Go type ‘reduce stress’ into your search engine. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Bet you got a number of hits in the millions. I know I did with Google – almost 30 million hits. And you can look through those and find everything from exercising to meditating to eating. Think about it, though. What good does it do you to remember that you didn’t exercise last night when you’re stressed out at work today? Can you leave the staff meeting saying you’ll be right back after you’ve done five minutes of meditation? Of course not. So, what can really help you chillax when the stress goblin is sitting right there on your desk laughing at you?
Recognise your body’s signals
The first thing you have to do is to recognise that you are stressed. Personally, I tend to start tensing up my shoulder muscles first. On the other hand, a lady I know has that nervous leg twitch: it jumps up and down like it’s on a piston. One ex-colleage – I won’t mention your name, Greg – used to get pretty darned cranky when he started getting stressed.
Maybe you tap your fingertips on the desk, or if you’re a smoker, you crave a cigarette. The key is that, usually, somewhere inside your body, the stress starts showing first. Pay attention and figure out what that first sign is for you. You might even want to keep a diary for a week or so to figure out what your particular indicator is. Once you have it figured out, you can move on to the next step.
Reverse the process
You are now at the point where the stress gremlin has jumped up and grabbed you by the throat. It’s not going to do any good to think about eating right or meditating. You need something NOW to stop the stress from getting worse and, if possible, reverse it.
Here are some possibilities for addressing the problem – depending upon your situation:
- Take some deep breaths
Take several deep breaths in through your nose and blow them out through your mouth. When blowing out, purse your lips. Make sure to count as you breathe in, and take twice as long to blow out as you did to breathe in. Even if you are in a meeting, you can do this surreptitiously by looking down at papers or something else in your hands.
- Relax your muscles
Sit or stand up very straight and, working from your feet upward, release each group of muscles in your body until your entire body is relaxed. For example, relax your toes, then your feet, then your lower legs, thighs, and so on. Work all the way up your body until you are finally relaxing your scalp.
You might think that a good full-body stretch might be too noticeable, but really it’s not. We are so used to stretching when we yawn or awaken that a quick stretch will likely go completely unnoticed among your meeting mates. My personal favourite is to sit up straight again, fist my hands, and push straight down while reaching behind me with both arms. This seems to relax my back, shoulders, neck and arms all at the same time.
Okay. You’ve released that build-up of stress in your muscles for the moment, so you might think you are finished at this point. You’ve become stressed and you’ve stopped the stress. You have, in fact, reversed the process. However, one step is left.
Determine the cause of the stress
Why on earth would you worry about the cause of the stress when you’ve got it handled already? Well, in order to prevent it from happening next time, of course. You don’t want to do a complete analysis while sitting in your meeting or talking to your co-worker. After all, you are in communication mode and should be listening, understanding and responding when appropriate. Instead, just make a quick note in your mind about the things that were said or done right before you started feeling the stress. You can analyse the full situation later when you are alone at your desk.
Certainly you can go back and read all those wonderful articles on how diet affects stress, or ways to meditate on your lunch hour. Most of them are useful and interesting ways of trying to head off stress before it starts. But if you need to get the stress gremlin off your back right now, give our three steps a try. You’ll be glad you did.