No tension: 25 handy ways to beat stress
Too much stress? You can't avoid stress but you can stop it from getting the upper hand. From a stress diary to potted plants, here are 25 handy ways you can keep the stress demon under control.
by Kamala Thiagarajan
Stress is an inevitable part of modern living. While countless articles may tell you how to avoid it, the truth is: there's no getting away from it completely, but your habits, organisational skills and state of mind can contribute much towards a stress free life. So sit back and relax, while you take heed of our 25 stress-busting tips.
1. Plan in advance: Do you have an important conference, a meeting at your child's school and a ten-course power lunch to get through, all on the same day? No matter what curveball life throws at you, the best way to be up to it is to expect all possibilities and plan much in advance. From what you'll wear, the transport you'll need to get there, to the timings of your meetings — pay attention to the minutest details of your day and ensure that you have all bases covered. Prepare your outfit, accessories, any notes you'll need several days in advance. For every red-letter day in your calendar, when you have important issues on the horizon, planning your agenda in advance will help avoid nasty last-minute surprises that can otherwise cause your stress levels to peak.
2. Set realistic goals: Yearning for something that is out-of-reach can put a lot of stress on you and affect your emotional equilibrium. "When I moved to a small town after marriage, I realised that I needed to change my priorities at work as well," says Niranjana Ghosh, a structural engineer. "I couldn't expect to build skyscrapers and plan a futuristic city right away. There weren’t the resources for it then. So I worked hard on whatever was available, and slowly, the bigger projects began falling into my lap." Don't give up on your dreams, but work towards your goal steadily, while harbouring realistic ambitions.
yoga3. Treat yourself every weekend: Set aside one day of the week to devote to yourself. Meet up with old friends, go to a movie, start off on a trek, visit a local park, get a massage — anything that will help you unwind, feel pampered and appreciated. While Sundays are usually meant for rest and relaxation, we tend to cheat by catching up on pending work, shopping or overdue chores. Even if you cannot afford to take an entire day off, ensure that you have some time for yourself.
4. Leave your work at the office: Bringing office work home, in the era of laptop computers, broadband access, smart phones and intense competition, is now commonplace. "It is essential to clearly separate your workspace from your home," says Dr Kartik Kashyap, consultant psychiatrist at Pragnya Brain Mind Clinic, Bangalore. “Even if you work from home or have a virtual office, then you should at least keep regular hours and have a physical office space, preferably, one with a door that can be shut. Your home space should be inviting—making it possible for you to unwind and relax with loved ones. Bringing work into the equation will only blur the lines between your professional and personal life, creating unnecessary friction.”
5. Keep a stress diary: You may have heard of food diaries, but stress diaries are just as important since here you can record the triggers that cause your stress. For instance, when do you feel the most anxiety in your day? Is it while driving, getting your kids ready for school on weekday mornings, addressing that overdue promotion at the office, entertaining guests at home or new clients at work? Being aware of the cause of your stress (and recording the time of day that you feel the most discomfort) will help you cope better. In time, as you learn to consciously control your stress triggers, you will learn to deal with it more dispassionately.
6. Manage your time better: Divide your day into two-hour chunks and then fit in the activities that you would love to do as well the responsibilities and duties that you must do. Balance this everyday and by the end of the week, you would have found time for all the important tasks as well as the indulgences. A balanced life will ensure that it's never all work and no play, which in turn will keep stress at bay.
7. Don’t procrastinate: Procrastination is one of the biggest causes of stress. Do important tasks when your energy level is at its highest. Break large tasks into smaller ones so that they don’t overwhelm you and are more manageable. According to Dr Windy Dryden, author of How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Started, it’s important to reward yourself every time you’ve completed a chore that you’ve set out to do.
8. Forgive, especially yourself: Sometimes, we are our own worst critics. We bitterly rue every mistake we make and replay each failure until it is branded in fire in our hearts. Learning to move on by not brooding over mistakes and not taking old grievances to heart is essential for living a stress free life. When you confront someone who has wronged you, let peace and love flood your soul and fill you with a sense of well-being. Allowing ill-feeling or self recrimination to fester will only poison all your relationships.
9. Just say 'NO': Don’t allow anyone, be it your boss, friend, spouse or even your child to take you for granted. Of course, it is your duty to function efficiently at work and help your family, but there is a difference between helping and being a doormat, no matter how unconditionally you love someone.
10. Go green: Add more potted plants to your home (preferably the flowering variety, so you have a riot of colour around you). Starting a garden can be a relaxing intellectual pursuit.
11. Hold your temper and practice positive thinking: Got stuck in traffic this morning? Trip over the stairs on your way out? Got out of the shower after the phone rang incessantly, only to find out that it was a wrong number? According to Dr Andrew Goliszek, author of 60 Second Stress Management, we tend to let irritation over minor issues ruin our day. "When you feel stressed or irritated, focus on pleasant thoughts and positive events that will get you smiling again," he advises in his book.
12. Keep a memo pad handy: The humble memo pad can be a powerful arsenal against stress. Use it to jot down shopping and grocery lists, dinner dates, assignments, reports, even that odd bit of information that might otherwise slip your mind (for instance, you might want to remind yourself to pay your credit cards bills or send your car in for servicing). Remember, the more prepared you are, the less pressure you’ll face.
