Stress Management – Lesson 2

2.1. Building a Solid Foundation

There are four pillars that support stress management:

  1. Good Nutrition
  2. Exercise
  3. Strong, Supportive Relationships
  4. Relaxation Techniques

Case Study

Carrie’s Day

Carrie feels like she’s always on a merry-go-round, with no time to relax. She’s noticed that she’s had more colds than usual this winter. Take a look at what Carrie’s day usually looks like. Then, use the discussion questions to help you find a solution for her.

6:30a.m. The sound of the alarm wakes Carrie up. She usually finds it tough to get out of bed.
6:30a.m.-7:15a.m. Carrie has a cigarette, a cup of coffee, and a sweet roll for breakfast. She then showers and gets dressed.
7:15a.m.-7:45a.m. Carrie wakes her daughter. She gets her dressed, fed, and ready for the day at the babysitter’s.
7:45a.m.-8:15a.m. Carrie leaves the house, drops her daughter off at the babysitter’s, and heads to the office.
8:15a.m. Carrie arrives at the office.She has a second cup of coffee and a bag of chips.
8:15a.m.-12:00p.m. Carrie handles problems, attends meetings, type’s correspondence, and does whatever needs doing. She feels there are too many interruptions, too little time, and too much frantic activity.
12:00p.m.-2:00p.m. Carrie rarely takes an actual lunch break. She usually eats fast food at her desk, or she runs out to do personal errands, and skips lunch altogether. She tries to grab a cigarette, too.
2:00p.m.-5:00p.m. Carrie completes her work day. She feels like she never gets a chance to have a break, and she rarely leaves the office before5p.m. She often feels stressed because her babysitter gets

Annoyed if her daughter is not picked up by 5:30p.m.

5:00p.m.-5:45p.m. Carrie leaves work and picks up her daughter.
5:45p.m.-6:00p.m. Carrie drinks a cup of coffee or two and has a few more cigarettes to unwind. Then, she and her daughter eat out, or she pops a couple of TV dinners in the oven and they eat while watching cartoons.

 

question
What connection do you see between Carrie’s lifestyle and her job problems?

What advice would you give Carrie?
 

2. The “Less Stress” Lessons

Relaxation techniques are crucial for managing stress. Let’s talk about some techniques that you can use anywhere, any time.

Body Scan

In order to relax, we must first learn where, when, and how we store tension in our body. Do you know where you store your tension?

Breathing Through Your Diaphragm

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, once said, “Our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind.”

Stretching

Stretching is good exercise that you can do anywhere, anytime.

Visualisation

You can use the power of your mind to reduce stress. Visualise the most peaceful scene you can think of—a snowfall, a waterfall, a lake, the seashore with waves crashing against the beach. Use that same visualisation when you are feeling stressed.

Sensory Awareness

Shakespeare once said, “There’s not a minute of our lives should stretch without some pleasure.” Keep some pleasant scents and textured objects around to give yourself a moment’s distraction when needed.

Eating Awareness

When eating, don’t let anything else interrupt; savor your food rather than inhaling it.

2.3. Mental Strategies

Changing Ourselves
These three factors impact our ability to manage stress:

  1. Personality
  2. Nature of Organisation
  3. Quality of Support

Which of these three can we change?

1. Personality

It’s true that we can’t change our personality, although we can make some small changes. For example, if we are very impatient with other people, we can learn to be a little more patient with them. Impatient people can alienate others, and they run the risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. Learning some tactics to curb our impatience could save our life.

2. Nature of Organisation

We can’t change the organisation we work for, either, unless we own it. However, if the stress is truly getting to us, we can change jobs. That is a drastic measure to be sure. However, assess what makes your workplace such a toxic environment. Is it the work or is it the people? Can the stress be at least in part your reaction to what is happening? If your workplace is truly too demanding, then save yourself. Find another place to work.

However, if you are stressed out because nobody has ever told you what is expected of you, then talk to your supervisor about what he/she expects of you. If you feel like you need more training to do your job, ask for training. Perhaps you can find a mentor, or a buddy. Or perhaps your company will send you to external training.

3. Quality of Support

One thing we can always change is the nature of the supportive relationships we have. How?

  • We can have them at work, socially, and at home.
  • They can be both friends and family.
  • They can be stronger than they are now. To do this, we can ask for help.

Keep in mind that relationships are reciprocal so be a better friend or supporter yourself, and develop a wider circle of support.

2.4. The Triple A Approach

When we have situations that cause our stress levels to rise, we have three basic strategies we can use. We can alter or change the situation, figure out how to avoid the situation, or accept the situation and alter our response to it.

Alter

Sometimes this is the most promising strategy. Let’s say you are always stressed when you are going to be late for a meeting. Change the situation by setting an alarm so you will leave five or ten minutes earlier. Write the appointment down with a 15 minute cushion. For example, if you have a doctor’s appointment at 2:30, write it in your planner for 2:15. Here’s another example: Every time your mother-in-law comes for a visit your hackles rise and you are in a bad mood the whole time she is there. How might you alter that situation? You could make reservations for her to stay at a nearby hotel, buy a bouquet of flowers for her room so you start off on the right foot, or get to know her better—maybe you’ve just never seen her good side.

Avoid

On the other hand, that mouthy neighbour may be somebody you can avoid. You know cheese gives you a migraine so you avoid it. You know that your spouse prefers to eat breakfast at 7 am sharp so you accommodate that preference. Forcing ourselves into situations that make us stressed, when we really don’t have to be in those situations, is just being a masochist. (By the way, don’t decide to avoid your mother-in-law. That just transfers the stress you feel onto your spouse and that isn’t fair.)

Accept

There are some things in life, like taxes, that are unavoidable so we may as well accept these situations with good grace. Let’s say going to the dentist makes you stressed. Accept that and deal with it accordingly. Play music before you go. Give yourself some positive self-talk like, “By this time tomorrow it will be all over,” “I won’t have to do this again for six months,” or, “I can handle this.”