How often have you felt like screaming at the top of your lungs when everything that could go wrong has gone wrong? I know I have. A critical e-mail should have gone out yesterday, my office gremlins keep hiding the information I need, I’m 15 minutes late for my dental appointment and the school just called and told me my child is sick. And while running around in circles trying to decide what to do, what not to do and how and when you will do any of it, you are screaming “AAUUGH!”
Even when we are organized and on top of things, there will be those moments when everything falls apart and stress levels skyrocket.
How do we lower our stress to make it work for us instead of against us?
If there is a real emergency, by all means use that accelerated stress to act quickly. Our Flight/Fight System is designed to give us that instant boost of speed and strength. But most situations we face are not life threatening – but rather a perception of an exaggerated and amplified threat.
Here are some suggestions to reduce stress to a manageable and workable size.
Many years ago people were advised to hang a “closed” sign on their business and “go fishing” when faced with an overwhelming problem. While it sounds simplistic, in many ways it was sound advice, because it shifted the focus away from the distress and allowed the mind to relax and do its job without our interference.
When mental stress is high we do not think as efficiently. Fear and anxiety take center stage instead of clarity of thought, organization and definitive direction.
Try one of the following exercises:
• Visualize yourself on a mini-vacation. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes and slowly take some deep, even breaths. Redirect your focus away from your problem to an image of yourself at the beach, by a quiet pond or whatever pleasant place your mind creates for you. Allow yourself to become immersed in the beauty, fragrances and relaxing atmosphere. This can be done anywhere and anytime unless you are driving or in the middle of a job.
• Take a coffee break with your Lord. Go somewhere quiet and talk to Him quietly about the problems you are experiencing. Ask His Holy Spirit to calm your spirit. Breathe slowly and evenly. Resist focusing on panic or time pressure. Instead, focus on how wonderful it is to be taking a coffee break with your Lord. Remember all the times He has helped and all the blessings He gives us every day. Thank Him and focus on that gratitude.
• Go for a 10 minute walk. Purposefully walk slow as you take slow, even breaths. Imagine you are holding a handful of balloons. Place one of your problems or struggles in each balloon. Raise your arm and let them go. “Watch” your imaginary balloons sail into the sky taking your stress with them. Smile as you think about all the times as a kid you had fun. Feel your spirits lift. (Research indicates that when someone holds a smile for a minute or two the chemistry in our brain changes.)
• Take a quick time out. Stand up and concentrate on breathing slowly and evenly. Slowly raise your arms above your head. As you reach for the ceiling, hold your breath for a second. Then as you slowly lower your arms to your side, release your air. Do this several times until your stress and tension have been reduced.
• Reframe your thinking. Most of our stress is generated between our ears and is perpetuated by us. The world will not come to an end if your work is delayed five to ten minutes. You may be late, people might have to wait another day, but stress leads to mistakes and accidents. It lowers our efficiency and productivity.
Most of these exercises take about 5 to 10 minutes. When stress levels rise, hormones and chemicals affecting every organ in the body are dumped into our system to prepare us for a real physical danger. But most of our perceived dangers are psychological. Taking 5 to 10 minutes to reduce stress and tension will give you more constructive energy, enable you to think more clearly, and work more effectively.