In the first part of this post, we looked how stress negatively impacts our personal brand. Here’s part two: what to do about it.
There are many proven strategies that have been shown to effectively manage stress. Not only can they reduce stress so you can communicate your personal brand more effectively, but they can help us remain calm and effective in high pressure situations, and avoid the complications of long term stress. Here are a few goodies I summarized when consulting with City Psychology Group…we called them “stress busters” (hopefully you’ve done your stress reduction “warm-up” — if not, see Part I of this post!).
#1 Change the situation
Of course, not all stress can be avoided — and avoiding situations that need to be addressed will ultimately result in increased stress. There are “stressor triggers”, however, in your life that you may be able to effectively eliminate or reduce through the following strategies:
- Minimize interactions with or avoid those who trigger stress: Improving the relationship is always the first step, but if this isn’t possible, limit interactions as much as possible or end the relationship entirely.
- Steer clear of “hot topics”: If certain topics inevitably lead you down the road to a heated conversation (e.g., religion or politics), refrain from these discussions or excuse yourself when these topics are introduced.
- Alter your environment: Survey your immediate surroundings and day-to-day activities that are related to stress. Whether it be a congested (but faster) route home, shopping at a crowded department store, or watching the news in the morning, try developing alternatives (or simply eliminate the activity if possible).
#2 Change your behaviour
When avoiding or minimizing stressful situations isn’t possible, try changing yourself. This often involves implementing more effective problem solving and communication strategies.
- Learn to compromise: To improve the health of a relationship, be willing to try some flexibility, particularly when requesting flexibility or change from the other person.
- Express your feelings and thoughts: If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
- Practice assertive communication: By communicating up front, stressful situations can be prevented. If you are working towards a deadline and a co-worker lingers at your office door, state up front that you have a deadline and only have five minutes to chat.
- Learn how to say “no” (without feeling guilty): Assertiveness about your limits in both your personal or professional life can do wonders for stress prevention. Accepting too much additional responsibility and “biting off more than you can chew” results in high pressure situations and can be counterproductive in the long run.
- Cut down your to-do list: Instead of checking off as many tasks as possible, try crossing certain items off your list that aren’t absolutely necessary, or assign them to the bottom or a secondary, less important list.
- Improve time management: Poor time management is a leading culprit of stress. Staying cool, calm and collected becomes difficult when one is overextended. Taking breaks, planning, delegating and careful scheduling is key to effective stress management.
#3 Change your thinking
By changing or reducing certain negative thinking patterns contributing to stress, you can more easily adapt to stressful situations and regain a sense of control in your life.
- Examine and modify your expectations (of yourself and others): Setting high or rigid demands of what others “should” or “must” do can lead to unhealthy, counterproductive emotions and behaviours. Equally harmful are setting unrealistic or exceedingly high demands for yourself — perfectionism can fuel stress, as perfection is an unobtainable goal. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to accept that you are a fallible, less-than-perfect human being, like everyone else!
- Develop perspective: Take a moment to step back from your situation and view it as objectively as possible. How critical is this task or situation to the “larger picture” of your life? Will it significantly and unalterably impact your future? Avoid “catastrophising” the event by keeping things in perspective.
- Adjust or reframe your perceptions: Try to practice a “glass is half full” viewpoint to reframe stressors. For example, a long, potentially frustrating commute on the train can be viewed as structured time to catch up on reading, work or simply an opportunity to close your eyes and regroup.
- Remind yourself of the “good stuff”: Try not to let a stressful incident overshadow all the positives in your life. Sometimes a negative event becomes “larger than life” and the total sum of our being, resulting in amnesia for all the achievements or positive qualities in our lives.
- Be mindful of irrational messages: Words such as “always,” “never,” “should,” and “must” lead the way in creating stress in our lives, as they are hallmarks of self-defeating thoughts leading to negative, unhealthy emotions and behaviours.
Acceptance is one of the most challenging concepts in our society. If the sources of stress are unavoidable or unalterable (e.g., illness, the loss of a loved one, a redundancy), the best coping response is to develop a level of acceptance.
- Try “letting go”: When people, situations or behaviours are unchangeable, move on to the things you can control. Ruminating, stubbornly “hanging on” or tenaciously insisting change may cause more stress than what it’s worth. Try saying “this is ok for now; I can cope with this for now” and stop trying to convince yourself that life should be different or perfect!
- Find a different meaning: Search for opportunities for personal growth in the face of stressors. Sayings such as, “May you be blessed with failure earlier in life” may be counterintuitive but hold grains of wisdom.
- Practice forgiveness: Anger and resentment can hold us captive to stress.
#4 Incorporate simple LIFESTYLE CHANGES into the workweek
Strengthen your emotional immune system against stress by incorporating the following steps into your lifestyle:
- Create a healthier diet: Busy professionals often neglect this obvious step. Nutritious meals throughout the day will fuel energy and your mind. Arm your body against stress first thing in the day with a full breakfast and keep high protein snacks in the office as additional “ammunition.” Even small changes to your diet may make a difference!
- Get adequate sleep and rest: Fatigue leaves us vulnerable to stress and “clouds” rational thinking. Sacrificing sleep to “get more into the day” may often end up compromising both quantity and quality of work, leaving us vulnerable to stress.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar: Caffeine and sugar provide a short-term “high” in mood and energy, but result in a “crash” that can leave us more susceptible to stress.
- Exercise regularly: Physical activity buffers against and releases stress and physical tension. This one is so important that I devoted a post to it. See “How Fit is Your Personal Brand?”
- Give up smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and drugs: Put your stress inventory “warm-up” to work by surveying and cutting back on harmful self-medicating or coping strategies. These strategies may bring temporary relief or relaxation, but can “cloud” thinking, interfere with needed sleep, and result in harmful health consequences.
#5 Schedule enjoyable activities and practice relaxation
Protect the time that brings you enjoyment and, if possible, treat it as an important, mandatory appointment. It not only can help you recharge and replenish, but can ultimately have a buffering effect against stress when it does rear its ugly head! Here are some examples that might seem obvious, but we forget about them!
When incorporated into our daily routines, relaxation strategies can minimize stress responses, boost your immune system, and create a profound sense of physical and emotional wellness.
- Breathing retraining: Learn to breathe from your diaphragm, not your chest, with longer, deeper “out breaths” than “in breaths”. Try “7-11 breathing” — while seated, close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Breathe in (from your diaphragm) to the count of seven, and breathe out to the count of eleven. If you can, hold the breath for couple of seconds at the bottom of the out breath.
- Mindfulness: Make an effort stop rushing around on “autopilot”. Take a few minutes to purposefully paying attention to the present moment. Take notice of your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical sensations. If you are distracted from being mindful, just gently bring your attention back to the “now” and your breathing. There’s tons of Mindfulness exercises on the internet.
- Visualisation: A simple technique to reduce stress responses. Visualise yourself in a calm, beautiful setting that evokes a sense of serenity. Close your eyes and experience this relaxing place through the senses, such as smelling the salt water, hearing the waves or feeling the sun on your skin.
- Progressive muscular relaxation: Take 15 minutes to sit or lie down while you work through isolated muscle groups in your body by tightening and clenching them for a few seconds before letting go and releasing the tension. Make an effort to notice the difference between muscular tension and relief as tension flows out of your body.
So there you are. Nothing is perfect, but hopefully with a bit of practice, these techniques can help loosen that stress knot and prevent it from sabotaging your personal brand.