Many American adults are emotionally overwhelmed, according to a 2022 by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association. In fact, most adults (87% of the 3,012 U.S. adults surveyed) feel like there has been a constant stream of crises over the last two years. Stress and fatigue are now becoming an accepted norm for many, which can be detrimental to their overall health and wellbeing.
However, McKinsey and Company notes that scientifically speaking, there’s nothing inherently negative about the physiological side of stress. Instead, problems can come when stress is mismanaged or when the body doesn’t have a chance to recover from a stressful episode. When this happens, it can lead to chronic stress, eventual burnout, and physical issues.
To find resilience, it can be helpful to understand your stress, find a way to manage it, try to allow recovery time after a stressful incident, and ideally, find a way to turn stress into a path toward personal growth.
Many small-business owners are familiar with stress. Try these science-based tools to help you maintain your sanity so you can preserve your health and focus your mental energy on your success.
1. Use a Grounding Exercise
In How To Stay Sane, (a part of the School of Life helpful guides to modern living), psychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry explains that self-awareness is one of the cornerstones of sanity. By observing ourselves in a non-judgmental way, we can become responsible for our reactions to stressful events. Perry provides a helpful "grounding exercise" to accomplish this.
- How am I feeling now?
- What am I thinking now?
- What am I doing at this moment?
- How am I breathing?
These simple questions can help you proceed to the next question: "What do I want for myself in this moment?"
"There is a difference between saying 'I am angry' and saying 'I feel angry,'" Perry notes.
The second statement is an acknowledgment of your feelings and doesn't define your total self in that moment. It separates you from your feelings.
The same applies to your thoughts in that moment: by examining them, rather than being them, you can notice whether your internal mind chatter is serving you well. For more context, you can watch Perry discuss this.
2. Adopt the Five-A-Day Program
This recommendation stems from The Mental Capital and Wellbeing report, a research project on mental development and wellbeing issued by the U.K. Government Office for Science, a group of scientific advisers to the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet.
The five-step process includes:
- Connect: invest time in developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors
- Be active: engage in sports or hobbies or take a daily walk or run
- Be curious: notice the beauty of everyday moments and appreciate them
- Learn: try a new hobby or task, rediscover an old interest, fix a bike, or cook something new
- Give: help someone in your network or thank someone
If you struggle with a stressful lifestyle, can you make a commitment to yourself to include these five habits in your schedule? Perhaps start with just one and work from there to include all five.
3. Practice the Six-Second Quieting Reflex
The Quieting Reflex is a six-second exercise developed by Charles F. Stroebel. It's a quick and easy tool that can be used at any time with your eyes open and without anyone noticing.
As soon as you become aware that you are becoming tense or annoyed, smile inwardly. The smile stimulates a release of endorphins to counteract stress hormones.
Then breathe in slowly and tell yourself, "Alert mind." Exhale slowly and tell yourself, "Calm body." This counteracts the stressful thoughts that accompany a tense or annoying incident.
End with a nice, slow breath. If practiced regularly, this can make you adept at interrupting the stress cycle as soon as it starts.
4. Know Your Stress Triggers and Responses
In Was That Really Me?: How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality, psychologist Naomi L. Quenk explains that when we're at a low ebb, fatigued, or going through a stressful event in our professional or personal life, we can show an often hidden side of ourselves.
Annoyances and stresses can bring out the worst in us. For example, some people may become uncharacteristically adversarial or excessively critical, and some might become inflexible. Others might withdraw and become unusually quiet. Knowing what our habits are under stress can help us manage them the next time we're in the throes of a stressful event.
It's also helpful to know your stress triggers. For example, it might be constantly changing deadlines that force you to wing it or lack of follow-through by your employees. Broadening your knowledge of yourself in these circumstances can yield powerful information to help you restore balance.
5. Find Idle Time.
The OECD Better Life Index places the United States as the 29th nation in the category of “work-life balance.” Many U.S. employees work long days, take fewer vacations, and cram their schedules with all sorts of planned activities. Most of our days are mapped out from the moment we wake up in the morning. There is very little room for idleness or pauses to reflect and relax.
When it comes to stress management, finding idle time can be wise. If you lead a hectic lifestyle, think about what you can safely eliminate in order to salvage some idle time. Idleness gets a bad rap. It can be a sanity booster. Perhaps this is what Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard meant when he said: "Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good."
Knowing what our habits are under stress can help us manage them the next time we're in the throes of a stressful event.
6. Enjoy the Mozart Effect
Tuning into classical music can help you stay relaxed and focused. According to the National Library of Medicine, listening to Mozart lowers blood pressure. Music profoundly affects our body and our mind. It's one of the most easily available salves for stress.
Finding ways to manage stress – without adding stress to get the new tasks done – can help you find more peace and balance. Try one tactic at a time so you don't feel overwhelmed.
A version of this article was originally published on September 4, 2013.
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