Stress Reduction Archives

Where are you going?

Did you ever really think about this question. I’m sure we have all thought about our future and made plans to achieve our goals, but do we really think about whether once we get there that is a place we want to be? I’ve been pondering this question a lot lately and I recently came across something I wish I would have had years ago.

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

And the moral of this story is: ……… Know where you’re going in life… you may already be there.

This story has an excellent morale. We all face stress in our lives. But how much stress is self inflicted and does it really get us to where we want to be? I know personally I’ve put myself in difficult situations which caused me more stress than was worth the problems the stress caused in my life. I’m sure a lot of us are like this. Perhaps it would be better for our society if we all took a look back and decided whether its worth a big car or big house considering all the work stress many must endure to have these things. Wouldn’t a smaller house and a slower pace of life be just as good?

Albert Einstein said “Too many people buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have trying to impress people they don’t like”

This is so true at least that it something I’ve been guilty of doing. Have you?

Time for Self Nurturing

Now that we have discussed some time management and organization strategies, it’s time to set time aside just for you. How much time do you give yourself each day for self nurturing? If you are like me in my corporate days, you are probably getting a few minutes each week. If you spend most of your waking time working and taking care of others, it’s a must to take time each day taking care of yourself.

Set aside at least twenty to thirty minutes for yourself sometime during the day to spend on something FUN. Just because you are an adult doesn’t mean you have forgotten recess, does it? Unplug and get away from all of those RESPONSIBILITIES and do something you enjoy. For me this means spending twenty minutes before bed listening to my favorite relaxing CD and hitting the yoga mat for a nice light stretching routine. This is strictly ME time and I feel comfortable in shutting the door and asking not to be disturbed. I started this routine about a year ago with a DVD called Meditation for Beginners by Gaiam. It has an easy 15 minute yoga routine followed by a 20 minute relaxation exercise and a 20 minute guided meditation. If you have never done yoga or meditation and want to give it a try, I highly recommend this DVD. I’ve been doing it for so long that I have it memorized and can do it to my favorite CD.

Now if yoga and meditation are just not your thing, find something that works for you. It does not matter what you do as long as it is something that you enjoy. If getting this started is difficult for you, begin by making a list of activities that you enjoy. Try to come up with at least ten things you enjoy that can be done in 20-30 minutes and pick one each day. Here is a sample list of things I enjoy:

Walking outdoors on a nature trail, in a botanical garden, or even a stroll around the neighborhood park.

Reading a good old trashy romance paperback or suspense novel outdoors on the back porch, in a great big comfortable chair, or any other favorite cozy place.

Reading spirit nurturing books or listening to audio lectures by my favorite authors Wayne Dyer, Victoria Moran, or Alexandra Stoddard.

Watching a television show that stimulates the mind (cooking shows, gardening and home shows, PBS specials, Science, Discovery, and the History Channel programs are some of my favorites)

Taking a yoga, meditation, or FUN exercise class or putting on my favorite CD and dancing around the house (I’m partial to the Lilo & Stitch soundtrack).

Taking a nice long bubble bath with candles and relaxing music and spending time afterward wrapped in a huge fluffy bath sheet relaxing on the bed.

Getting a massage. A thirty minute massage is great; an hour is even better. If a professional massage is not in the budget, trade massages with a loved one or even give yourself a nice foot massage with your favorite scented lotion.

Buying myself a nice small bouquet of flowers and arranging them in a vase, then placing the vase in my office, in the kitchen, by the bed or anywhere I will see them often and enjoy.

Taking a magazine to the local Starbucks or stopping by a bookstore with a cafe and browsing a few titles. Even if I don’t have time much time to spare, I can always pick up something to read at a later date.

Taking a friend to tea. I have a nice little tearoom in my hometown that I just love to spend time in because it is like stepping back in time to a more gracious era.

Going fishing!!! Some of my fondest memories are of my grandfather and me in a boat out on the lake. An hour fishing from the shore can bring me back to that peaceful frame of mind. You know what they say a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work any day.

I hope these activities piqued your interest or helped you remind you of things you like to do. Take some fun recess time for yourself TODAY!!!

Learn to Say NO

Once again we’re going to talk about boundaries. Most people who are overworked and overstressed are just simply doing too much. If you were raised like I was to mind your manners, be helpful, be a good boy/girl and let the others go first it can take decades to unlearn these habits. (Not to discount the value of being nice to your fellow humans and love for the world because we all need more of that). There are any number of people who will eventually want a little piece of your time as life goes on. If you have the time to give, more power to you. If you don’t and many times say you do, it’s past time to learn to say no.

