6 Strategies to Kick Stress to the Curb

This is the time of year when most companies are in the middle of figuring out if they are as profitable as they thought. As efficient. If all the effort in 2014 was worth it on the bottom line. Annual reviews are being drafted, bonuses figured out. The worker bee hamster wheel is in full throttle. Will we have red or black ink on the bottom of that Profit and Loss statement? Kind of stressful and overwhelming.Kick Stress to the Curb

It’s so important to be able to take a break. Touch the pause button. Tough to do in a deadline driven society. There are so many business cultures where the guy who stays the latest or works every weekend is the hero. Burning the midnight oil is a sign of fortitude and admired by the guys in the boardroom. All you have to do is read a book like “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss and you realize that in the long run (or even the short run) being stressed out and overwhelmed is not the end all and be all of life. We all need to make sure we are grabbing a little balance and honestly – Maybe a lot of balance.

Here are some strategies to right the boat and eliminate some of the stress in your life:

1. Exercise. Ugh no. I hate exercise. It’s snowing out. It’s too hot. It’s dark. I’m too tired. It’s raining. I have said all these things. I have come home at the end of a hard day of work and thought “just sit on the couch and watch the news”. But I force myself to go grab my sneakers, dress appropriately (i.e. rain gear, reflector vest or gloves) and head outside. I might dread the first 5 minutes it takes to get myself together but once outside, I am able to flick the switch. I’m not saying I don’t think about the day or start thinking about tomorrow but I’m out in the elements. I’m moving. I have a new perspective. My heart is beating, my brain is being restored and my stress levels melt away. I don’t care what it is. Get moving!

2. Music. Find some calming music. This is not the time to break out some AC/DC or Iron Maiden. According to P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D, there are two criteria for music to be calming, “Tunes slower than your heart rate, and ones that are classical music, appear to be the most effective at soothing stress.” Grab some Mozart or Windham Hill or Snatam Kuar and chill out. You can even take a walk with your ear buds in and kill two birds with one stone. There is a time and place for upbeat music just not when you want to de-stress. Take five minutes at work and pop those earbuds in and chill out. It uses a different part of your brain. You’ll come back to do better thinking. Find your music.

3. Reading. This is not the time to pick up the newspaper which can be stress inducing. Find a book that will bring you pleasure and escape, an adventure for your mind. I read “Gone with the Wind”. No small feat. But completely engrossing. According to the University of Minnesota, “a 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It works better and faster than other relaxation methods.” Personally, I think it’s due to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing from their perspective for a bit. Poor Scarlet and all her trials and tribulations. Suddenly I’m not worried about whether that client calls back. Pick up a book.

4. Meditation. Try just 5 minutes of meditation. I remember getting all wrapped up in doing it “right”. Let go of that. There are not meditation police that are going to come over and correct you. There are recordings, apps and books on the topic. Pick one up and give it a spin. Start slow and work your way up. Don’t go head off to a week long retreat at a Buddhist Temple if you are just getting started. Praying or Yoga can provide the same benefit. Pick what you are most comfortable with and get started. According to the Mayo Clinic, “When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day.” It’s like taking a de-stressor pill in the morning and it time releases throughout the day. Find your breath.

5. Control. It turns out that stress is dictated by our sense of control. So find things that are within your control. Strum a guitar, knit a sweater, paint a water color or write a blog. As Eric Barker wrote for Time Magazine, “Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can substantially decrease your stress level.” Bearing that in mind, reflect on what you are in control of. The time you get up, making lunch, your response to an upset customer. Realizing that you are in control of much more than you might normally think reduces your sense of feeling overwhelmed. Be in control.

6. Boundaries. Set clear boundaries. I leave my cell phone in the kitchen (far away from my bedroom) to charge all night. I don’t answer work emails on the weekend. I try to limit screen time (i.e. television, internet surfing, Netflix, etc.) to two hours a day. We eat dinner at the table with the television off. I try to do creative work early in the day and, as my willpower and concentration evaporates, I will work on more repetitive tasks like paying bills, social networking and returning emails in the afternoon. The world is constantly bombarding you for attention, set up some boundaries.

