility for my reactions.  By doing so, I still get my prescriptions, although it took a bit longer than expected.  The world did not end because I had to wait.  I also get a beautiful sunny afternoon, smiling conversations with people behind the counter,  and the ability to let the inconvenience go and get on with my day.  Because of it I have a lot more energy, a lot less stress, and a lot more enjoyment of my day.

Seems like the better choice to me.

How do you deal with inconvenience?  Do you let it stress you out or does your reaction let you enjoy your day?   


Are You As Important As Your Work?

Businessman Stretching at WorkThere is no denying that work is a vital part of our lives.  We work to support ourselves and our families, establish a desired lifestyle, and plan for a future.  We spend forty hours a week (at least) on the job, and in today’s economy some of us need more than one job just to make ends meet.  For most of us, work is our main priority and our main focus.  Not only do our occupations support us, many of us use them to define a sense of self.  We strive to do our best at work for the rewards that are important to us.  Some are monetary, some involve status and prestige,  some come from the joy of following our passion.  We give a lot to our jobs, and hopefully they give a lot to us in return.

Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people who put their work above themselves.  It is usually a slow process, starting first with email after work.  Then it is staying an hour or so after closing, or coming in an hour before everyone else.  Lunch hours become a time to catch up on voicemail while scarfing a sandwich, or worse, a burger from that joint on the corner.   There just isn’t time for a healthy meal with all the management deadlines coupled with staff reductions.  Sometimes it is just a desire to move ahead that narrows our focus to occupational tunnel vision.  After all, there will be time to relax after that promotion, or product launch, or once the ad campaign is up and running.

Of course, there is a problem with that whole scenario.  As work starts to take over every waking second we tend to lose ourselves.  As the job takes more and more time and energy, there is less and less to devote to our personal health and well-being.  We  don’t get enough sleep,  we don’t eat properly, and exercise goes out the window.  There is little time to pursue leisure or spiritual activities. Self improvement or personal development goals fall by the wayside.  Stress levels can’t help but skyrocket, and we eventually compromise our own ability to perform well on the job.

More and more employers today are beginning to realize the overall health of their company  is tied to the overall health and well-being of their employees.  There are even provisions in the new health care laws in the United States for wellness programs in the workplace.  However, sometimes I think the hardest thing to do is convince the Type-A overachiever of the importance of  personal health and well-being as it relates to job performance.   After all, when you have been putting your job first for years, it is no easy feat to start focusing on yourself as the primary concern.

What are a few ways to treat yourself with the same respect you show to your work?  One of the most basic but most important things you can do is to reframe the way you view the relationship between your health and your job. You cannot separate the two; they are intertwined.  If you are in poor health, there is no way you can perform to desired standards.  Realize that focusing on your own health is not selfish–it is vital to success in life, both personally and professionally.

Make time to exercise.   Take a walk at lunch, or take the stairs.  Park in the farthest stall from the building, or get off one subway stop before you usually do.  There are lots of ways to incorporate movement into your day.  It doesn’t have to involve changing clothes or going to a gym.  Even taking a couple of minutes a few times a day to stretch is a great way to tone your body and reduce stress.

Take a lunch–literally.  Bringing your own lunch gives you control of what you eat, and helps reduce the chances of hitting the vending machines or eating nothing at all.  I know people who fall into both categories,  and both camps have trouble functioning in the afternoon.   And when you take a lunch–take it away from your desk.  Eating at the desk does nothing to promote a sense of downtime.  By leaving your work area and removing distractions such as phone and email, you will be able to recharge more easily for the rest of the day.

Establish boundaries.  Just as you do not bring your personal life to work, do not bring your work life to your home.  Leave email at work.  Since that may not be possible in today’s economy, set a time that you will stop reading and responding to it.  Let coworkers know what that cutoff time is, and not to expect a response until the next day  if they haven’t heard by the cutoff.

Make time for  family and friends.  Maintaining a support network takes effort, but it is one the best tools for dealing with stress.

For mental conditioning, spend ten minutes a day in silence.  Use the time for meditation, prayer, or reflection–but be quiet.  Turn down the noise in your head and around you, turn inward for a few minutes, and be still.  You’ll be amazed at how much more energy and concentration comes out the other side.

Work is important, no question.  But if doing your best at work is really important to you, than it is crucial that you give your own health equal time.  Even if you love your work and can’t imagine a life without it,  you won’t receive the full benefit if you are not contributing at full capacity.   Take your health as seriously as you take your job.  Both are important, but if you neglect the former, at some point you may lose the latter.   And that, in a nutshell, is why you as a person are more important than your work.

