It seems that stressful times are the times when our self-care is lacking. It is precisely at these times when we need to be vigilant about eating right, getting enough rest, exercising, laughing, connecting, and making good choices to help us through the stress unscathed. When our resistance is low, we are no longer in the driver’s seat and we lack the energy to take charge. If we let ourselves run down by not guarding our personal energy, then we won’t have the energy to take care of others, our work, or ourselves. And so starts a downward spiral of negative energy that is ever harder to break.
Even when our minds won’t recognize that we need a break, our bodies will take over and put us flat on our backs for as long as it needs to heal itself and recharge. The lesson is to take care of yourself first, or else you won’t be able to take care of anybody or anything else.
We need to plan time for creative renewal on a regular basis and particularly during times of intense focus or stress. Good old rest and relaxation are still vitally important to the mental and physical well being of fighting soldiers. Being emotionally drained affects our performance as much as being physically exhausted. We can be very physically fit and get enough rest and still be emotionally exhausted. Taking time out to decompress is vitally important for our vitality.
Sleep and restful downtime increases your concentration and gives you the stamina you need to fight off sickness or other enemies. Adjust your bedtime rituals to allow for restful, uninterrupted sleep. Avoid exercising, caffeine, or lots of liquids just before bedtime and set a regular time schedule and habits to signal your body that it is time to slow down. Just ask any rotating shift worker how productive or alert they feel in-between rounds.
It’s not easy to conjure up enthusiasm for sex when you’re stressed out, but not having sex can actually lead to a higher anxiety level and it can become a stressor if it is unavailable or unsatisfactory. Building a healthy, intimate relationship with your partner can lead to other types of stress releases and emotional support as well as the physical release. Take the time to refresh and renew yourself regularly to avoid the perils and pitfalls of being overcome by stress.
Learning that we have taken a different heading on our course than we would have liked requires some regrouping and adjusting the helm. Assess the situation, eye your compass, and trim the sails for a new course to aim for the goal. It may take a little longer, but you will end up in the correct port instead of turning back. It is invigorating to know you successfully managed an about-face by regrouping your thoughts and resources.
Still your mind and take time to think about your next move. Sometimes your detour has taken you so far off course that it is difficult to find your way back, or move ahead on the same path you are on. By regrouping and gathering your thoughts and your data, you can better assess where you took a wrong turn and what you need to do to get back on course.
At times we are so over-busy with activity, that we mistake it for productivity or the right livelihood and we end up stressed out and burned out from hurry sickness or random busy work that doesn’t have meaning for us. It takes some quiet time and reflection with thoughtful attention to what is truly meaningful.
If what you are doing in your daily life doesn’t bring meaning and doesn’t bring you closer in alignment with your principles and values, then you need to regroup and move in a different direction. Gather your courage, gather your strength, gather your thoughts, and then gather your support network to help you get the regrouping started and make a new plan. Sometimes others can help us see our way better than we can see it ourselves.
A short time planning your course before you set sail saves a lot more time during the journey in the long run. Taking the time to settle down and regroup will save you from more stressful situations down the road.
An open mind is a good mind. Keep an open invitation to fresh ideas that can be enlightening, inspiring, and energizing. Blow out those cobwebs and entertain thinking that expands your creativity and your perspective. Be curious about life and learn a new or resourceful way of doing things. Continuously look for ways to view the world from another angle, or test-drive activities, foods, ideas, or philosophies that question the way you previously chose to look at the world.
Closed minds and closed eyes are no way to move through the world. Being entrenched in your own stance not only drains your energy, it drains the energy of those around you. You can open your mind and your life to new possibilities just by changing a few words in your vocabulary. Instead of saying “I don’t care” when your spouse or friend suggests an activity or an idea, try saying “I’m open to that”, or “Yes, I’m willing to try that”.
By using phrases of openness, you open yourself up to more possibilities. Avoiding the numbness and locked up feeling of “I don’t care”, helps us tap into our energy and our true intentions. When we get to the lowest levels of “I don’t care”, our soul dies. So open your mind, open your heart, and open your eyes to new adventures and ideas to avoid becoming numb and locked up to new possibilities.
So many motivational and inspirational books are out there, you are bound to stumble across one of the 100,000 books that are printed each year. Burying yourself in a book is a breath of fresh air and perhaps the mental escape you couldn’t physically take. Visit a mega-bookstore, a quaint old used book store, or library and get lost in the aisles and in time while you check out all the different perspectives and topics.
It is said that we don’t necessarily select a book, but a book selects us. So if you don’t have the time and inclination to visit an actual store, let your fingers do the shopping as you click your way through an online dealer and have your selections delivered straight to your door. Select reading over TV-watching and watch your energy increase along with your knowledge.
