Many, if not most of us, are “running on empty,” as the Jackson Browne song goes. We strive mightily to be consummate professionals as well as perfect parents and spouses while buried under a mound of stress. We’re rushing through life like tornado chasers. Is this any way to live?
During my 23 years as a corporate litigator, my workaholic, perfectionist tendencies blossomed like brilliant wildflowers after the spring rains. Not only did I come in earlier and leave later than any other lawyer in the firm, but I also worked almost every weekend, and took only one real vacation, during which I came down with a virus. Sleep came only with the aid of Tylenol PM.
What I know now is that our bodies are not designed to handle this non-stop, adrenaline-fuelled pace. It takes a serious toll on our health. According to the Mayo Clinic, the deleterious effects of chronic stress include anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. Did you know that 90% of all doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments?
Constant stress combined with imminent deadlines frequently leads us to down vending machine chips when that mid-afternoon slump hits. By the time we leave the office, the thought of cooking is about as plausible as winning the lottery, so we eat drive-thru while frantically trying to catch up on our personal lives. Is it any wonder that 2/3rds of Americans are overweight or obese?
We need to slow down and stop rushing headlong through life like we’re on a bullet train. Here are six practical ways to decrease your stress level:
#1: Journal Your Stress Level
The first step to getting your stress under control is to figure out what is stressing you out. Spend a week periodically recording your stress levels and identifying the source. You’ll learn a lot.
#2: Turn Off the Tech
Technology is a wonderful tool, but don’t let it rule your life. Designate certain times of day to check messages and stick to the schedule.
#3: Make a Relaxation Appointment
Workaholics eventually reach a point of diminishing returns, and overbooked Moms get cranky. Schedule downtime events (e.g., a walk on the beach, an escape to the movies, or a massage) in your smartphone and treat them with the sanctity of a doctor’s appointment.
#4: Go Drug-Free
If you fuel yourself with coffee all day, reach for a glass of wine (or two) after work, or pop pills to sleep, your stress is out of control. Craft small, achievable goals to steadily work towards going drug-free.
#5: Practice Mindful Living
If you can meditate, I’m jealous. If not, work on just paying attention to life rather than rushing through it. Multitasking does not work. Focus on a single activity and fully experience it.
#6: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
The one smart thing I did when I was working 12 hour days was hitting the gym after work to relieve the pent-up stress. Exercise offers a host of other health benefits. It truly is the magic pill.