I have to say that having an empty nest has really helped my stress levels. No running out to school to drop off a book report or finding out about a last minute wrestling meet some two hours away. It might also be that I realize now that I am in control of my response to something that might be perceived as stressful. Take back control.

Being in the Moment. What my Dog Taught me About Presence.

If you listen to the book, The Obstacle Is the Way, on Audible there is an interview between the author, Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss, author of 4-hour Workweek at the end of the recording. It is a fascinating interview and at one point Tim asks Ryan what he is grateful for. Ryan responds, his dog because he helps keep him present. I immediately connected. My dog, Baci, is the most joyful, present being I know and I absolutely learn from her every day. What My Dog Taught Me About Presence.

Baci is a 6 year old Brittany who we have owned since she was 2 months old. Outside of being a pain to get house broken (I think it took almost 2 years), she is the best dog I have ever owned. I think she’s had an influence on our entire family, as she shares her joy and love unabashedly. So if one dog can change the culture of a house, imagine what you could do if you could adopt some her greatest attributes.

Here is what she has taught me:

1. Smile. Many dogs like Spaniels and Retrievers have a smiling face. The smile is infectious. You cannot look at a smiling dog and not smile back. So do you want to be infectious? Do you want your coworkers or your friends to be drawn to you? Think about smiling more often. Show up to the meeting with a smile. To the party. To the conference call. People will “hear” the smile. Curl up the ends of your mouth and let those pearly whites shine. Smile.

2. Eye contact. When Baci wants something (usually the door being opened so she can go run after a squirrel), she walks right over and makes eye contact. She gets my attention by staring deeply into my eyes. Imagine going into a meeting and the only way you could communicate is through your eyes. They cannot be ignored. I can see how this might be taken too far as staring down your boss in a meeting might be counterproductive but making eye contact is so important in getting someone to take notice. Be sure to make eye contact.

3. Touch. Reach out and touch. This may seem too familiar in the business setting and I grant you that women have more latitude than men when it comes to touching. There are many women that I hug when they come for an annual strategy meeting but not the men. It’s tricky and for all I know, it’s a Southern thing. But when Baci wants to be scratched, she reaches out and taps my hand or nuzzles me on my arm. Connecting with someone by just tapping them on the shoulder or the back of their elbow or shaking their hand can greatly enhance the outcome. You are more connected to someone when you touch them.

4. Roll. Baci rolls with the punches. She’s not pouting in the corner because I forgot to feed her yesterday or stomping off in a huff because she failed to nab that pesky squirrel before it reached the maple tree. There.are.no.regrets. There is another squirrel where that one came from. Dogs don’t end up with ulcers or depression or stress related illnesses. She isn’t ruminating about all the missed opportunities from yesterday or worried about whether or not it will rain this Saturday. She takes it all as it comes. Let it roll.

5. Chill out. Baci can chill out and take a nap ANYWHERE. When we get back from our morning walk, she takes a few sips of water and then heads to her favorite chair to chill out. She takes care of herself. She’s just exerted a lot of energy dragging me around the neighborhood and she sits back and relaxes. Don’t we all need to do that? Instead of focusing on the next task or project. Take 15 minutes and recoup. It helps your demeanor. Take a minute or five to chill out.

6. Love. I don’t know about your dog but my dog loves everyone. I’ll lick your face if you like, let me cuddle with you, I’m your BFF unconditional kind of love. She doesn’t care how old you are, what language you speak or what gender you are. If you are in front of her, she loves you. No questions asked. Imagine having that kind of love for everyone when you head to your next board meeting or widget manufacturing conference or high school reunion. Unconditional love is really freeing. It leaves you open with no attachments. Embody the Baci love (except maybe not licking anyone’s face).

7. Live. Baci inhales life. If it’s running through a pile of leaves, chasing the elusive squirrel, keeping the geese at bay or fetching a tennis ball, she is all in. She doesn’t hold back. If this is the task at hand, she will bring her whole self. I’ve never thrown a tennis ball and have her meander over halfheartedly to pick up the ball. So bring it. To your next project, washing the dishes or writing a blog post. Be all in.

As I write this, my dog is sprawled on the floor next to me. Never self-conscious. Never worried about the judgments of others. It’s so inspiring. Just be.