Let’s say your son’s teacher once again asks you to chair the annual holiday can drive. You have done it for the last two years and know that even if you have a committee you will be doing all the work. You just don’t have the time to do it this year, but don’t know how to get out of it. Just say no!!! I would love to help, but I can’t chair the committee this year as I have other commitments, Period. End of discussion. Don’t launch into a long dialogue of the reasons you can’t or start to give excuses. This is volunteer work and no you don’t have to do it. If the teacher pressures you or other parents with but you have always done the can drive or the ever popular but you are so good at it, we can’t do it without you just keep repeating your mantra I’m not available this year, I’m not available this year, as many times as it takes to get your message across. Be firm and don’t waffle. You will be so proud of yourself later when some other parent is doing the last minute run around for the can drive and you are at home sipping hot cocoa and enjoying making cookies with your kids. This is in no way being selfish it is a way to start putting your own needs as priorities in your life. This same scenario can be used for the church fundraiser, fall carnival, the committee to better the neighborhood, the sister-in-law who wants you to watch the kids (again), and so on.

An extra note – where you decide to spend your money is another boundary you can work on using the same principles. At least once per month I am bombarded by parents selling trivets, cookie dough, trinkets, or other overpriced things you don’t need for their child’s fund raiser. If you are one of these folks that bring flyers to work and sell for your kids, yes you probably should buy from the others; it’s only fair. I don’t take these to my workplace and don’t hit up friends to buy from my son. (If he wants to sell, I go with him thru the neighborhood and let him sell). In any case, it’s ok to just say No, thank you. Or you can say No thanks, we have our own charities that we donate to. You should probably practice saying no, thank you as you will be using it more and more in the future.

Last year during the holidays I opted out of the many gift swaps by saying “We are simplifying and only exchanging gifts with immediate family this year. Worked great and I was not so stressed about money last year. Remember, all of these are suggestions for decreasing your stress. Take what works for you and leave the rest behind (or just say no???).

Where is all of this stress coming from???

We all live stress filled lives. An overload at work, a child that must be picked up early from school for a doctor’s appointment, the jerk in traffic that just cut you off. A thousand little annoyances during the day can lead to a head full of worries by the end of the day. And you still have to make dinner, help the kids with homework, do a load of laundry, and get up and start all over again in the morning. ARRGH!!

So where did all this stress come from? Don’t we have hundreds of nifty little gadgets that have been invented to help save time? Where would we be without the washer and dryer, dishwasher, microwave, and that wonderful computer? We would probably be without that nasty little beeper and always ringing cell phone, also!! We seem to use our saved time to add other things into our lives instead of using this time for much needed rest.

One modern problem related to all of this nifty electronic stuff is that we can never unplug. We are always connected 24/7 and our friends, family, and unfortunately our employers can always reach us. Twenty years ago, most employers would never call an employee at home unless it was a true emergency it was considered an invasion of private time!!! Today, most folks don’t think twice about calling, paging, beeping, or e-mailing any time of day. I myself just got a call on my cell at 8pm last night from my boss asking to get the serial number off of my office key because he needed to have it in a report to turn in tomorrow. Real emergency stuff and never mind that I have already e-mailed him the same information three times!!! We have to ask ourselves how has the world changed so much? The norm is that we allow and expect our home and private time to be interrupted and infringed upon at will.

Instead of coming home from a regular (ha, ha) eight hour workday and relaxing around a nice home cooked dinner and spending time with family a la Leave it to Beaver, the typical day for the average American worker goes something like this:

– Leave work an hour and a half late because the boss had another last minute emergency project that he knew about a week ago but decided TODAY at 3:30 it had to be done before the end of the day.

– Get stuck in traffic due to an accident on the freeway where another poor slob who had the same late workday got in too much of a hurry.

– Spend that time in the car worrying about bills to pay and things that have to be done before the end of the day.

– Stop by the local chicken mc grease fast food restaurant to grab another quick but unhealthy meal because there’s no time to cook.

– Say a quick hello to family members as they all grab a plate of food and run off to their respective rooms, TVs, or computers.

Sit down with a plate and check and respond to all of the e-mails you didn’t get to answer at work because you were so swamped putting out fires while simultaneously helping little Billy with his homework.

– Say a quick goodnight to the kids as you throw in a quick load of laundry, grab a quick shower and drop into bed too exhausted to do more than hug your sweetie and crash.

– Get up the next morning and start it all again.

No wonder we are all stressed out! Many of us have been led to believe that is the way life is supposed to be and we keep on going until we get sick or have a heart attack. Is there something we can do to regain control of our lives? Yes, dear reader, there is.

It’s All In Your Head

Ok, time for a short lesson in psychology. We have talked about the many stressors in modern life, but where is the actual stress located? Is the stress located at home, or at work, or on the highway? Nope, try looking a bit closer. Yes folks, it is all in your head.