So how about you?  I would love to hear how you focus on your health and keep the demands of your work in perspective.  

 

 

 


Stress and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sunflower 1It is one of the founding principles of the United States.  We are entitled to the pursuit of happiness.  It is what we are put on this earth to do.  And if it is a right, it should be a pretty easy thing to do, right?  Define happiness,  get set, pursue, achieve.  Simple.

So why do so many people in today’s society feel like they are on a never-ending chase to find that elusive state?  And we all know that when we don’t seem to be able to achieve a goal, we find frustration and stress instead.   The harder we try to be happy, the harder it is to be happy.  Just when we figure out what will get us there, someone moves the finish line.  What we thought would be the end of the race turns out to be only another hurdle.

Finding happiness is important.  Why?  Because on a basic level, we equate happiness with well-being.  If we are to live a full and optimal life, we need to be happy.   We need to enjoy life and find the things that contribute to our happiness.   We need to be active in pursing happiness.

There is only one little fundamental flaw in this theory.  Most of us are pursing the wrong things.   Somewhere in our personal development, we decided what was important to each of us.  Subconsciously we designed a matrix that determined how we could be happy and what would be necessary to achieve it.  Sometimes we modeled that on early environmental factors, such as a stable home life.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  There was no stable home life and there was unhappiness.  Therefore, a stable home would be a requirement for happiness.

Many people equate financial success with happiness.  After all, we are bombarded with media images of wealthy, successful people all the time–and they certainly look happy.  Wealthy people don’t worry about money, so they have to be happy.  The goal becomes to have enough money to not have to worry about it ( which in itself is not possible, but that’s a different subject).  Of course, the problem here is deciding when enough is enough.   The reality is that when you allow money to determine happiness, you will almost always feel that there is never enough.  Kind of a self-defeating cycle.

The bad news for those of us who are goal-oriented, Type-A driven personalities,  is that we should stop the pursuit.  It is one of the hardest things to do–especially when we find value in action–but we have to stop taking the easy way out.

Here’s the issue.  It is much easier to assign responsibility to external factors as a basis for creating happiness.  We pursue these conditions, or goals, in hopes that they will make us happy.  A good relationship, a better job,  a bigger house.   It seems that we have been conditioned to believe that things, or conditions, will make us happy.  It is much more difficult, and more frightening, to accept responsibility for our own happiness.

The truth is that each of us has the ability to be happy at any given time.   If you think about a time when you considered yourself happy, you probably weren’t actually thinking about being happy.  You simply were.  You were in the moment, and that moment was all that mattered.  The problem is that most of us don’t realize those moments matter.

There was a time I was walking my dogs (I have four, so walking them is no easy feat),  and  in spite of the tugging on the leashes or whatever problems, I was incredibly happy.  There was nothing special about the day but for some reason  I was actually aware of what I was doing, not just performing a task on autopilot.  I was completely in moment and it was a very peaceful, happy experience.   In the midst of a not-so-particularly great day I was happy.   When I stopped looking for it, I discovered happiness was there if I wanted it.

This is not to say that pursuing goals is a bad thing.  Far from it.  However, using the completion of a goal as a benchmark for happiness is an exercise in futility.  There will always be another goal, so if you attach your ideal of happiness to attaining a goal, you will set yourself up for an endless search.  And that search only leads to stress and dissatisfaction.  So create goals, but create them for the sake improving your situation, not for the expectation of how that achievement will make you feel.   How you feel about any situation at any time is completely up to you.   Enjoying a sense of satisfaction due to an achievement is not the same as expecting an achievement to satisfy you.   A subtle difference, but an important one.

We do have the right to be happy and to thrive to the best of our abilities in whatever environment we find ourselves.  Once we accept that we don’t have to search for happiness–that happiness can already be an integral part of our world if we just allow it– interesting things happen.  Stress levels drop, we have more energy to put toward positive pursuits,we find a sense of peace, and our health can actually improve.   Now that certainly seems like something worth pursuing.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


Compassion, Judgment, and Stress

Sometimes when we are going through difficult times, we can feel very isolated.  It seems that we experience some problems alone, that know no one would really understand our situation.  Rather than reach out for help, whether it is  for advise, an ear or just an understanding shoulder, we decide to go it alone and work things out by ourselves.   And while the strong silent type may be a good thing in the movies, it is almost always a disaster for well being.

