How to live a stress-free life?

18, Mar, 2012, by Seema Bhatnagar

balls with smile

There is more to life than increasing its speed. ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

In today's life where there are always more things to do in less time, high expectations at work, people suffering from "always online" syndrome and crazy deadlines, stress is accepted as a natural part of life. In the age of technology, executives at big corporate companies are expected to be available for 24/7, people are more worried about their online presence and how others are responding to it. People continuously check their smart phones for new messages, email, status update on Facebook and chat messages from friends and on not receiving any response from other side they feel depressed and unwanted. These are some new reasons of stress gifted by age of technology.

What is stress?

Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. ~Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind

Stress is a body reaction towards some external threatening condition. In primitive times, human body developed a "fight or flight" response to escape any attack from approaching pachyderm or any other wild animal in a forest. During this response, body produces some chemicals which allow enhanced oxygen supply to blood and body muscles get tightened so that an individual can either fight the situation or can flee from it to escape any survival threat. In the background, there is a complex hormonal cascade of over 30 stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, which have a powerful and widespread effect on our body's biochemistry, physiology and psychology, giving us the extra strength and speed we need to deal with the threatening situation.
This "fight and flight" response which is 40,000 years old, is designed and kept reserved for some occasional triggering, only in case of emergencies, but in modern society, when there are n numbers of pressures from all directions, triggering of this has become a way of life. Sustaining this stressful state for too long harms the body to a large extent.

The stress could be physical or psychological, depending upon the exposure. Physical stress is when you do heavy physical work while psychological stress is when you are exposed to overly emotional situations. In this era of technology, there is more prevalence of psychological stress.

Also, stress could be positive and negative. A positive stress in mild form and for short duration helps in boosting productivity while a negative stress in chronic form and for prolonged duration is extremely harmful for body.

Prolonged and continuous state of stress has harmful effects on body and it becomes a reason for heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure, weak immune system. Stress is also linked to strokes, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ulcers, diabetes, muscle and joint pain, miscarriage during pregnancy, allergies, alopecia and even premature tooth loss.

Reasons of Stress

The reasons of stress in this modern technological age are completely different what they used to be some 50 years ago.

Above mentioned are some of the many other possible triggers of stress. These triggers in fact are psychological issues, somewhere linked to personal insecurity and uncertainty, which our brain perceives as a threat and triggers the flight and fight response which end up as a stress.
In personal space everybody is challenged in some way or the other and experience mild or chronic form of stress in everyday life. Based on our skills and emotional maturity each one of us has a different capacity to handle stress. For each individual there is a critical point of handling a load of work or situation, until this point s/he works with the best of personal abilities but when the load/situation goes beyond this point, there is a feeling of being out of control and mind perceive it as a threat and trigger fight and flight response. For example at workplace, due to overload of work if you miss your deadlines, mind thinks about the related consequences like criticism from boss, client, colleagues, no raise or bonus and mind perceive it as a threat and trigger a stress response to handle it. When you are stressed, you are not be able to focus, feel distracted from your work, experience body ache, indigestion, irritability, anger and feel less interested in things.
People belonging to certain industries (especially, software industry) boast the fact that they "thrive on stress" but they don't know how much cost they are paying for it. I agree with a fact that employees are exorbitantly paid to undergo stress but gullible employees do not understand that it is ultimately employer who would get the benefit and they would pay only medical bills.

Does that mean working hard is bad for health? The answer is both "Yes" and "No". If you become mindlessly task oriented, work in stressful conditions for extended period of time and do not pay attention to your health then definitely working hard is bad but if you are spending enough time in taking care of your health and maintaining balance in your life then working hard is healthy for you.

My personal experience

At different stages of my life, I experienced different types of stress. On many instances I found myself neck deep in stress and felt completely weak and helpless. During stress, there was a constant feeling that I am not in control of things and I will not be able to keep my commitments and sometimes a feeling that I am a cause of a disaster.
I remember, during my days as a software programmer, in some instances when there was a defect identified in my coded piece, on being assigned to fix the issue, if I knew how to fix it then I was fine working on it but the moment if I get a feeling that I have no idea how to fix it, my stress level would go high and I would feel that now everything will stop working and my client and team will have to suffer because of me and also client would feel my knowledge of application is not upto the mark. So my mind got completely diverted to consequences instead of focusing on solving the problem at hand. I used to feel completely helpless and out of control and due to which I could not work with the best of my capabilities and had to spend double time in solving the problem.
Later on, on analyzing the situation more deeply, I found that in some instances I very well knew the solution and it was only my reaction to situation which triggered my negativity, due to which my stress level went high.

In some other situations where I had conflicts and arguments over some issue or when somebody misbehaved or bullied, made me feel that the other person is trying to take advantage of his/her position or situation and I am being suppressed. I used to feel suppressed because whatever I did, I did honestly and with the best of my skills and on this if somebody questions (that too, rudely) my ability then it used to trigger my anger and as a result high level of stress.