13. Practice yoga and breathe deeply: The principles of yogic asanas have always revolved around controlling your breathing and allowing it to power your body. Deep breathing can give you lasting relief from stress. Under the guidance of a practiced yoga teacher, learn to exhale your way through the mayhem of daily life. There are many kinds of yoga so choose a style that is best suited to your fitness needs and personality.
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14. Sip black tea: According to a six-week study conducted by the University College of London and published in the journal, Psychopharmacology, it was established that participants who drank four cups of black tea daily (with or without sugar) for a period of six weeks, had lower levels of stress hormone cortisol in their blood and as a result, were able to recover rapidly from stressful situations. So if you’re going through a rough patch personally or professionally, trade in your java jolt for a chai break.
15. Take impromptu vacations and mini-breaks from routine: For many of us, long vacations just aren’t practical or possible. And yet, you must get away from the grind. The best way to do this would be to make a list of places in a one hour radius around your home that are worth visiting. Picnic at the local park, make a trekking excursion into the wilderness or a local hillock, explore some monuments and museums. Sometimes, we tend to ignore the treasures in our own backyard. These mini-breaks will help refresh you and are a great way to re-connect with nature and the culture of your city.
16. Have designated days to clear clutter: Keeping your home and office clutter-free can help you function with greater ease and efficiency. However, this is easier said than done, as clutter has a tendency to pile up, until it chokes your work and living space. You must be ruthless with it, ridding yourself of any excess that you don't need. This could include clothes that you haven't fit into for over a year, knick-knacks that you once treasured, but which are now definitely past their prime and old files collecting dust in the cabinet. Select two days of the week and ensure that you do a thorough cleaning of cupboards, book shelves and personal items.
17. Enjoy a second childhood with your kids: There's a child in every adult, just simmering below the surface. It’s all right to let him/her out now and then. Participating in activities with your kids will not only help you bond better, but will also make you feel younger. Play board games, create obstacle courses that you both could traverse. Help fly kites, finger paint, enact fairy tales, blow soap bubbles and try out new recipes together.
18. Stop listening to detractors: There will always be people who don’t approve of you for no fault of yours and who reinforce their negativism repeatedly. Steer clear of negative people and don’t give their words or actions any levity because it certainly doesn’t deserve your time and attention. Once you make your emotional armour stronger and grow more self-confident, you’ll find that it’s easier to weed these people out of your world.
19. Explore alternative therapy: From aura soma (healing with colored essential oils), accupuncture to Indian head massage (a technique to promote deep sated relaxation by massaging the scalp), alternative therapy provides lasting solutions to niggling health issues. Exploring a whole new therapy can help you overcome stress in unique creative ways.
20. Keep track of your money: Don’t let yourself become vulnerable to financial excess. Every month, keep track of the amount you spend by collecting the bills, credit card statements, making entries in your word processor or just an old fashioned accounting note-book. Keep on top of any investments to avoid nasty shocks later.
21. Keep a well-stocked kitchen: Fast food on a regular basis can give you more than obesity and heartburn. The lack of proper nutrition can make you physically and mentally sluggish. “Keep a well-stocked kitchen,” advises Chandana Banerjee, Health& Nutrition Coach and founder of Luscious Health. "You'll need a selection of whole grains, lentils and beans, vegetables, eggs and fruit. Experiment with a variety of sauces and vinegars. To save time and prevent stress, shop for your veggies on a weekly basis instead of daily. Go to your local vegetable market or the organic market, and choose produce that’s fresh and luscious.Use your prepping and cooking time to unwind. Play some good music while you’re at it, listen to an audio book or catch up with a friend.”
22. Do some fancy footwork!: If you’ve felt self-conscious or awkward while dancing, you may have tried to avoid the activity altogether, but it is the ideal way to unwind. “Dancing is a great way to beat stress, burn calories, stay fit and have some fun with friends and family. Just let the music lead you and unwind completely,” advises Sajni Mariappan, a fitness and Zumba dance expert based in Chennai. Try simple steps that you enjoy first and when you’re more confident, graduate to more complicated moves. Enroll a friend or partner to dance with you to maximize the fun factor.
23. Make a fresh start professionally: Working for the archetypal Hari Sadu? Then it is time you made that all-important decision to switch careers. The stress that comes naturally with starting a new job would be nothing compared to the brow beating your self-esteem takes on a daily basis with an employer who is not only uninspiring, but abusive too.
24. Set up a bedtime ritual: Bed time rituals are an important way of winding down and letting your body know that it’s time for rest. You could choose a ritual that fills you with peace. “I love lighting candles and incense before bed,” says Mary Ann Britto, mother of 3, based in Hyderabad. Your bedtime ritual could be as simple as having hot milk before bed or reading for fifteen minutes. However, if you do read, choose your material carefully. You don’t want to select a thriller that will keep you turning pages all night long.
25. Get some shut eye: The best way to beat stress would be with uninterrupted deep wave sleep. Try to sleep and awaken at the same times everyday. If you’re sleep is disrupted by shift work or small children who need your attention, the try to catch frequent power naps through the day.
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