One of the ways to avoid stress during difficult times is to turn to a community.  It can be a community of one–your partner, your spouse, a best friend.  It can be a community of several–colleagues,  friends, or family.  With support, it is easier to face any situation especially when you realize you are not alone.  Sometimes, however,  reaching out for help can be difficult.  Just talking about problems can look like a sign of weakness, and in today’s competitive world,  weakness is not a characteristic we want to share with others.

One of the ways some people protect themselves during stressful periods is by being judgmental.  It can be a judgment of the self, but usually it is a judgment about others in the situation.   We may decide that someone is not working hard enough, that they are lazy.  Possibly they don’t have the self-control needed to accomplish a task at work.  Whatever it may be, when we decide that someone is a certain way, it is a judgment.

And nine times out of ten, that judgment may be incorrect, but it makes us feel better.  Judgment is really a defensive behavior.  Oftentimes, our judgments are made without any real information about the other person.  We may think someone is lazy, not doing their part at work.  We don’t know that they have spent the week caring for a chronically ill parent or child.   So many times it is easier just to make the judgment rather than make the effort to discover what might be affecting someone else.    It can also prevent us from examining how we feel about ourselves in certain situations.   After all, we often see in others the characteristics that frighten us most about ourselves.

The one thing judgmental behavior is certain to do is cut us off from others.  By its very nature,  judgmental behavior is divisive.   It is very difficult to feel connected when you are focusing on differences rather than similarities.  And when we focus on the differences, we tend to keep people at arm’s length.  This increases any isolation we may be feeling, and thus a cycle of judgment and isolation continues to deepen.

It is not until we make a conscious decision to alter judgmental behavior that we will be able to break the cycle  and feel less disconnected from others.

In today’s society, it seems that one of  the  hardest things we can do is to have compassion for others.  The idea is at the core of most of the world’s social and religious ideologies, but practicing the concept on a daily basis can sometimes feel like an impossible task.   After all, the jerk that just cut you off and took your parking place has made you late for a meeting.  How, or more importantly why, should you feel compassion for him?   Isn’t anger and irritation( not to mention possible hand gestures)  a more appropriate response?

Here’s the deal.  Getting angry or irritated is just going to raise your stress levels.  True, he may have made you late, but you have no idea what happened to him before your paths connected.  It may not seem like a very assertive response, the kind that is highly regarded today.  A healthier response, however, would be to wish him well and move on.   Not only is it not assertive, it is not easy.  But is getting angry, judging him, and creating a divide between you  a better use of energy?  My guess on that would be no.  A better use of energy would be finding a new parking space and getting to the meeting with as little drama as possible.  The second option will leave you less stressed and more effective when you do arrive.

Practicing compassion is a way to feel more connected to the world around us rather than isolating ourselves with judgments.  Once we finally  understand and believe that we are all in this together, tough times can get easier.  Acute situations are easier to accept, because we aren’t wasting energy looking for somewhere or someone to place blame.  New ways to deal with episodic or chronic stress might become apparent.  Compassion allows us to look at all the players and the situation in a non-judgmental way.   When we can do that,  we can expend energy looking for solutions to issues and problems.  Or better yet,  acting with compassion can prevent problems from arising in the first place.

And that is truly a much more positive use of time and personal resources.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


Recognizing and Reacting to Stress

This may seem like an odd thing for wellness coach to say, but stress is not necessarily a bad thing.   When described  in the very simplest terms, stress is a psychological or physical reaction to pressure applied to a person from external or internal sources.  While pressure is generally characterized as a bad thing, that isn’t quite the truth here.  That pressure is a good thing, because it shows that you are actually interacting and involved with your life and the world around you.  It is similar to the old saying we hear about having a birthday (usually starting somewhere after 40) that it is better than the alternative.   The best part of experiencing stress comes when you realize that how you react to it is up to you.  It is your responsibility to determine the role stress will play in your life and whether it is to be a positive or a negative partner.

One of the first steps of stress management is to explore the types of stress that we normally experience.  Generally,  stress comes at us from two directions.  It is either internal or external.  External is pretty simple.  Job pressure,  family, friends, pets, finances, aging parents–these are all examples of external stressors.   When you are concerned about the world around you and how it affects you and the people you care about, you will experience some level of stress.  Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  This shows that you are alive and connected with a community.

