It's quite likely this year held some challenging moments for you professionally, personally or both. It's also possible the tools you used to cope actually made things worse, not better.
Perhaps you found yourself staying up late or waking up early to get work done. In an attempt to create time in a hectic schedule, you might have skipped meals or workouts. There were long stretches of time where you had to sit motionless and maintain concentration in a meeting, at your desk, on an airplane or in a car.
It's time to say goodbye to workplace stress in 2015. For real this time. The key to dealing with your stress successfully, having better energy, and becoming more productive this year will hinge on looking at stress in a new and different way. It's not something that's just in your head -- it's in your body.
Stress is a physical event that radically changes your chemistry and physiology. Understanding these changes helps prevent and mitigate its negative side effects.
Here are some of our typical responses to stress, why they make things worse, and what to do instead.
1. You sacrifice sleep to get things done.
It's tempting to trade sleep for extra hours of productivity, but lack of sleep arouses the area of our brains responsible for the fight or flight response. It also inhibits portions of the brain relating to restoring balance and calm. (McEwen, B. 2002) Sleep deprivation also increases hunger and body fat levels, specifically around the body's mid-section.
Not only can this abdominal fat be psychologically stressful, it also increases our risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even premature death. (Epstien, L. 2008.) And unfortunately these disease states make our stress even worse.
Resiliency Remedy: Keep to a regular sleep cycle and aim to get between 7-9 hours each night. We can "get by" on less, but sleep is one of the best tools we have for the body to recover from stress.
2. You skip meals because you're too busy to eat.
When we skip meals or go too long without eating, blood glucose (a form of sugar the body uses for energy from many of the foods we eat) drops. When there's not enough glucose, the body thinks a famine is occurring, the stress response is stimulated and the body secretes cortisol.
Cortisol puts us into food seeking mode to get much needed energy into the body, and makes us eat large amounts of high-fat, high-sugar foods. It stores much of this extra energy in the fat cells around our abdominal regions for the next glucose emergency.
Resiliency Remedy: Keeping blood glucose levels in the ideal range stops the stress response from being stimulated. Minimize stress by eating about every 3 hours.
Alternate between moderate sized meals (breakfast is a must) and small snacks high in fiber, healthy fats and/or lean protein.
3. You skip your workout because you don't have time.
When the demands of our lives increase, we look for things to cut to reduce our levels of stress. Exercise is often the first to go. Unfortunately this is one of the worst coping strategies we can make.
Stress hormones are specifically designed to fuel a short burst of intense physical activity -- fighting and/or fleeing.
When we get this type of activity, it burns them off and releases a new class of hormones that restore balance and neutralize the negative consequences of stress. When we don't get this type of exercise, we're stuck stewing in our stress hormones.
Resiliency Remedy: The good news is just 30-60 seconds of intense exercise produces the hormones that restore balance. (Brooks, S. et al 1988, Schwarz, L. et al 1990, Schwarz, L. et al 1992)
Sprint up a flight of stairs, or do a few jumping jacks or burpees. Shorts bursts hit the physiological reset button on stress and make a big difference when accumulated throughout the day. They also train the body to recover from stress more quickly and efficiently.
4. You sit for long periods of time.
Sitting is the new smoking. It increases risk of death, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and body fat. (Stamatakis, E., et al, 2011) Think a workout negates it? It doesn't.
Sitting for most of the day cancels out the effects of an exercise session. (Matthews, CE. et al, 2012) Also, tension builds the longer we sit while energy and metabolism slow.
Resiliency Remedy: Several times during the day take a minute or two to move your body.
Set your laptop on a cardboard box to stand and type, do some stretching to release muscular tension and stress, on the phone = on your feet, or conduct walking meetings when in small groups.
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