How we react to events in our life and the beliefs we have about those events affect our stress level. If you have one of those temperaments that leave you fuming every time something doesn’t go your way, this is a good time to learn to reframe your responses and begin lowering your stress level.

Let’s use an example commuting time on the highway. If you begin each day by getting in your car and mumbling and grumbling all the way to work with thoughts of I hate this commute, people in this city can’t drive, I hate my job, I’m going to be late, my boss is a jerk, MY LIFE SUCKS, how do you think you will feel by the time you finally make it to work? You have been letting your mind run rampant awfulizing everything. If you reframe your thinking, you may find a solution. Ask yourself: what are the facts? I have a 45 minute commute every morning. That does not make all of the rest of the thoughts above true or valid. Do I really hate my job? No, most of the time it is OK. Will I be late? Maybe, maybe not, but being late once in a while is not a big deal. So the only actual fact is that I have a 45 minute commute every day. I can choose to spend that time grousing and becoming grumpy or I can choose to spend the commute in a more productive manner. I could spend the time going through my to do list for the day and giving myself an outline/plan for having a successful day, listening to my favorite music and singing along to wake up and get in a great mood for the day, or use the time for listening to a great audio book. I don’t have to spend that time letting my negative thoughts stress me out before the day has even begun!!!

When you begin to watch your inner dialogue, you can catch yourself before your mind has a chance to stray too far into the negative. This takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself. Begin by tuning in to your thoughts throughout the day and notice the overall tone.When negative thoughts crop up and you can’t seem to stop the tirade, visualize a big red stop sign and say STOP to your thoughts. Now work towards re-directing your thoughts towards something positive. You will be treating your mind like an unruly toddler with the stop and distract method. What do you do when a toddler is reaching for something breakable on a table? You say no or stop and redirect the toddler to a basket of toys in the corner. Then you put away the breakable item. Same concept for the mind: stop, redirect/distract, and leave the negative thought behind.

So what do we use to distract? How about thoughts and visualizations of things you love to do? Digging in the sand at the beach, flying a kite in the park, fishing at your favorite river, playing ball with the kids, and so on are thoughts you can turn your attention to. You can also distract by occupying you mind with a book, going for a brisk walk, or calling a friend. Use whatever works for you!!! I will be discussing self nurturing in a later article and some of those activities can also be used to redirect and distract from negative thinking.

Take Back Your Time at Work

Now, what about setting those boundaries at work? It’s pretty easy to ignore the call coming in to your phone from your boss at home, (oops, I must have forgotten to take my cell phone with me to the store) It gets a bit more difficult when the boss is standing in your face! Granted, there are times when you just get stuck at work and have to chip in to help. However, if these times are more often than not and if you seem to be getting the lion’s share of this type of intrusion, it’s time to start to change things.

Have you ever noticed that there are always one or two gung-ho/go-to people on a team and the rest are I can’t handle that/I’m too busy people? I’m guessing if you are reading this you come from the first group. MANY TIMES I have been the git-r-done person on the team and instead of getting thanks all I would end up with was more stuff to do! This leads to resentment and anger towards yourself, your boss, and others on the team (who say they are too busy working, but are generally hanging out gossiping in someone else’s cubicle while you are working furiously trying to get all that stuff done).

Now is the time to start examining your role at work. (Remember – we teach others how to treat us through our own actions.) Of course, no change happens overnight, but there are ways to start making the workload a bit more equitable. If you are uncomfortable with saying no or telling the truth when you are too busy, here are a few tips to get you started. I will be discussing ways to say no and boundary setting in more detail in a later article.

First and foremost, stop volunteering!!! The next time a staff meeting rolls around and the boss asks for a volunteer (and everyone turns around expecting you to jump in as usual) keep quiet and let someone else take a turn. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. When the boss comes by and asks you to do that one more thing, have a to-do list of things you already have on your plate and ask “What would you like me to eliminate from this list to do the new task? I am already at capacity. People may be surprised and even act peeved at you for not chipping in as usual. That’s ok they will get used to it in time. Another situation is when you constantly have to stay late to do that emergency project. Now everyone has these once in a while that’s just the way business works. It’s when the once in awhile turns in to three days per week and you are the only one getting these projects (aren’t you special?) that action needs to be taken. When the boss comes by at 3:30 for the fifth day in a row with an emergency project say Gosh, I’d love to help, but I have a commitment for this afternoon and must leave on time today. If that’s not a strong enough reason for you, have a dentist appointment, parent teacher meeting, dinner meeting, club function, SOMETIHING that you just cannot miss!! With time other folks will begin to get their share of these special projects, leaving you on the way home on time hopefully more days than not. And remember once you hit the door remember to use that caller ID and voice mail!