Internal stress can seem a little less clear.  After all, why would we intentionally stress ourselves out?  This is a question of reality matching ideals.  We all have a vision of how we would like our lives to be.  A certain level of comfort, perhaps, or financial security.  A  deep, loving relationship with the perfect soulmate.  A home that is the ideal nest for a new family.  All of these are examples of ideas of how we might want our lives to look.  They are things we strive for, consciously or unconsciously.  When the reality of what we experience on a daily basis doesn’t match up to what we would like to have or be, stress enters the picture.

The next piece of the puzzle is to figure out how often and for how long something stresses you out.

Acute stress is triggered by a major life change.  Job loss, divorce, death of a loved one will knock the wind out of us.  Even something like an argument with a spouse or a fender bender can play havoc with our equilibrium.  Obviously, these are examples across a broad spectrum, but how we deal with them will affect us until we can accept, understand, and integrate them into our lives.

Sometimes it isn’t just one thing that sets our world on edge.  Sometimes it is a cascade of small events, each one in itself not seeming like that big a deal.  It isn’t until they keep coming at you, and at you, that you feel you can’t catch a break.  This is known as episodic stress, and is generally seen as a series of events that weaken your ability to cope successfully and live an optimal life.  One of the worst things about this type of stress is that it usually starts small, sometimes before we even notice.  While we can’t miss being laid off as a stressor,  not making it home for dinner with your partner might not rank on the same scale.  But when you miss the bus the next day, or it rains when you weren’t expecting it, or you somehow get overage charges on your unlimited minute plan, you might be starting down a road that becomes harder and harder to navigate.

The third type of stress can be deadly.  Chronic stress is triggered by an event or situation that does not improve for a long period of time.   Having an overwhelming boss, or caring for ill and aging parents are not things that you can easily change.  These are situations where, for the most part, we are in it for the long haul.  It may not be easy to get a new job in this economy.  We certainly wouldn’t turn our parents out into the street simply because it is inconvenient to care for them.

Chronic stress can be the most difficult type to deal with,  and is often the type that requires a village.    I know many people who are care-givers to parents or spouses who feel they can deal with the situation on their own and get through it.  Yet they don’t see the awful changes taking place in their own health as they attempt to cope with the daily demands of care-giving.  The truth is, once you realize you don’t have to face an overwhelming situation alone, that it doesn’t make you less capable, then you are one step closer to managing a stressful condition successfully.

Finally, there is actually a good type of stress.  Eustress is a term for stress that motivates people to strive for their potential.  Eustress causes people to create art or inventions, to improve  and enhance the world around them.  Learning how to channel this type of stress can help someone create a life of fulfillment by  turning this pressure into a creative tool.

So with all the different kinds of stress bombarding us on a daily basis, how can we possibly begin to even think about managing it?  Awareness is the key.  Stop to think what is stressing you out.  How is affecting you?  How long has it been lasting?  Is there something you can change about the situation?  Or possibly with the way you react to the situation if the situation itself is out of your control?

Believing we can eliminate stress is naive and actually harmful in the long run.  But when you become aware of what is stressing you and how you are reacting to it, you can begin to mitigate the effects it can have on your physical, mental, and spiritual well being.  You have the ability to create the personal environment you need to thrive.  Some people actually love the pressure of packed schedule, others not so much.

At its core stress management is a personal choice.  But in order for that choice to work in your life, it has to be a thoughtful and informed one.   Once you have that awareness,  you have the first tool necessary to manage stress and create the energized and satisfying life that you deserve.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you focus on your health and reduce your own stress levels?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Know someone who could use this information?  Feel free to pass it on. 


Five Ways to Manage Stress

It is  no surprise that when asked to name the one thing they would most like to change in their workplace, employees almost always put stress levels at the top of the list.  What with downsizing, rightsizing, and endless budget cuts,  the mantra for so many companies these days is “do more with less”.   One of the phrases I often heard in management meetings during my corporate time was “suck it up and get over it.”   Unfortunately, this places an added burden on employees that remain after  layoffs which only increases individual stress levels.  With so much economic uncertainty, not only in the workplace but at home as well, it is no small wonder that most employees are looking for ways to minimize the effects of stress from their jobs.

The interesting thing is that everyone has a different idea of what stress is.  What bothers one person may not affect another at all.  Staff members at the Mayo Clinic define stress as a situation”when the demands placed upon a person exceed his or her capabilities.”   It is actually a good definition of stress since it place the responsibility on both the situation and the individual, not just the individual as do so many other definitions.   Reactions to stress are connected to a myriad of factors.  What bothers someone one day may not be an issue the next.   Lack of sleep, hunger,  the amount of exercise in a day–these are just a few things that  can play a part in a person’s reaction to stress.