Some of the research suggests that the average American reads only one book per year, but watches over four hours of television per day. If you don’t want to be average, then do something above average and read more books to expand your horizons, your knowledge, and your interests.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, and it really hit home to me just how much I needed reading material when I first lived in the Colorado Rockies without television and only weekly visits to town and its libraries or bookstores. I then moved to Europe and was without television for another five years. This was in the years before the Internet, and being without access to TV or printed words in English made me very aware of how much I longed for something to read. I would make a list throughout year of the books I wanted to buy when I visited America, and then mail back boxes of them to myself to fill my time and my mind while I was back overseas.
You can become an expert in a chosen field by reading and researching that topic for just 15 minutes per day. Why not start out your day and end your day by reading a few inspirational pages to set positive thoughts in your subconscious before you start your day and before you go to sleep. What books have you read lately? A great book on increasing your personal energy is Vital Energy: The 7 Keys to Invigorate Body, Mind, & Soul by David Simon, MD.
How about giving books or gift cards to book stores as gifts. Giving the gift of knowledge to children or adults is all about enhancing and energizing their life. How about giving a book of blank paper so they (or you) could start your own printed word or write a journal of your hopes, dreams, or reflections. Surrounding yourself with printed words – whether your own or from others lifts your energy and your spirits.
It’s that old balance thing again. Get your priorities sorted out according to what is truly important: people first and then things, people first and then things. It is good for the soul to feed it what it wants, or it will always be hungry no matter what else you give it. Work with your personal energy cycles to be the most productive. For some, this means intermittently switching off between personal and professional tasks throughout the day and inserting personal energy breaks in-between stretches of intense concentration.
For others, it could mean working a night shift if they are night owls and sleeping during the day. For another group it might mean both spouses working part time so they can split the child care and still have time for work, family, and couple time. The advent of flex schedules and compressed workweeks are a great invention to help workers equalize their time by working four days and having three days off. It sure seems more equal than the old five on and two off.
It takes constant attention to how you are balancing your personal or family time with your professional or school time. Whatever your balancing act entails, it takes vigilance and attention to ensure you are in sync and in balance for optimum energy and peak performance.
When we are out of balance and have unequal amounts of time spread between the different areas in our lives, we feel overwhelmed, under great stress, out of focus, out of sorts, and irritated with others. We tend to lose our sense of humor and our sense of control over our time and our lives. When we feel out of control, we feel stress and fear and frazzled. Recognize the signals of being unbalanced and make a plan to equalize your life in the future.
Take note of what circumstances brought you to this unequal place and create steps to get yourself out of there. Sometimes we cannot attain the proper balance over one day; we need to take a look at the week, or even the month. Sometimes circumstances warrant that we need to plow through a project or moment in time with intense focus and only after that time can we opt for better balance. Plan some down time as your reward for getting through this period so you have time to recoup your energies.
Become aware of your natural biorhythms for optimal performance and equalize your time between personal and professional responsibilities. Balance keeps things in perspective and helps you do most things in moderation to keep your energy in check. It’s a constant, conscientious effort to keep all the areas of your life in balance. Awareness is the first step to creating boundaries for your time and energy.
Pre-set your boundaries and know your limits. When demands stretch you towards your ends, you know when to pull back to maintain your balance, your sanity and your energy. Let others know of your boundaries and when they have crossed the line in order to keep your stress levels and your energy in check. n a USA Today survey, 75% of CEOs and 88% of middle managers listed balancing work and family as a major concern. How’s your balance? What are you doing to create more balance in your life? Do you know the signs your body tells you when you are unbalanced?
I know from my experience and the research on humor and healing, that we need to laugh through a hard time to help us get through it – known as the Biology of Hope (when we anticipate an enjoyable event and laugh at a situation, our good stress, eustress, hormones beta endorphins and growth hormones kick in and help our immune system.)
Here are some proven ways to reduce stress with everything else going on around us:
Wake up 15-30 minutes earlier and get your day started at a more leisurely pace with enough time to have a proper breakfast. You can get much done while it is quiet such as exercising, yoga, meditating, getting your day organized. It also helps to have clothing selected and lunches prepared the night prior so you don’t have to think too much.
Write down everything (and do back-ups) – as we get older, our brains can’t hold all the info it once used to. Give your brain a break and keep all your notes in one place – either electronic, paper, or both so you won’t stress over what will happen to your info if your batteries die. We now know that stress kills our brain – as it also does our heart. Stress affects the hippocampus, the memory and retrieval system of our brains. You know you have brain cells dying from stress when you’re in a grocery store aisle and you have no idea why you are there…stress.
Do it today – stop procrastinating and make a decision. Procrastination and clutter are just postponed decisions. Figure out why you don’t want to make that decision and go about it in a different way, just do it.
The Law of Entropy states that everything without work or force applied to it will break down over time. That includes cars, gardens, our health, communication, or relationships. Focusing on prevention will help alleviate the stress caused by things breaking down. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Get rid of as many irritations, aggravations or energy drains that you can. It’s the culmination of all those little sniggly things that add up to big stress. So fix the broken towel bar, the squeaky door, the rip in your couch, or throw out the pitcher that is too heavy to lift. All those little drains add up to an empty energy tank.