As a project manager, not able to keep up with project plan used to be the main cause of stress and this state quite often continued until the project finishes, which means extended period.

When I wanted to be perfect at things and not acting as my true self were other significant reasons of triggering stress. Most of the times it was my own reaction and the feeling of being out of control triggered my stress levels.

No matter how much I diverted my focus on other things or activities the same level of stress would stay with me and will keep affecting my productivity, creativity and relationship with others, it was only when I understood the root cause and solved the bugging problem, I could allay my stress. When I am stressed, I hardly find anything interesting, get angry over trivial matter, feel headache, tightness in upper body muscles and most of my activities go on autopilot, feel relieved and relaxed only when that particular problem gets resolved and things are under control once again.

Over the period of time, I have become more grounded and self-aware about my personal capabilities and emotional reactions which has helped me profoundly in managing stress better. Nowadays, my life is stress-free because there is no external pressure and I have only self imposed deadlines of completing tasks and projects. If at all I am feeling stressed it is more of positive stress which enhances my productivity in a day to day work.

The crux is, it is our attitude, emotional well being, personality and environment which play the main role in triggering and managing our stress buttons.

How to manage stress?

Accept the fact

Lately, if you are feeling exhausted at work and home, disoriented at work, feeling sleepy all day, frequently absent from work, losing your temper over trivial things, impatient, irritated, experiencing indigestion, regular mild back pains or body ache and feeling depressed for no reason then it is highly likely that you are under stress.
As a first step, accept that fact that you are under stress. Understand that stress is a silent killer and it can spoil your health, productivity, creativity and relationship with others.

People generally avoid accepting that they are undergoing stress and anxiety, they feel as if it is a way of life and they must continue living like that. Even if they recognize it, they consider it as a mental and psychological issue and feel shy of sharing it with others and unfortunately they continue working in the stressful condition for a prolonged period.

If you are in doubt about assessing your stress levels then seek a professional help from life coach or any counsellor in your area, doing so you would simply help yourself, your employer and your loved ones.

Identify the factors

stressed man at work

Once you know about your stress levels, identify the factors which could be the root cause. Observe your routine at home and work closely and see what are those instances and situations which are responsible for triggering your stress levels.
There could be n number of factors which are triggering stress in your life. A quick checklist would be:-

  1. Strained relationship with boss and peers at work.
  2. Strained relationship with spouse or other family members.
  3. Continuous anxiety about lack of money and financial responsibilities.
  4. Some prolong personal illness or of anybody in the family.
  5. Exam stress to score high grades in case of students.
  6. Bullying at school or college in case of students.
  7. Inequality, unfairness and bullying at work.
  8. Office politics.
  9. Performance demands at work.
  10. Strained relationship with spouse. Frequent bickering and fighting.
  11. Expectations of boyfriend/girlfriend.
  12. Health of kids.
  13. No personal time, in case of housewives.
  14. Odd working hours.
  15. Feeling of loneliness.
  16. Lack of job security.
  17. Lack of effective communication skills and conflict resolution.

This is not an exhaustive list, you can have some entirely different reason to experience stress which is not listed here, so think more and nail it down.

Manage stress

During any stressful condition, there are two main components involved, triggering situation and our reaction to it, managing stress is all about handling these two components.

Change the situation:

Avoid the stressor
There are certain situations which cannot be avoided but they are important part of life and must be addressed. Figure out those situations which causes you stress and see how you can avoid them in your daily life.

Alter the stressor
If avoidance is not a possibility then try to change the situation. Figure out what are those situations which you can alter so they do not recur in future. Often, this involves changing your behaviour and communication in your daily life.

Change your reaction:

Adapt to the stressor
If you can't avoid as well change the stressor then change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

Accept the stressor
Sometimes, acceptance is the ultimate solution of problems when avoid, alter and adapt are not present as possibilities. There are many situations in life which are sources of stress and are just unavoidable, you have zero control or influence, like you can't prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, natural calamity, or an economic recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it's easier than railing against a situation you can't change.

Keeping this model in mind, following are some tips which could help you in managing stress to a great extent. All these tips have worked wonders for me.