The effects of stress are a problem not only for the employee, but the organization as well.   It is estimated that 75 to 90 percent of  all doctor visits are for stress-related conditions.  If stress levels are not addressed, chronic health conditions can develop such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.  Frequent colds are not uncommon for people suffering from chronic stress.  This all plays into a person’s productivity at work, increasing absenteeism and decreasing productivity.   These chronic health conditions have a direct impact on the healthcare costs of an organization and thus the overall profitability of that organization is reduced.  Therefore it seems like it would be in everyone’s best interest to address the stress levels in the workplace and explore ways to minimize the harmful effects of those conditions.

One of the most important things we can do is to set healthy personal boundaries.   With all the technology  flooding the market, we can no longer leave the office at the office.   People are now expected to be available  24/7, especially when the boss seems to live and breathe for their blackberry or iPhone.   Instead of making life easier,  the information age has actually had the opposite effect.  We expect results more quickly and judge ourselves and others if there is a lag time in response to an email or voice mail, even during the weekend.  The new term for this is  cerebral burnout, and is a very real condition.

Personal boundaries are one way to combat the possibility of cerebral burnout.   In today’s world it may not be realistic to think that not responding to emails or texts after the traditional end of the workday is acceptable.  But you can set a boundary as to when you will stop responding.  Let colleagues know that you put your phone away at 8:00 pm and don’t look at again until you start work the next day.  Starting work may be at the breakfast table and not when you hit the office, but  at least your coworkers or bosses will have a clear idea of when they will hear from you.   Not only does this allow you to have downtime without guilt, but  you can also begin to ween yourself off electronic devices in the evenings which will have a positive impact on the quality of sleep. Better sleep patterns contributes to a stronger ability to combat stress, so this is really a two-for-one  win.

Another great way to combat stress is to begin a program of mental training.  Used by athletes to focus on performance, mental training is a type of meditation.  Before you start each day, give yourself five or ten minutes and turn your attention to your breathing.  Think only of your breath as you inhale and exhale.   This will calm the mind, and slow down all that information zinging back and forth in your brain.  When your brain is quieter, it becomes easier to focus during the day, and the result is greater productivity.  Greater productivity naturally means less stress.

My favorite stress release is exercise.  Thirty minutes of cardio on a daily basis will have an unbelievable impact on the ability to cope in stressful situations. Other types of exercise such as yoga or tai chi show equally impressive results.   The benefits of exercise include improved brain function, neuron growth, the release of beta-endorphins, and  lower muscle tension.  It can also increase weight loss, a fact that most people would look at as the number one health benefit.

Speaking of lowering muscle tension–regularly scheduled massages can play a huge role in stress management.  Although many people still consider massage to be a luxury, muscle tension is perhaps the number one symptom of stress.  In addition to being painful, it can even compromise organ function over time.  Regular massage counteracts the effects of stress by decreasing muscle tension and increasing lymphatic drainage.  This helps to remove toxins from the body and allows better functionality.  Aside from that, a massage just feels good.  One note of caution–do not order a deep tissue massage if you are going for your first experience.   Although it may sound great, your muscles may not appreciate that much manipulation.  Try a swedish massage or a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage for your first few treatments.

Make time to socialize–in person.   Social support is crucial in stressful situations, but not if the only support you receive is virtual. Face time ( and not on an iPhone) can help to put things in perspective and give the support you need to get through rough times.  It is so easy to let social connections slide when you are feeling overwhelmed, but that is precisely when real friendship matters the most.  So make it a point to get together with friends on a regular basis.  Schedule lunches, potlucks, or just a coffee date.  Better yet, make it a celebration and visit a spa with friends for an afternoon of bonding and massage.  Stress levels won’t stand a chance!

These are just five ways to combat stress.  When we think of stress, most of us focus on the workplace, but it is important to remember that stress can occur anywhere.  I know retirees with no financial worries who are more stressed-out than my executive friends.  It really is a matter of how you perceive situations and how your body reacts to them.  Of course, you can’t reduce stress levels without trying to increase levels of overall well being, but focusing on stress reduction is a good step in the right direction.

So what do you do to fight stress in the workplace or home front? I would love to hear the unique ways people have found to help them cope with our increasingly demanding world.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you focus on your health and reduce your own stress levels?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.