The next time you are stuck in traffic, fretting and fuming as the vehicles inch along, or you are standing in an incredibly long lineup at the bank listening to parents attempt to placate their whining child, whom they lovingly call ‘incorrigible’ and the rest of the people in the bank would term ‘monstrous’, take just a quick moment (you have a moment, you’re not doing anything) to check your pulse.
Is it racing? Are your muscles tight? Is your jaw clenched? Are the thoughts running through your head filled with words your mother never taught you?
Then maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, relax and ask yourself a couple of questions: Is it really that urgent? Will the world come to an end if I don’t get there in the next 43.2 seconds? Will stressing out do anything whatsoever to change the situation?
Stress is something virtually everyone has experienced at some point in their lives. Stress is a normal part of life – a physical response to what the mind perceives as a threat to our well-being or equilibrium. Stress can be a positive, helping us to respond appropriately in an emergency or to focus and concentrate on meeting challenges. But there is a point at which stress can begin to have a very negative impact on our health.
Some of the symptoms of stress are obvious: stiff neck and tight shoulders, nausea, increased respiration, headaches, trouble sleeping, general anxiety. While the immediate physical symptoms are readily apparent, though, there’s a lot more going on inside that is quite damaging. Chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on your nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune and musculoskeletal systems. Stress can also have psychological ramifications, affecting your emotional state, your problem-solving capabilities, and your ability to focus. Admittedly, some of us perform better under pressure; however, continued stress takes such a toll on our bodies and our minds that we need to learn when enough is enough.
Now that you’re totally stressed out after reading about what stress is doing to you, it’s time to determine how best to deal with it. Coming up with a coping system that works for you won’t happen overnight, but there are some steps you can take to begin. Even something as simple as breathing slowly and deeply, shrugging your shoulders or stretching when you feel yourself tightening up is a start.
Over the long term, such activities as meditation, yoga and exercise will better prepare you to deal with the stress in your life, as will fostering healthy eating habits (try cutting down on caffeine, sugar and alcohol, providing it won’t make you go off the deep end). You also need to make time in your life to incorporate the things you enjoy – painting, photography, going for a walk or bike ride, fishing, reading. If things are becoming overwhelming, turn to friends and family and don’t try to do everything yourself. And stop with all that negative self-talk!
There are many simple things you can do to ward off stress in any given situation. For example, you can wear colourful fuzzy socks with your spiffy work outfit (just make sure they are well-covered by trousers or boots). This will definitely lift your spirits and everyone will wonder just how many glasses of wine you had at lunch, as you walk around all day with a smile pasted to your face. Happy feet – a sure antidote to stress!
While we’re on the subject of clothes, if you are required to wear a suit and tie to work, change up that grey Hermes tie for a colourful bow tie, perhaps one with your favourite sports team’s logo. When anyone comments or complains, tell them, ‘I have to wear it – it’s a gift from my in-laws.’
When it comes to dealing with highly irritating people, you can practice multitasking, which in this case means globe-trekking in your mind, perhaps to a beautiful Tahitian beach, while smiling and nodding at the gormless twit yakking at you.
If you do find yourself in a massive traffic jam, pull out your really bad 1970s or 1980s music and play it at top volume with the windows down. You’ll get a kick out of the looks on other drivers’ faces as you bounce and bop to the beat. You can also make the frustrating situation more tolerable by letting other vehicles in ahead of you when the opportunity arises. It’s not as if you’ll lose any time. You’ll feel quite saintly, they’ll be happy, everyone wins.
The opportunities for counteracting stress during your day are endless. So dust off your imagination and have fun.
Conflict Coach Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.