  1. Develop good and mutual cooperative relationships with colleagues and boss. No flattery please.
  2. Avoid becoming part of office politics. Maintain your own point of view and do not attach yourself to any particular group or community.
  3. Do not gossip around in office and focus on your work.
  4. Develop your personal core values.
  5. Focus on enhancing your productivity. Your productivity boosts your confidence at work. Enhance your productivity by mastering your existing skills and accept challenges of doing some complex tasks.
  6. Make learning an integral part of your career. Learning new things enhances your confidence and opens up new opportunities in life. If you have good knowledge about different areas then you can enjoy more meaningful conversations than just talking about the promotion and raise.
  7. If you are a manager, then focus on building strength of your team. Nurture the talent within your team.
  8. Offload your work by delegating it or discuss with your boss to figure out the best way to reduce your work load.
  9. Organize and prioritize your work. Do not work with unrealistic time lines. For learning about time management, read Beat the clock.
  10. Understand what are those tasks which come under your capacity and you are not loaded with irrelevant work. If at all such work shows up, ask for extra time to complete it.
  11. Focus on problems in hand rather than feeling anxious about meeting deadlines.
  12. Take frequent and short refreshing breaks from your work. Grab a quick drink at water cooler or visit a pantry.
  13. Meditate and relax regularly by taking deep breaths at your desk or when you are about to leave for an important meeting.
  14. Go out during lunch break and enjoy your lunch. Take 15 mins stroll for a refreshing change.
  15. Be assertive wherever it is required. Assertiveness is not about saying "NO" always but knowing your priorities very well.
  16. Make it a habit to reach work on time and leave office on time. If you are a manager encourage this culture in your team, you would find team members more responsible towards work.
  17. Learn to manage your ego and emotions at work.
  18. If you feel you are very sensitive and have ego about some issues then assess your self-image and address issues which frequently hurt your emotions and ego.
  19. Share your feelings.
  20. If you have some friend or acquaintance who understands you then share your pent up feelings, it will make you feel light. If you do not have one, seek a life coach or counsellor to discuss.
  21. Change your perspective.
  22. Sometimes our single minded perspective makes us narrow in thinking and we feel as if we are trapped in a situation. Discuss your problem with your boss, friend, colleague whom you feel confident about and get a new perspective about a problem in hand, doing so will present you many interesting alternatives.
  23. Do regular exercise in the morning be it for 10 mins or 15 mins. Keep yourself active. Yoga would be the best option.
  24. Eat healthy food and avoid taking too much of tea and coffee.
  25. Avoid smoking frequently better stop it altogether.
  26. Take enough sleep.
    7-8 hours sleep is must for a healthy mind, ensure you are not sleep deprived. Not taking enough sleep directly affects your productivity at work, a fresh mind always work faster and better.
  27. Think positive
    Even if you are in a deep trouble, do not feel yourself lost. Always think positive and look for possible solutions to the problem rather than negative consequences.
  28. Learn to forgive
    I know it is difficult, but sometimes forgiving is the best medicine. Not forgiving means you are still draining your positive energy on something which has already happened. To feel better and to forgive, just think that the other person is learning the lessons of life and is standing quite far behind you in terms of maturity, simply move on.
  29. Look at the upside
    There is always a better and brighter side in every situation. Even if you have lost anything may be an opportunity or have experienced any set back in personal life, think that there must be some purpose and learning behind it which you cannot see right now but over the period of time you would realize that there was some lesson in it which you could not see earlier.
  30. Accept the uncontrollable
    There are certain things over which we have absolutely no control like the behaviour of others, natural calamities and economic recessions etc, so instead of sulking on problem just accept it and move on by focusing on your attitude and reaction towards it.
  31. There is a life left to become a perfectionist.
    Do not try to be perfect at things all the time. Progress step by step and achieve excellence over the period of time. Also, do not expect others to be perfect like you, everybody works at a personal level best
  32. Be willing to compromise.
    Do not be so rigid and adamant about things, if there is a situation where you can easily compromise show your willingness, it will create more congenial environment for everybody.
  33. If possible, find home near your workplace. This would save you lot of commuting time which you can spend with your family or on yourself.
  34. If you are a manager, be honest and open with your team members about failure or success.
  35. Learn to laugh at yourself and improve your sense of humour. A belly laugh everyday is no less than a medicine.
  36. Learn to relax. Enjoy your hobby and interest.
  37. Plan a personal down time
    Go offline and keep all your gadgets off for some time. Do not make yourself always available. This will give you an opportunity or rather a luxury to be with yourself.
  38. Do not take things too personal
    Focus only on problem because person is never a problem. During stressful condition, you feel completely out of control which makes you think that everybody is blaming and pointing at you for everything. So, in such situations separate the problem with person.
  39. Plan vacation
    Plan vacation to your favourite place and take a rejuvenating break.
  40. Help and mentor others
    In your personal capacity at work or at home, help and mentors others to get the best out of them.
  41. If your relationship does not turn around even working hard on it, then it is high time you end it.
  42. Change or quit your job if nothing works. There is no point living a miserable life.
  43. Be yourself
    Do not try to be what you are not. If you are not good at something accept the gap and work on it. Just accept yourself with your strengths and weaknesses.
This is not an end of the list; you may have some your very own unique way of managing stress which is not listed here, please follow if that works for you.

Key to longevity

The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence.-Norman Vincent Peale

You feel great when you are stress-free and stay in your natural disposition, but people who experience continuous state of chronic stress, age faster and reduce their number of years of life.
If you are living a stress-free life consider yourself fortunate and blessed being on this earth. The key to healthy, happy and long life is a stress-free life, do whatever it takes to make your life a stress-free great life.

Have a happy, healthy and stress-free life.
imageDonna Cymek
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Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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