Plan ahead – live for today and plan for tomorrow’s events or emergencies. Have contingency plans in place for the probable causes that may affect you. Living in Germany for 10 years, we had to have a NEO plan in place – a Non-combatants Evacuation Plan. We were supposed to always have at least a half a tank of gas in our car, our medical information and family info easily accessible and important documents within reach in case we had to evacuate in a conflict situation. Friends in California tell me they have an emergency kit in case of fire or Earthquake with all their important items in it near the door. Make sure all your documentation is in order and look towards the future.
Taking some time out for dancing, singing, and playing or listening to music can help you reclaim your zip. Test-drive new kinds of music and movement from foreign cultures, from another genre, another time period, or from another region. Discovering a new twist to an old favorite is invigorating. Expand your horizons and become acquainted to new types of art, music, theater, and dance to rev up your creative juices.
Besides being great exercise, using large and small muscles and displaying large and fine motor movements, dancing moves the blood carrying much needed oxygen to all parts of the body, helping us think clearer and also get more in tune with our body and our dance partner. Put on some music and let it move your body, turn up the volume and feel the beat resonate through your bones.
I recently took my mom to see The Blue Man Group perform in Las Vegas. This very unique performance involves lots of drumming from huge drums and other percussion instruments played at a very high decibel level. It gets so loud, that the theatre provides earplugs for the audience. The beat of the drums is so intense that you can feel the beat in your heart and it is a truly moving experience.
Music is a terrific energizer or “calmer-downer”. Your heart and your body react to the rhythmic tonality of music with either a strengthening or weakening affect regardless of your opinion and taste in the music. Since our bodies are made up mostly of water, the vibrations of music can affect our moods.
The more strengthening physiological reactions come from classical music from the Baroque period with soothing, flowing instrumentals such as Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Handel. Studies on this “Mozart Effect” have found that students score better on tests after listening to this music and their spatial reasoning performance greatly exceeded similar students who were not either listening or playing Baroque music.
Our brains respond to music of that era because it was created in such an orderly way and our brains respond to order. This music causes the brain to use both of its sides simultaneously because of the symmetry, key relationships, rhythmic pastern contrasts, highs and lows, light and dark, and the way that it was arranged with such organization. Listening to, playing, or singing helps us integrate the left side and the right side of our brains more effectively and thus create more positive energy upon which we can draw. Mental alertness and creativity have been associated with listening to this type of music.
Weakening music includes heavy metal, jazz fusion, or music that has been digitally recorded, because the rhythms are not in alignment with our body’s natural rhythms. It feels more like a machine gun hitting our body than a stroke of a feather. If music soothes the savage beast, just think what it could do to your frazzled nerves, co-workers, kids, angry customers, or pets.
Whether you are listening to it or making it, music affects your entire essence, so choose your music wisely according to your mood, energy level, or need for energy or calmness. Music can be your jumpstart to your new mood. Music on your stereo or in your car with the top down is great, live music is even better. Don’t forget to cut loose once in a while, put on your boogie shoes and cut the rug.
The contented cow syndrome – how to keep a happy herd and keep them from wandering off:
- We know that contented cows give more milk and it’s the same with workers – contented workers produce more.
- Identify realistic expectations about the job, responsibilities, and the organization.
- Ensure there is a fundamental match between the job and the person hired to do it – personality styles, work styles, communication and conflict management styles as well as team vs. individual focus. When there is an alignment between personal and organizational values and goals, there is a better fit and longer retention and less stress for the worker.
- Offer frequent feedback and open communication about the person and their work – let them know how they’re doing and acknowledge their efforts. Generation X and Y, in particular have been used to getting feedback every 60 seconds on how they were doing with computer games. A once per year evaluation isn’t going to cut it.
- Focus on flexibility for family and work and ensure there is a good work-life balance program so workers don’t feel overwhelmed, stressed out, burnt-out and rusted out trying to juggle personal and professional responsibilities.
- Cultivate trust, confidence, and honest, open communication between all levels – show you genuinely care for people and combine the heart and the head level in people to bring out the best in them.
Blah –buster tips for beating depression in the workforce:
- Recent labor studies found that depression costs companies nearly $12 billion in lost work each year and more than $11 billion in other costs accrued from decreased productivity. Here are some tips to improve on those statistics.
- Exercise and a healthy diet combined with vitamins.
- Expressing emotions verbally with a therapist or a friend or through journaling.
- Fresh air and sunshine, or at least full-spectrum lighting that mimics the sun’s rays. Studies have found that people are 25% more productive when using full-spectrum lighting and natural light as compared to fluorescent lighting.
Satisfaction with your work, feeling successful and that you are doing something that matters. Find out what you’re good at, what ignites your passion, and what can combine your preferences with a good income.